The Gators know they lost two-of-three to Florida State during the regular season, but their focus is on themselves this week. If they keep playing the way they have over the last three weeks, they like their chances. Focusing too much on the Seminoles and the sold-out McKethan Stadium environment this weekend would only harm the team’s preparation.
“It’s just another team, and we’ve got to win two games to get to Omaha,” Florida third baseman Josh Tobias said. “Rivalries aside, Omaha is the goal and we’ve got to get through them. That’s the main focus, just focus on us and playing our game.”
Coming into this season, Florida had won seven of the previous nine games against the Seminoles. The Gators are also 7-1 against Florida State in Gainesville since Kevin O’Sullivan took over.
“I think with the fans and the outsiders looking in, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be an interesting weekend, because you are matching up with one of your rivals, but the fact of the matter is, with us winning last weekend, we knew we were going to play somebody this weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re familiar with them, they’re familiar with us. It should be an interesting weekend.”
The tickets for this weekend’s games, starting on Friday at 7:30 p.m., sold out quickly with both fanbases wanting to be in attendance. McKethan Stadium has been host to some great environments for Super Regionals in recent years under O’Sullivan, and this weekend should be no different.
The goal for O’Sullivan is to make sure his team doesn’t get too excited for it and let the environment impact their performance. Florida swept through the loser’s bracket of the SEC Tournament and won a big road series at Vanderbilt, giving O’Sullivan the confidence that they’ll be able to handle the big crowds in Gainesville this weekend.
“I don’t anticipate butterflies,” O’Sullivan said. “Are they anxious? Sure. Everybody wants to get to Omaha. I’m sure their team will feel the same way. They want to win for their school and they want to get to Omaha and they want to win a national championship. Indications from the last couple of weeks, I think we’re ready to play.”
OMAHA: The Gators were open with their conversations before the season started that the goal was to get back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012. It’s not as openly talked about at this point in the season, simply because the players don’t want to dwell on it.
They know they’re two wins away from returning, and the goal this weekend is to make that happen.
“It’s kind of one of those elephant in the room type things,” Florida left fielder Harrison Bader said. “Obviously you play this many games and it’s within two games and reaching that goal is incredible. Everyone knows it’s right around the corner, and we have a chance to get there. We’ve gotten to this point in the season not really focusing on it, just doing what we do every day, day in and day out, practicing or in the games. Although it is two games away, I think we can stick it out for one more week and not think about it.”
INJURY REPORT: The only significant injury for Florida last weekend was catcher Mike Rivera, who was hit by a pitch on the knee in Friday’s opener against Florida A&M. He served as the designated hitter for the next two games, but O’Sullivan spoke with him Thursday morning and made sure the freshman was ready to go this weekend.
“He’s fine, he’s ready to go,” O’Sullivan said. “We held him out this week and he feels 100 percent this morning.”
LARGE CROWDS EXPECTED: The Gators had just one sellout during the 2015 season coming into this weekend, and it came during in the midweek game against the Seminoles. All three games this weekend are sold out.
“I heard it was sold out in 20 minutes, I’m excited and I know the players are awfully excited, too,” O’Sullivan said. “It should be a really, really good atmosphere here. I know our players are excited. They’ve talked about it, they’re pumped. I hope our crowd plays a part in it.”
The players are excited to have a big home crowd behind them.
“That’s awesome,” Bader said. “Obviously you love the support from your fans. I’m sure a good amount of them will be Florida State fans, but it’s always nice to see people in the stands, supporting the game. The stage is set and it’s going to be a really, really good weekend. I can’t wait for it. I’m looking forward to it.”