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College World Series Preview: Sizing Up The Gators' Competition

How Florida's opponents got to Omaha.

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AJ Puk and the Florida Gators will be in a pool with Coastal Carolina, TCU and Texas Tech in Omaha.
AJ Puk and the Florida Gators will be in a pool with Coastal Carolina, TCU and Texas Tech in Omaha.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the SEC can breathe a big sigh of relief. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that that conference set NCAA records for both national seeds (four) and hosts (seven) for the 2016 Baseball tournament. However, up until late Monday night, seven tickets had been punched to Omaha and not one came from the SEC. Could that historic run-up to the tournament somehow turn into the first year since 1992 that the College World Series would be contested without an SEC team? Alas, that answer would be no. JJ Schwarz’s fifth-inning grand slam broke open a close game and propelled the Florida Gators to a 7-0 win over rival Florida State. Florida’s win in the Gainesville Super Regional ensured that the streak would hit a 24th straight year for the SEC. The Gators’ pool in Omaha includes three other teams, but only one national seed. The other two teams had to beat SEC teams on the road to get to TD Ameritrade Park, so don’t think they’ll be fazed by facing Florida. Let’s look at those three teams: Coastal Carolina, TCU and Texas Tech.

Coastal Carolina Logo sportslogos.net

COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (49-16, 21-3 BIG SOUTH)

-Big South Regular Season and Tournament Champions

-Raleigh Regional Champions

-Baton Rouge Super Regional Champions

The Chanticleers have long been one of those teams known as a national power in baseball, yet perpetually on the brink of Omaha. Now, Gary Gilmore's club is through to the promised land for the first time. This postseason run is no fluke for the Chanticleers, though. Coastal was projected as a regional host by many, and when they had to go on the road to the Raleigh regional, they did so with a proverbial "chip on the shoulder." What came out of that weekend was a gutsy performance from the Chanticleers. Coastal battled adverse weather conditions and the NC State Wolfpack, and emerged victorious over both. Following a 5-2 win over St. Mary's (Ca.) in their tournament opener, Coastal blanked NC State 4-0 to put themselves in the driver's seat for a regional title. Then, the drama began. Rain forced both the regional championship and the "if necessary" game to be played on Monday, and Coastal lost game one 8-1. Trailing 5-3 heading to the top of the ninth in game two, the rain began. The Chanticleers loaded the bases with one out, only to have the game called off for the night. When play resumed, Coastal plated four runs in the ninth and held on for a 7-5 win. Flash forward to the Super Regional in Baton Rouge, where the Chanticleers seemed unfazed by their surroundings. Coastal scored in seven of the nine innings on Saturday and beat LSU 11-8, setting them up for a Sunday game in which the Chanticleers had the chance to be the first road team ever to sweep a Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium. And that they did. Even after LSU tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the ninth inning (Coastal was playing as the home team), Anthony Marks drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth and stole second. Michael Paez, a shortstop drafted in the fourth round by the New York Mets, hit a chopping ground ball down the third base line. It ricocheted over third base and into left field. Marks didn't stop running until he was sliding across the plate to score the winning run.   

TCU Logo sportslogos.net

TCU HORNED FROGS (47-16, 16-10 BIG 12)

-Big 12 Tournament Champions

-Fort Worth Regional Champions

-College Station Super Regional Champions

TCU has qualified for its third straight College World Series, and despite not being a national seed this season, the Horned Frogs once again look to be a threat in Omaha. TCU rolled through the Fort Worth regional, beating all three teams that invaded Lupton Stadium for the weekend. TCU shut out Oral Roberts 7-0 in their tournament opener before receiving their toughest test in the second game of the weekend, when the Frogs narrowly escaped the Gonzaga Bulldogs 4-3. The regional championship was much more of a breeze for TCU, as they topped Arizona State 8-1. That pushed TCU into the Super Regional round, where for the second year in a row, the Horned Frogs would match up with Texas A&M. And for the second year in a row, the Horned Frogs eliminated Texas A&M. This time around, A&M was the national seed and favored team, but TCU was able to earn the series win with an 8-2 win in game one and a 4-2 win in game three, sandwiched around a 7-1 loss in the middle game of the Super Regional.

Texas Tech Logo sportslogos.net

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (46-18, 19-5 BIG 12)

-Big 12 Regular Season Champions

-Lubbock Regional Champions

-Lubbock Super Regional Champions

Texas Tech is the only other team in this bracket that has yet to leave home before the trip to Omaha. The Red Raiders' path to this point has not necessarily been smooth, as Texas Tech faced elimination in both the Regional and Super Regional rounds. The Raiders rolled past Fairfield 12-1 in the Lubbock Regional opener before a narrow 4-3 win over New Mexico to put them into the regional championship. That championship required an extra game, as Dallas Baptist won 10-6 in the first regional championship, but the Red Raiders put the Patriots away 5-3 in Game 7. East Carolina provided the opposition for the Super Regional, and Texas Tech found themselves in a hole after an 8-6 loss to start the weekend. Then, tied 1-1 in the 13th inning on Saturday, Big 12 Player of the Year Eric Gutierrez hit a tie-breaking two-RBI single to propel the Red Raiders to a series-tying 3-1 win. That set the table for a dominating 11-0 win Sunday to send the Red Raiders to Omaha for the second time ever and first since 2014.

Florida opens play Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern when they face Coastal Carolina on ESPN2.