Omahelluva Night For UF Baseball

Four years ago when Gator AD Jeremy Foley fired Andy Lopez and brought in Pat McMahon I was less than thrilled. To be honest with you, I yawned. Oh, I knew McMahon somewhat from his days at Mississippi State. I knew he was a solid baseball coach and a really good guy. But it wasn't exactly the kind of hire that set off fireworks. It was a safe choice, a measured choice, and a risk-free choice.

McMahon had a solid track record at Old Dominion (189-86) and Mississippi State (164-88) but he wasn't anyone to get all that excited about. His average years was about 40-20… pretty much what the Gators had under Lopez and Joe Arnold before him. So things around Gator baseball were going to remain pretty much the same.

Or so I thought.

Turns out the nicest gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of reporting on is one fine baseball man. He has a plan for everything and he sticks to it. He has not allowed slumps to upset him to the point where he deviates from what he believes in. Nor does he let success linger long, immediately turning his attention to the next challenge/opportunity.

This year Pat McMahon has done a superb job with the Gators. He has done the number one thing all coaches hope to do each year. He has a team where the whole (results) is greater than the sum of the parts (personnel). The Gators had just four players drafted; only one in the top ten rounds. No other team in Omaha spent less time watching the draft board. But the Gators are there, and taking them lightly would be a foolish move.

An Incredible Month

On the morning of May 12 the Gators woke up stunned by consecutive losses to South Florida. Those losses had brought the Gators' slump to seven losses in nine games. Florida had fallen to 32-17 and had raised questions (in this very space) about whether or not they would get into a NCAA Regional let alone host one.

The pitching was shaky, offense inconsistent and defense? Well seven errors in two games with USF spoke volumes.

Florida won the first two games of a weekend series with Mississippi State, but when the Gators blew a late lead on Sunday the maddening inconsistency of this team was again exposed.

Yet somehow a month later, the Gators woke up on June 12 with plane tickets for Omaha, one of eight teams with a chance to win it all.

Final Weekend Was Everything

It was all on the line when the Gators headed to Nashville for a regular-season ending series with Vanderbilt May 20-22. Florida needed to match (or surpass) the play of Tennessee in order to win the SEC Title, but Vandy had much to play for as well. The Commodores had a shot at the SEC Tournament and the almost certain NCAA bid that would go with it. The 'Dores also had one of the SEC's best pitching staffs.

Florida gutted out three straight wins in Music City USA and a SEC Trophy was on its way to Gainesville. For the first time in seven years the Gators were Conference Champs. And for the first time all year there was really strong evidence that this team was capable of being special.

I don't believe this team is heading to Omaha without that sweep over Vanderbilt. They saw the prize, knew the price and paid it. Saturday they won a 2-1 game in 13 innings knowing Tennessee had already beaten Georgia and could grab first place if the Gators faltered. They scored late to beat Vandy on Sunday when they thought they had to have a win for the ring. It turned out they didn't, but the character and poise was evident.

Time To Get Greedy

You couldn't ask for a better weekend than what the Florida baseball program delivered this weekend. Operations folks worked their tails off dealing with miserable weather and threats of even more. Fans showed up in droves despite Mother Nature's threats and broke the school attendance record. And the team came through on the field against archrival Florida State with wins of 8-1 and 8-5. The Gators make their fifth trip to Omaha this week, but their first while both FSU and Miami are home.

It would be easy to mail it in and celebrate right through the week ahead, but that isn't what this man or his team is all about. Florida gets old pal Tennessee Friday and once last shot at Vols pitching stud Luke Hochevar. Hochevar fell to # 40 in the draft because of a reported $4-million price tag. The Gators will counter with Tommy Boss, an un-drafted senior.

Common sense says this one goes the Vols way, but this team has defied common sense for more than a month. And I don't look for it to change now.


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