Florida Gators looking to become first to win baseball, softball titles in same year
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Winning a national championship in any college sport is hard enough.
The same school winning two in the span of a few weeks has proven impossible so far in two spring sports: baseball and softball.
The Florida Gators are the only ones who can accomplish that when the College World Series in baseball opens on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. Florida (49-16) plays Miami (49-15) at TD Ameritrade Park at 8 p.m., after dominating an NCAA Regional and Super Regional, sweeping five games by an average score of 10-2.
Florida won the softball College World Series in Oklahoma City less than three weeks ago. This will be the 26th time a program has had a chance to win both since the NCAA began holding a championship tournament in softball in 1982.
How hard is it? Start with the fact that only three teams have won national championships in the same year when both of their baseball and softball teams made it to their respective World Series:
-- California-Fullerton won the baseball national title in 1995, and its softball team went 1-2 in the CWS.
-- Texas won the baseball title in 2005, while the softball team went 2-2.
-- The closest any program has come to winning both was when UCLA won the softball championship in 2010, and its baseball team went 3-2 and lost to South Carolina 7-1 in the baseball title game.
That was the last year any program had the chance. The Gators joined the Bruins in getting their baseball and softball teams to the World Series that year but both went 0-2.
"It is very, very difficult to get to this point,'' O'Sullivan said after Florida beat Florida State last week 11-4 in the second game of a Super Regional at McKethan Stadium, securing a berth in the fourth College World Series in his eight years at UF. "The first three times we went in '10, '11 and '12, you don't really realize how difficult it is to get there. You just kind of get this momentum. And then you miss in '13, and you miss in '14, and you start thinking, 'boy, this is not easy.' Not only do you have to be good, things have to kind of go your way."
Florida softball coach Tim Walton, who guided his team to a 60-7 overall record and 5-1 in the World Series, said sweeping the softball and baseball national titles would have implications far greater than two teams hoisting two trophies.
"I think that would be great for our school, athletic department, great for the SEC, and especially great for our baseball program," Walton said. "Winning a National Championship is so special and watching our baseball team compete for one in Omaha is going to be a lot fun."
One south Florida family would enjoy the prospects. JJ Schwarz the Gators' most prolific hitter in the post season, is a freshman catcher and designated hitter for the baseball team and his sister, Taylor Schwarz, is a junior first baseball for the softball team.
So if the feat of winning baseball and softball in the same season has never been done, why expect anything to be different this year?
It could be that the Gators are the hottest team in the nation right now, peaking in key areas such as starting pitching, the bullpen, hitting and defense.
Florida has won nine games in a row, 11 of 13 and has gone 16-3 since a May 1 loss to Georgia. The Gators overcame an opening loss in the SEC tournament to Arkansas and outscored their next four opponents in Hoover, Alabama 30-6; then went 5-0 in the regional and super regional, winning four of the games by six or more runs.
UF is hitting .332 as a team in the post-season (Schwarz is .564) and its pitching staff has an ERA of 2.45, with 87 strikeouts and only 24 walks in 88 innings. Florida's top three relievers, Taylor Lewis, Bobby Poyner and Kirby Snead, have a combined ERA of 1.78.
The Gators didn't make an error in the NCAA tournament until the first inning in the super regional final against the Seminoles and lead the nation in fielding percentage at .985.
Following an 11-4 loss to Florida in the super regional final, FSU coach Mike Martin declared the Gators, "the team to beat in Omaha."
One Las Vegas book has made the Gators the favorite to win the World Series at 5-2. Florida has the longest current winning streak of all of the CWS teams and is one of only two conference champions in the final eight (Fullerton is the other).
O'Sullivan, while noting that predictions in baseball are chancy, can't imagine a better position for his team to be in heading to Omaha.
"I feel good about this team," he said. "We're playing with emotion, great defense, the pitching been really good and we're getting timely hits."
There's nothing to do now but keep the pedal to the metal -- and perhaps join the Gator softball team in bringing a national title to Gainesville.
This article was written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.