The Florida Gators (52-17) find themselves in the drivers seat alongside the defending-champion South Carolina Gamecocks (52-14), as they each just need a win on Friday to advance to the championship series. They each hope to take care of business in their first opportunity. The championship series begins on Monday and consists of a best-of-three series between the two bracket winners.
Florida takes on Vanderbilt for the sixth time this season Friday at 2pm ET on ESPN, and streamed online at espn3.com. The Gators have walked away with four wins in the five games they have played this season. Junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.95 ERA) will be making his second start against Vanderbilt this season. He beat Vanderbilt in the SEC final by throwing 5.1 scoreless innings, giving up five hits and no walks while striking out five.
All-American Sonny Gray (12-3 2.12 ERA) will be taking the mound for Vanderbilt as they hope to live to fight another day. They'll have to beat Florida Friday afternoon to force another game on Saturday in a winner-take-all match-up for a spot in the championship series. Gray will need to pitch better than he did in his first start in Omaha against North Carolina where the All-American went just 4.2 innings allowing eight hits, three runs and five walks. That was 13 base-runners allowed in under five innings. Vanderbilt will need the regular season Sonny Gray to show up if they want to force a second game against Florida.
Florida has yet to give up a run in Omaha after the 7th inning and are 45-0 this season when leading after seven innings. Florida's bullpen has thrown 6.2 innings in Omaha and has yet to give up a hit, but they have 11 strikeouts and one walk. Florida pitchers have done fantastic against opponents' 3-5 hitters as they've hit just (.087, 2-23) against Gator pitching. Info used from gatorzone.com
Florida has had the upper-hand in this series so far this season and they are in a position of strength here in the College World Series.
The Virginia Cavaliers (56-11) came into this tournament as the No.1 overall seed, but find themselves looking up at the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks (52-14). They square-off in a must-win for Virginia if they want to keep their title hopes alive at 7pm ET on ESPN, and streamed online at espn3.com. One win for South Carolina and they're playing a best-of-three for a national title, again.
The experience that South Carolina brings with them from winning it all last season is beyond any statistic or box score. They know what it takes and they have shown to be able to handle the situation and thrive under that pressure. Not to say that Virginia can't do that, but in a game of momentum it's the team that handles the ups-and-downs of the game the best that will come out ahead.
It will be imperative that Virginia gets on top early if they want to win this game, or the pressure will continue to build each and every inning of knowing their chance at a title could be falling just short. Falling behind will allow South Carolina to feel that championship-door getting closer and make it tougher and tougher for Virginia to catch-up.
Virginia is most likely going to start their ace, left-hander Danny Hultzen, in their game Friday night. South Carolina has not yet named a starter but they're leaning towards their ace, Michael Roth to start on Friday. Hultzen last threw against California on Sunday as he showed then why the Mariners decided to take him with the No. 2 overall pick in this past MLB draft. He went 6.1 scoreless innings giving up just three hits and striking out six. Roth also last threw on Sunday against Texas A&M. He went seven innings, giving up four unearned runs on four hits with eight strikeouts.
The most logical conclusion is that Florida will meet South Carolina to determine the 2011 national champion. But they have to earn it first and Virginia and Vanderbilt are there to make that very difficult for them. We could have the championship series set after Friday's games, or we could have a showdown set for Saturday. Either way, Friday should be a fantastic day of baseball with some of the best in the country putting their talents on display for the entire country to appreciate.