Only two players on Florida’s roster have been where the Gators are going this weekend, a testament to how difficult it is to still be playing baseball in early June.
Senior Bobby Poyner knew this when he met with the media following Florida’s 2-1 win against Florida Atlantic on Sunday.
His only time advancing past the regional round was in 2012, when nearly one-third of Florida’s current roster were sophomores in high school.
"I remember it pretty well. I hit a lefty [batter] in the back with a slider," Poyner said jokingly.Poyner and fellow senior Josh Tobias are the only two players remaining from that team. Now, Florida has its best shot of advancing to the College World Series since both were freshmen.
"These things are hard to win," coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "These regionals, you know, you stay up late this time of year and you get to bed at three o’clock in the morning. You’re watching games and how pressure packed they are.
"The goal of getting to Omaha is real, and every team wants to get there so badly."
On Friday, when No. 4-seed Florida (47-16) faces Florida State (44-19) in a best-of-three series to determine who advances to the CWS, it will represent Tobias' and Poyner’s last chance at a national championship.
But for Florida’s new crop of standouts, most notably freshmen Mike Rivera, Dalton Guthrie and JJ Schwarz, it will be their first trip of what they hope will be several.
Despite their postseason inexperience at the collegiate level, Florida’s trio of starting freshmen is far from unaccustomed to the bright lights. Rivera and Guthrie won back-to-back state championships as teammates in high school, and Schwarz led his team to a district championship as a senior.
Additionally, UF’s youngest players have proven to be clutch. Rivera hit a game-winning home run in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal, and Schwarz has compiled a .531 batting average and 12 RBI in his first postseason.
"I think the older guys are hungry to get back to playing well in the postseason," Poyner said. "…but I think the incoming freshmen, enough can’t be said about how well those guys have contributed to this team."
While Florida will be relying heavily on players such as Harrison Bader, Richie Martin, Tobias and its entire pitching staff, UF’s youngest contributors have proven one thing over the course of the postseason: they are equally as vital, if not more so, to Florida’s success.
This article was written by Ian Cohen from University of Florida / Independent Florida Alligator and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.