It took a little longer than originally planned, but the College World Series eight-team field is now set after Florida held off Wake Forest and clinched the final spot Monday night.
The Gators survived perhaps the most dramatic and intense super regionals of the weekend. The Cal State Fullerton-Long Beach State matchup was the only other one that required a winner-take-all Game 3.
There were walkoffs and rain delays in Gainesville. They had trash-talking, contested calls and raw displays of emotion. And plenty of clutch plays all around. But Florida ultimately prevailed, securing a trip to the CWS for the third consecutive season (and the sixth time in eight years).
The Gators will be joined in Omaha by No. 1 overall seed Oregon State, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 TCU, No. 7 Louisville, Fullerton, Texas A&M and Florida State.
It’s a powerhouse-heavy group, but Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he thinks his ballclub can hold its own. This past weekend was proof.
“I told these guys early in the year … that they have as good a chance to win a national championship as we’ve had,” he said in his postgame press conference Monday. “There was never a point in time where I deviated from that. I still believe that.”
Wake Forest — and Mother Nature — certainly gave the Gators all they could handle, though.
The first matchup of the super regional was delayed nearly four hours before the Demon Deacons tied the game in the ninth inning Saturday. But Florida managed to win it on a walk-off single in the 11th.
Game 2 started on Sunday but had to be suspended midway through and resumed Monday afternoon. The Gators battled back from an early 4-0 deficit to tie it. Then they answered the next two times that Wake Forest scored. But the Demon Deacons ultimately forced a decisive Game 3 with a walkoff homer in the 11th for an 8-6 victory.
Another weather delay halted the action about an hour after the super regional finale began. Florida wasn’t fazed, though. The No. 3 national seed earned a 3-0 victory, shutting down an offense that leads the country in home runs.
Three Gators combined for the shutout. That’s the kind of effort on the mound that will be required to have success in Omaha this week, according to O’Sullivan.
“Your starting pitching needs to be top-notch,” he said. “And we have top-notch starting pitching.”
Florida has twice been within one win of the CWS championship series during its recent run of success. The three other Omaha trips have ended without a win, though.
The Gators won’t be alone in their familiarity with this event.
Of the 56 total CWS berths since TD Ameritrade Park opened in 2011, 23 have been earned by these eight teams that will play for the championship. Three of them (Florida State, LSU and Fullerton) rank in the top 10 all-time in CWS appearances. Florida’s tied for 12th at 11.
These eight are also among the most popular brands in college baseball, at least according to attendance numbers. Six of them ranked in the top 20 in average home crowd size this season — LSU (first), Texas A&M (seventh), TCU (10th), Florida State (12th), Florida (14th) and Oregon State (18th).
The Gators hope to give their fans something to smile about later this month.
O’Sullivan sounded mighty confident in his group after its resiliency and talent were on display over the past three days.
“We do a lot of things well,” he said.