Florida Gators Virginia Cavaliers
Preston Tucker
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Steven Proscia
AP Images

At first glance, Florida has all the tools to make a run for the national title, but the Gators may not possess everything it takes to take home their first NCAA baseball trophy in 2011. With two key injuries looming over them, the Gators’ pitching depth will be tested against the top teams in collegiate baseball.

While the Gators have a solid pitching staff that boasts a 3.01 ERA on the year, two key contributors are questionable for the CWS. Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66 ERA), the staff’s No. 2 starter, has sat out the last two weeks after being hit in the head by catcher Mike Zunino’s throw against Georgia on May 28, while closer Austin Maddox (2-0, 0.74 ERA, 5 saves) sprained his left foot against Manhattan in the regional opener and has not played since.  

“They are two huge components of our success this year,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m not foolish … I know for us to win this thing, it would give us a better chance to win it if we have those guys back.”

Maddox’s absence cost the Gators dearly in the second contest against Mississippi State. His replacement, sophomore left-hander Steven Rodriguez, gave up a two-run, walk-off homer to the Bulldogs which forced a third Super Regional game. As of June 14, both players were working with the UF training staff, but no status update had been given by O’Sullivan.

Offensively, the Gators like to hit the long ball, and are averaging 1.0  homers per game after blasting five against Mississippi State in the final Super Regional game. However, in Omaha, the stadium dimensions are a little bigger than the friendly confines of McKethan Stadium. 

The new TD Ameritrade Park has exactly the same dimensions as Rosenblatt Stadium (335 feet down the lines, 408 feet to center and 375 feet in the power alleys), and it is typically a little more windy in Nebraska.  Knowing these factors, plus competing against some of the top pitchers in the nation, there is a greater chance those home runs will just turn into long fly balls. In 11 of Florida’s 17 losses this season, the Gators did not go yard.

After going 0-2 in last year’s CWS, will the Gators’ nerves get the best of them? If Florida doesn’t jump out to a fast start like they have in its six NCAA tournament contests (outscoring opponents 39-1 in the first three innings), it could mean another early exit for the Gators.

                               -- Amy Farnum, NCAA.com


Finding flaws in the No. 1 team in the nation is never an easy thing to do, especially with a team that has almost been on cruise control for the better portion of the season. But as we saw in last week’s Super Regionals, Virginia can be beat. The Cavaliers were an out away from not making it to Omaha and the 2011 College World Series.

They are gritty, well-coached and fundamentally sound. Yes, they sport one of the best pitching staffs in the country, with a nation-leading 2.26 ERA. And yes, the Cavs have posted 16 shutouts in 2011. Playing a scrappy team like UC Irvine a week ago was taxing, and if not for a two-out rally in Game 3, Virginia wouldn’t be here.

There’s some history working against Virginia though.

The numbers tell us that UVa should run away and hide. That it should put up zero after zero on the new TD Ameritrade Park scoreboard. But there is one number that the Cavaliers should be worried about, and it comes before their name on every scoreboard and piece written about them: No. 1.

Since the top eight teams have been seeded starting in 1999, only one top seed, Miami (Fla.) in that first year, has gone on to win the title. Six of the last seven champions were unseeded. That bodes well for California and Texas A&M – the unseeded teams in this year’s field.

Then there’s that well-known fact that all college baseball fans seem to know, particularly those fans of the ACC. Wake Forest was the last ACC team to win a national title on the baseball diamond, all the way back in 1955. Miami’s national championships came before the Hurricanes were part of the conference.

If there is one facet of the game that Virginia fans might be worried about heading into the CWS, it’s the backend of the bullpen, which if you’ve been following the Cavs all season long is tough to imagine. Closer Branden Kline has 17 saves this season, but his only loss came in the Super Regionals when he gave up two runs in the eighth against UC Irvine. Opponents are hitting a lofty .308 against the sophomore this postseason.

There’s not much to criticize about this team. But with history on the other side, it may not matter which team shows up this week in Omaha.

                               -- Doug Kroll, NCAA.com