Top-seed Gators hope best is yet to come

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The postseason is finally here for the Florida baseball team, and coach Kevin O’Sullivan gets the feeling the freshness of the NCAA tournament will spur the Gators into doing something they haven’t done all season: Play their best baseball.

The scary thing for the rest of the 64-team field announced on Monday is that second-ranked Florida still earned the national No. 1 seed and is the favorite to win the College World Series.

"I would agree with everybody that I don’t think we’ve played our best yet, which is encouraging," O’Sullivan said. "We’re sitting here as the No. 1 national seed. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think the perception is we haven’t played our best, but it’s been pretty darn good. Now, we’re just like everybody else. I think we’ve got things we’ve got to improve on and get better at, but I feel good where we’re at."

The Gators (42-18) failed in their chance to win at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title when they lost to Auburn on the final day of the season, and they failed to reach the SEC tournament title game after Vanderbilt came up with a ninth-inning rally in a semifinal game last Saturday. But their strength of schedule (No.5 according to Boyd’s World) and RPI (No. 1 according to the NCAA) earned them the No. 1 overall seed and the right to play host to a double-elimination NCAA regional that includes Bethune-Cookman (34-25), ACC tournament champion Georgia Tech 36-24 and College of Charleston (37-20).

Georgia Tech will play the College of Charleston at 1 p.m. ET Friday. UF will play Bethune-Cookman at 7 p.m. ET Friday. The winner of the regional will play the winner of the Raleigh (N.C.) regional -- which includes N.C. State, Vanderbilt, UNC Wilmington and Sacred Heart -- in a best-of-three Super Regional the following weekend.

The feeling on the team is similar to what the UF basketball team went through as the defending national champions in 2007. The Gators played well but slumped a bit late in the regular season, rebounded to win the SEC tournament, then had to grind through their first four games of the NCAA tournament.

But when the Gators beat Oregon to advance to the Final Four, it was as if a giant weight was lifted from their shoulders.

O’Sullivan hopes his players experience a similar feeling now that the four-month grind of the regular season is over.

"It’s hard to not ignore that, but the bottom line is we’ve going to have to go out and play well," O’Sullivan said. "The bottom line is that at this point in the year you just can’t have any bad games. You’ve got to play well, and I’m hoping that the leadership on this team continues to grow and continues to show up. And I think the main thing is if we play well like we’re capable and like we have a lot this year, I think we’ll be tough to beat."