Longhorns hope tough road leads to the title
Saturday, June 25, 2005
OMAHA, Neb. -- Just about everything came easily for the Texas Longhorns last season -- until Cal State Fullerton came along and swept them in the national finals.
This year, the Longhorns believe their bumpy road to Omaha has them better prepared for the championship round of the College World Series.
The Longhorns (54-16) open the best-of-three championship series Saturday against seventh-seeded Florida (48-21), the first meeting ever between these national powers.
The unseeded Longhorns are playing for the championship for the third time in four years. As the No. 1 seed last year, they rolled through regionals and super regionals. At the CWS, they beat Arkansas 13-2 and Georgia 9-3 and 7-6, before losing 6-4 and 3-2 to Fullerton.
"I was surprised in the championship series that we showed our nerves," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "We'll see whether that happens again."
This year Texas lost 9-2 to Arkansas on its home field in the regionals, then had to win three straight elimination games. The Longhorns lost their super regional opener to Mississippi before winning two straight to reach the College World Series for the fourth straight year.
Once at Rosenblatt Stadium, they beat Baylor twice to avenge four losses to the Bears this season, and shut out top-seeded Tulane.
"This year the postseason couldn't have been further from last year," Texas shortstop Seth Johnston said. "The difference is this year's team has had to fight through a lot more ups and downs. If we're able to use that experience and use what we learned from those games we lost, we're going to be a much stronger team because of it."
The Southeastern Conference champion Gators have had their hard times this season, too, losing seven of nine games from April 29 to May 11. But they won their regional in three games and swept Florida State in the super regionals to earn a chance at their first national title.
"This whole year has been about persevering," Florida center fielder Jeff Corsaletti said. "A lot of people doubted us, and a lot of people in the nation didn't think we'd be here today. We're playing our best baseball right now."
The Gators beat Tennessee and Nebraska in their first two College World Series games, lost to Arizona State 6-1 on Wednesday and then advanced to the championship series with a 6-3 victory over the Sun Devils on Thursday.
The teams' pitching plans were uncertain Friday. Texas coach Augie Garrido said either redshirt freshman Adrian Alaniz (7-3) or sophomore Kyle McCulloch (11-4) would go in Game 1.
Texas pitchers have combined to allow just three earned runs in 27 CWS innings.
Florida coach Pat McMahon said he has three possible starters for Game 1: freshman Stephen Locke (5-1), freshman Tommy Wynn (0-2) or senior Connor Falkenbach (3-3). Locke has started 10 games, Wynn has started three and Falkenbach has appeared in 49 games as a reliever.
Offensively for the Gators, designated hitter Stephen Barton has hit .429 in Omaha, while Adam Davis and Matt LaPorta have two home runs apiece. LaPorta leads the nation with 26 homers this season, and the Gators are 22-4 this season in games in which he hits one.
LaPorta, Adam Davis and Brian Leclerc each homered Thursday as the Gators rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat Arizona State. They have a series-leading six in four games.
"For us to be successful, we're going to have to use the long ball this series, and it's not going to come easy against the quality pitching they've got," Corsaletti said.
Texas' Will Crouch and Taylor Teagarden are batting .417 and .400, respectively, in the College World Series. The Longhorns, who have three homers in three games, are more adept at the hit-and-run, and have moved runners over with sacrifices seven times.
Texas holds the records for CWS appearances (32) and wins (76) and is playing for its sixth national title, which would rank second to Southern California's 12. The Longhorns' most recent title came in 2002.
The Gators have made all five of their CWS appearances since 1988, and haven't finished better than third.
"We don't have much in the experience category, but we have a lot of guys who want to win and a lot of guys who play hard," Corsaletti said.
Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs downplayed his team's edge in experience.
"This is a different team with a different identity this year," he said.