If Saturday's affair was, indeed, a summer rerun, then Orangebloods are looking for a repeat of the 2002 season when Texas notched its fifth national title with a 12-6 win over South Carolina. It was almost a bygone conclusion that top-seeded Texas would claim another NCAA championship in 2004, facing in the finals a Cal-State Fullerton team that the Horns swept in Austin just three months earlier. But the Titans rode the solid arms of two ironmen pitchers for back-to-back wins as a dejected Longhorn club finished as the national runner-up.
"For me, its a sigh of relief being back in the same position this year," C Taylor Teagarden said. "We werent the No. 1 seed like last year and a lot of people didnt think wed get out of Super Regionals. It really hit me that we have a chance to do something special again."
First pitch is set for 6 p.m. in an ESPN national telecast. It is the Gators' first appearance in a CWS title game while Texas is making its 11th overall. Seventh-seeded Florida survived an elimination game against Arizona State, 6-3, Thursday while the Horns took the day off. It will also be the first meeting between the two programs.
Florida ace Alan Horne (11-2, 4.01 ERA) collapsed on the mound in top of the sixth inning Thursday, clutching his left leg in what was reported as a hamstring injury. Now listed as day-to-day, he was assisted to the dugout and then exited on crutches at the conclusion of the game. In all probability, no one expects Horne to take the mound Saturday but he could be expected to be a factor in Sunday's game, set for 2 p.m., or Monday's if necessary, winner-take-all game, slated for 6 p.m.
"One thing you guys need to know about Alan Horne and how tough he is," said relief pitcher Tommy Boss, "when he came back in the dugout and coach asked him how he was, he said we had to get this one wrapped up so he could pitch again this weekend. Thats how tough he is and how much of a competitor he is."
Otherwise, the Gator pitching staff (3.99 ERA) is relatively toothless compared to what Texas faced on consecutive outings this week from Baylor ace Mark McCormick.
A good omen: Texas' team ERA of 2.82 matches that of the 2002 national championship Longhorns. Texas' starting pitcher will either be freshman RHP Adrian Alaniz (7-3, 2.67 ERA) or ace RHP Kyle McCulloch (11-4, 2.93 ERA), Garrido said Friday. Alaniz has had a week's rest since posting the 5-1 opening round win over Baylor last Saturday while McCulloch took the mound on Monday in that 5-0 shutout of top-seeded Tulane. The most rested member of the Longhorn staff is RHP Randy Boone (7-4, 3.48) who must be wondering what he has to do to see action in Omaha. The same goes for reliever Clayton Stewart (9-0, 3.04) who is also looking for his 2005 CWS debut.
Garrido likened the Championship Round to a typical Big 12 weekend series but with a two-out-of-three format.
"We didn't do too well," Garrido said, referencing the team's third place finish in the regular season standings, "so this is another chance."
Texas will bring its .303 batting average to the Championship Series while the Gators are batting .296.
1B Matt LaPorta is the SEC Player of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball first-team All-American. The sophomore had 85 hits on the season including a team- and NCAA D-I best 26 home runs. When LaPorta homers this season, Florida is 22-4.
"Weve worked really hard for this," he said. "Getting up at 5:30 in the morning to practice and run at the stadium. We knew we had the team to get this far."
His 77 RBIs is also tops for a Gator this season while his 75 runs is tied for the team lead with 2B Adam Davis, third-team All-American and an All-SEC pick.
Texas will counter with second-team All-American SS Seth Johnston. The slugger is batting .382 with a team-best 55 RBI. His first-inning single against Baylor Wednesday set a new UT record for hits in a single season at 113.