Different selection day for Florida

The Florida locker room isn't used to uncertainty on Memorial Day. The Gators have met in the locker room to watch the selection show for the last four years without any doubt. The only question centered on which teams would be traveling to Gainesville for Regional and Super Regional play. The locker room was different on Monday, as the Gators didn't know if they were even in the field.

"Everyone was anxious," Florida starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford said. "We really didn't know if we were going to make it or not with the year we were having. Once we saw our name, everybody just got really excited."

The Gators returned from Hoover on Wednesday after their first-round loss to Texas A&M. They didn't take any time off. The Gators got back in time to practice on Wednesday and have been putting in work every day since then. The uncertainty of a spot in the NCAA Tournament didn't stop the coaching staff from practicing, even with head coach Kevin O'Sullivan on the road recruiting at times in the last week.

They expected to make the tournament after ending the regular season with the top strength of schedule, and the practice habits didn't change that.

The bid did mean more to some players, especially the seniors. For shortstop Cody Dent, sitting in the locker room on Monday could've spelled the end of his college career if the Gators didn't make the tournament field.

"I was anxious to see if we were going to make it or where we were going, but everybody was really excited when we found out," Dent said.

And once ‘Florida' popped up on the locker room television screen in the Indiana Regional, the team started to celebrate. The long, frustrating season ended with a 29-28 record, one-game above the mandatory .500 record for a tournament berth, would at least produce two more games. The celebration didn't last too long because it was soon time to head back out to the field and get Monday's practice started.

O'Sullivan, who becomes the first coach in school history to take Florida to six-straight NCAA Tournaments, said the team was "a little surprised" about getting tossed into the Indiana Regional. All projections and most of recent history pointed to the Gators likely heading to a host site from the Atlantic Coast Conference, whether that would be Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State or Virginia.

"We're awfully excited," O'Sullivan said. "It gives us a chance to get into the postseason for the sixth straight year. This team has worked awfully hard. We've had our ups and downs, but this is a new season."

Instead, the committee shook things up and sent the Gators north -- and to a familiar opponent. The Hoosiers took two of three games in Gainesville during the fourth weekend series of the year. Indiana just missed out on one of the top eight national seeds that would've had the Hoosiers hosting through a potential trip to Omaha.

"I definitely think Indiana and all the other teams aren't very happy to see our name in their regional," Crawford said.

Without the national seed, the winner of the Indiana Regional will face the winner of the Florida State Regional with a berth in Omaha on the line.

The energy on the practice field Monday mirrored a team that got some much-needed positive news. The group was upbeat, and coupled with a sigh of relief from the players and coaches, the Gators feel like they have new life.

Records, strength of schedule and RPI are no longer important.

"We're a young team," Crawford said. "We build a lot off momentum. When we get that momentum, people aren't going to like us. We swept South Carolina earlier this year. We know we can do it. It's just a matter of doing it."

Florida will get its chance to show that Friday at 1 p.m. when it opens the NCAA Tournament by playing Austin Peay.


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