GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — First baseman Peter Alonso and so many of his Florida teammates vividly remember leaving Omaha empty-handed last season.
That oh-so-close feeling of losing two one-run games to eventual national champion Virginia has stuck with them since.
It’s provided motivation. It’s kept them focused. It’s helped them maintain the No. 1 ranking for most of this season.
Getting back to the College World Series and winning the program’s first national title has been the goal from Day 1. So losing to rival Florida State in the NCAA’s super regionals is not even an option.
The Seminoles are just the next obstacle in Florida’s road to redemption.
“We’ve won a lot of games and we think we deserve to be” in Omaha, Alonso said. “The goal at the beginning of this year was to win a national championship. I certainly believe we all just belong there. I know like we’re not there yet, but that’s the goal.”
The Gators (50-13), the overall top seed in the tournament, begin the next step Saturday against Florida State (40-20) in a best-of-three series.
Florida swept all three meetings against the Seminoles during the regular season and has won five in a row and 10 of the last 12 in the series. Two more would send the Gators back to Omaha, Nebraska, for the fifth time in the last seven years.
“I love it,” Florida reliever Dane Dunning said. “FSU-Florida, it’s one of the biggest rivalries that we have and just to be able to play and hopefully end their season, it’s a great feeling. … It’s going to be a blast.”
The Seminoles haven’t had a lot of fun against Florida lately. The Gators have outscored Florida State 41-13 in the last five meetings, including 13-5 and 11-4 in two super regional games in Gainesville last year.
“They took advantage of every mistake and beat our eyes out,” Seminoles coach Mike Martin said. “There’s no excuses. If we made a mistake, they cashed it in.”
The winning streak, along with a 31-4 record at McKethan Stadium this season, has the Gators feeling confident. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan has tried to temper that a bit, reminding his team that the postseason is all about matchups.
“I do know this: The more you knock on the door, the more you give yourself the opportunity,” O’Sullivan said. “Percentages say that at some point you’re going to end up winning it all. I don’t want this team to feel like it’s destiny and that if we don’t win it all it’s a failure. … Everybody wants to get there in the worst way.
“There’s way too many things to worry about right now to think about destiny or last game of the year.”
Here are some other things to know about Florida State and Florida heading into their super regional:
DRAFT SUCCESS: Florida’s top talent was on display two nights before the series opener. The Gators had five players selected in the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball draft. Oakland selected left-hander A.J. Puk sixth overall, followed by Dunning (No. 29 to Washington), right-hander Logan Shore (No. 47 to Oakland), outfielder Buddy Reed (No. 48 to San Diego) and first baseman Alonso (No. 64 to the New York Mets).
HOT HITTERS: Florida State’s Dylan Busby and Florida’s Alonso are two of the hottest hitters in the tournament. In postseason play, Busby is 17 for 34, with 13 extra-base hits, six home runs and 18 RBIs. He has raised his average 29 points, to .328. Alonso went 8 for 14 in three regional games last weekend, with three homers and eight RBIs. He earned regional MVP honors after missing the previous three weeks with a broken bone in his left hand. “He’s a beautiful hitter,” Martin said. “Liked him from the first time I saw him hit. Tough out and has hurt us in the past. Have to pitch him close.”
DIFFERENT STROKES: Florida State and Florida play much different styles of baseball. The Seminoles are one of the better hitting clubs in the country, ranking 34th in average, 15th in runs and seventh in on-base percentage, while the Gators are built on pitching and defense. Florida ranks third in fielding, ninth in ERA and first in strikeouts.
Associated Press Writer Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report.
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