OMAHA, Neb.— When Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino walked into the press conference room Sunday…
Swag vs. swag: Best of SEC square off
One was the defending champ. And one was coined the nation's top team by many publications.
And they resided in the same loaded division.
The two teams fought through the tough SEC slate as the Gamecocks, Gators and Vanderbilt pursued a championship.
South Carolina took two of three from the Gators in Gainesville. But the regular season decided nothing as all three teams finished 22-8 in SEC play.
This week in the CWS championship series the two teams will glance across the diamond at each other instead of across a schedule.
With the Commodores eliminated from the equation by the Gators last Friday, the SEC East is finally whittled down to two contenders. This week an ultimate champion -- a national champion, and by extension in many fans' eyes, a true SEC and SEC East champion -- will finally be determined.
"It's swag versus swag," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan called it. "It's going to be one of those things where both team are playing very well."
The two teams will square off in game-one Monday night at 8 p.m. ET with Florida ace Hudson Randall taking on South Carolina freshman Forrest Koumas.
On paper, that match-up gives Florida the edge. But South Carolina has made its living dealing with adversity all season long.
"Maybe a little bit to that," Tanner said of the Gators' pitching setting up better. "And they are set up a little bit better than us right now, but it's a short series. Anything can happen. It's one play, one pitch, that kind of thing."
South Carolina receives its confidence from its ability to find a way to win regardless of the circumstance.
The Gators have been good all season, but O'Sullivan says his team ultimately pulls a lot of its confidence from their come-from-behind victory over Mississippi State in game-three of the super regionals.
Down 6-4 in the seventh inning, Preston Tucker's three-run blast gave the Gators the lead and a second straight trip to Omaha.
But the Gators were on the wrong side of a dramatic home run the day before. In game-two of the series, Nick Vickerson's two-run walk-off home run gave the Bulldogs a 4-3 victory and forced a game-three.
"You can't draw that up in any practice plan," O'Sullivan said of the adversity his team faced. "There's no speech you can give your team. You just gotta go through that. And unfortunately you have to go through some very tough times if you want to win a national championship. And I think that helped us an awful lot."
With a combined record of 6-0 at the College World Series, both teams have cruised through the Omaha field on paper. But to win a championship, they'll ultimately have to endure more adversity in what should be a close series.
The Gamecocks go their first dose Sunday afternoon when leading hitter and every-day starter at first base Christian Walker couldn't complete his batting practice session. Walker is questionable for game-one with an injured wrist.
That's potentially another major blow to a team that has dealt with injuries to key players all season long.
But Tanner says when the lights go on for the CWS championship series, it will just be about baseball.
"I think they love to play; we love to play," he said. "Yeah, there's a lot more at stake now than there ever was before. But it's really genuine baseball. Let's go. Let's strap it on and let's try to make a play here and let's be competitive."
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