Super Regional Notebook

Nolan Fontana and others juniors had a big weekend

Three straight College World Series appearances speak volumes about the players that have been in Gainesville through it all. That's the junior and senior classes for the Gators, and it's no coincidence those groups are loaded with talent. Eight draft picks in the top nine picks last week showed the talent of a group that helped put Florida baseball back on the map as a national power.

"You know we're going to tell the next class that," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan quipped about using the three straight trips to sell to future recruits.

The Gators join South Carolina as the only school in the field of the College World Series that has been in Omaha the last three years. It's also the first time in school history that Florida has made three consecutive trips.

"Not a lot of players get to say that," senior right fielder Preston Tucker said. "It shows how good Sully is at recruiting players with talent but know how to grind and are competitive. That showed today. It's a big part of our success."

Talent hasn't been an issue. The senior class is a rare one in college baseball because it's full of talented contributors.

The leader is Preston Tucker, who will leave Gainesville as arguably the best hitter in school history. Daniel Pigott and Tyler Thompson, who tore his ACL one month into the season and could return next year, have been contributors in the outfield since their first season on campus. Greg Larson has been a go-to right-hander out of the Florida bullpen for four years.

The seniors have left their mark. The juniors have helped fill in.

The junior class sports two first round picks—Mike Zunino and Brian Johnson—while five total juniors were taken in the top three rounds of the draft. It's a class that made an immediate impact once it got to Gainesville.

Nolan Fontana was the opening day starter and has been a fixture at the top of the lineup for three years. Austin Maddox had a big season with the bat and has since turned into another solid reliever. Steven Rodriguez contributed out of the bullpen since his first day on campus.

The talent has never been an issue, but in a sport that's postseason can produce wild results, the Gators will leave on Wednesday for their third consecutive trip to Omaha.

"I can't say it enough—it's extremely difficult to get to this point," O'Sullivan said. "There are a lot of good teams and so much parity now with the scholarship limitations, with the bats that have changed. You look in the Super Regionals and you've got teams that people didn't pick to be there. There's a lot of parity and a lot that can happen.

"What we promised them is they'd get an education, mature into men and we'd help them become better baseball players. Obviously, Omaha is a thing that we talk about."

CRAWFORD DECISION: O'Sullivan was faced with a difficult choice on Sunday. Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford threw 17 pitches in the first two innings before a rain delay halted play for two hours and 23 minutes.

In the two innings before the delay, Crawford was perfect with two strikeouts. In the 1.2 innings that followed, he allowed five hits, three runs and one walk. The velocity was still 95-96 mph, but his location wasn't as good as it was before the delay.

The Florida staff elected to go back to Crawford because his pitch count was low in the early innings. O'Sullivan said he has protected arms on the Florida pitching staff throughout the season so that they would be able to go through situations like Crawford did on Sunday.

"We've had one pitcher throw over 100 pitches this entire year—Hudson Randall," O'Sullivan said. "We take care of arms probably better than anybody. It's one of those things where you're at this part of the season, we kept his arm loose and his stuff was still good. He was still at 96 (mph).

"I knew that question would come up and a lot of people question the move. All I know is we've only had one pitcher throw over 100 pitches all year long. We take care of our arms. When you get to this time of the year, when you protect their arms, you have an opportunity to do that."

TURGEON SLIDE RAISES CONTROVERSY: Justin Shafer gave the Gators a 6-5 lead with an RBI single in the eighth inning. It should've been more. Pigott scored from third with ease while Casey Turgeon flew home but was ruled out on the tag by NC State catcher Danny Canela. Replay showed that Canela whiffed on the tag.

"I don't think my eyes were fooling me, but I didn't see a tag," said Pigott, who was directing Turgeon to slide from behind home plate. "It was a close play. The umpire had as good of an angle as he could've had. I can't tell for certain whether he tagged him, but I thought he was safe and wanted him to be safe."

Turgeon added, "I was running so I couldn't feel anything, but I thought I beat the throw. I thought I was safe. I didn't feel anything."

TOBIAS EMERGING: Florida wouldn't have clinched the Super Regional on Sunday without freshman third baseman Josh Tobias. With the game tied in the ninth inning, Tobias started it with a double to right-center field that went in and out of Jake Fincher's glove. He scored the go-ahead run on a sac fly by Mike Zunino.

After North Carolina State came back to tie the game, Pigott's solo homer gave Florida a lead in the tenth inning. With Turgeon on second base and two outs, Tobias singled to right field to score him and push the lead to two runs.

"Really, really, really good at-bats," O'Sullivan said. "We were fortunate that when (Fincher's) glove hit the ground, it just popped out.

"It speaks volumes about how far he has come as a player this year. If he had not had the setback with his hamate bone, we probably would've seen this a little earlier than the end of the season."

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