LARRY VETTEL: So Much For Drama

Sunday evening I was looking forward to the Florida Gator baseball game to see if Pat McMahon's team could finish the deal and earn their first Super Regional hosting opportunity. Trouble was I had a radio show to do from 6:00-8:00 and the game was scheduled for 6:00. Not only was most of my audience at the game or watching on TV, but I would miss if not all of the action. Fortunately Mother Nature let loose late in the Notre Dame/North Carolina to buy me some time... just not enough.

The game started just before 7:00, but by the time I got to my seat at 8:15, Florida was up 7-2 and the fun was just beginning. Florida kept pounding the batting practice pitchers in Fightin' Irish garb on their way to a 23-3 win. It's the most runs Florida has ever scored in a NCAA game and marked the first time the Gators have won back-to-back regionals. Of course that cute stat is a tad misleading, because until recently the regional winners (8 of them) went directly to the College World Series. Now, with the Super Regional format there are 16 regional winners each year.

Florida had everything working. All three starting pitchers were effective with Bryan Ball struggling with his command but battling through it, Tommy Boss tossing a complete game three-hitter and Alan Horne rebounding from a bad first inning to be virtually unhittable the next six innings. Florida got plenty of offense (well, duh! Lar) including nine RBI from right fielder and tourney MVP Brian LeClerc and the Gators played typically solid "D".

Can't Format Be Changed?

I'm not a fan of the regional tournament format, nor do I understand the need to continue it. Trying to eliminate three teams in three days guarantees you will be forcing teams to use their personnel in ways completely different from what they've done all year long. If you need an example, look at Baton Rouge. As I write this, LSU is preparing for the resumption of an "elimination" game with Northwestern State (La.). The winner will then have to try and beat Rice twice, once tonight and again tomorrow!

A fairer system would be to add a weekend and have three rounds in the best two-of-three format. Then it comes down to what teams have been doing all year. Trying to win a series on the weekend (If you had to eliminate conference tournaments to accommodate the schedule, so much the better).

Letting 32 teams host and having 16 fewer teams on the road would be a big winner financially as well. And you would have the added bonus of not having half the tournament played in a 90 percent empty building. Notre Dame and North Carolina played an intriguing game Sunday afternoon. I hope the aluminum bleachers enjoyed it. But the most important thing is you don't have joke-like scenarios disguised as a NCAA Tournament.

What A Weekend It'll Be

Florida/Florida State games are always great. Big crowds, loads of energy and just enough invective to keep it entertaining. Well no matter how many times you have seen the Gators and 'Noles play baseball, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Sure they've played big games including three at the College World Series, but those games were in front of a bunch of people who, for the most part didn't care. You have to go back to 1988 in Tallahassee for a Florida/FSU game of this magnitude. Florida beat the 'Noles 9-3 in front of an absolutely jam-packed crowd to stay alive in the regional. It looked like they would play again for a spot in the CWS, but Stetson upset FSU the next day, sending Florida against the Hatters in the regional final. The Gators pounded Stetson 8-zip for its first trip to Omaha. Trivia question, who was the winning pitcher in that game? (Answer at the bottom)

But the Super Regional is unlike anything we've ever seen. Florida and Florida State will play a best two-out-of-three for a spot in the eight-team field at Rosenblatt Stadium. Get your tickets early. They were lined up outside the ticket office at eight this morning.

Draft Day complicates Everything

The College Football season ends in early January and the draft is in late April. The College Basketball season ends in early April and the draft is in late June. The College Baseball season ends in three weeks but the draft is TUESDAY! No other players are asked to deal with that kind of distraction at the peak of their season, but then again we are used to NCAA administrators being completely indifferent to the plight of baseball players. So why should the draft be any different?

One Gator who has to have his mind on draft day is Alan Horne who was a first round pick of Cleveland (#27 overall) four years ago. The Marianna High School product spent two years at Ole Miss with his sophomore season ending in March with an elbow injury that required "Tommy John" surgery to repair. After spending last year at Chipola Junior College, Horne joined the Gators in January. While he is not fully back, Horne has shown enough that I've seen projections he'll picked in the third-to-fifth round range. He does have the luxury of another yet of eligibility should he want to stay in school (got a medical redshirt for 2003) common sense says a rea$onable offer get$ the 22-year-old righty into pro ball.

I would expect Bryan Ball (P), Darren O'Day (P), Justin Tordi (SS) and Gavin Dickey (LF) to get drafted and have decisions to make.

As for the recruiting class, say goodbye to outfielder Andrew McCutcheon. The speedster from Fort Meade is a certain high first round selection. Florida will also be sweating out the pro prospects of outfielder Chris Petrie from Lake City Community College and outfielder/pitcher John Matulia from Eustis. Several others are likely to hear their names called as well.

Trivia Answer: While Jeff Gidcumb (16 wins) and Johnny Wiggs (11 wins) were the Gators' top pitchers in '88, it was Joe Klancnik who earned what was the biggest win in school history. Klancnik was a righty from Illinois who had electric "stuff" in the bullpen but struggled to translate it to the mound on game day. He went six innings that night while Jamie McAndrew (10 saves) did the rest. 1988 was Klancnik's only season as a Gator.

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