OMAHA—Minutes after Florida watched South Carolina celebrate its second straight national championship from the first-base dugout at TD Ameritrade Park, Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan exchanged postgame handshakes with South Carolina's players and coaches, then turned to accept consolatory "congratulations on a great season" handshakes from a couple of reporters.
"We'll be back," he said. "We'll be back."
Indeed, the foundation is rock-solid for the Gators, who entered 2011 atop the national rankings and are strong favorites to be preseason No. 1 in 2012 as well. Florida followed its historically strong 2009 recruiting class with another banner haul in 2010, leaving the roster stacked with experienced stars like Mike Zunino, Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox and Nolan Fontana heading into next season.
"What a great team, what a tremendous team, classy organization," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said of the Gators. "They play the game the right way. You never like to lose games, but you like to play people like the Gators and coach O'Sullivan because you get after it and you play the game the right way. And you can rest assured he'll be back in Omaha time and time again."
The bright future provided some solace for the Gators—but in the immediate aftermath of a national runner-up finish, it was small solace. Florida has gone from winning a regional to reaching the College World Series to making the CWS Finals in the last three years under O'Sullivan, but the progression of the program provided little more consolation.
"It's nice to make steps," O'Sullivan said. "But to be honest with you, the idea is to win this thing. And I think there's a lot of disappointed players in that locker room right now. Our goal year in, year out is going to be to win a national championship. I think we have the pieces in place—facilities, etc.—to be one of those teams year in, year out. And we're going to be back here. We just—we want to finish this thing off."
Most of Florida's players stand a very good chance to be back in Omaha next year. But for senior second baseman Josh Adams, Tuesday was the end of the road—and it was tough to take. When asked to describe what it has meant to be part of the Florida program for the last four years, an emotional Adams required the better part of a minute to compose himself before answering.
"These coaches, they're the best coaches in the nation," Adams said. "As a player, they help you grow. I think they help you grow even more as a person . . . For the guys that are still here, I know these coaches are going to keep them in check, and they're going to keep grinding. And that's the m entality we have here. That's definitely what's going to leave with me."
The Gators did grind through 2011, bearing the weight of prodigious expectations with exceptional aplomb. Ultimately, they simply got outplayed by a South Carolina team that would not be denied—a team that beat Florida four out of five times this season.
"I want to congratulate South Carolina. They earned this one," O'Sullivan said. "They were a little bit better than us in all phases. They pitched a little bit better. They hit a little bit better. They played a little bit better defense, and they earned it . . . There's nothing more to be said other than that. And I'm awfully proud of our team and how we battled."
• As expected, the new bats and pitcher-friendly dimensions and wind conditions at TD Ameritrade Park led to the least offensive CWS in decades. The 2.66 combined ERA by the eight Omaha teams is the lowest since 1973, the final year of the wood-bat era, when the eight teams posted a 2.51 ERA. The nine home runs and .239 composite batting average were the lowest since the 1974 Series, when teams hit eight homers and batted .227. With outfielders often playing shallower because of the new BBCOR bats, there were nearly as many triples (eight) as home runs this year. The eight triples matched the highest CWS total since 1991, tying the 2008 and 2006 Series. And with offense at a premium, coaches embraced small ball—combining for 33 sacrifices, the most since the 1955 CWS.
"There may not be the home runs, but I think offensively it's been exciting—the grinding out of at-bats, the hit-and-runs, the drags, the pushes, defending the bunt, the walk is now a huge part of the offense," O'Sullivan said before the Finals. "So maybe home runs are down. But as far as the offensive excitement, I think it's as good as it's ever been."
• In a CWS full of standout pitching, South Carolina stood out the most, posting a 0.88 team ERA in five games—the fourth-lowest in CWS history and the lowest since Arizona State posted a 0.68 ERA in 1972, during the wood-bat era. Just five teams have ever finished a CWS with a team ERA under 1.00. South Carolina's ERA is the lowest by a CWS champion since California in 1957 (0.60). The Gamecocks bullpen sparkled in Omaha for the second straight year, going 4-0, 0.00 without allowing an extra-base hit in 19 innings.
• CWS Most Outstanding Player Scott Wingo was hit by five pitches in Omaha, tying the single-Series record set by Aaron Luna of Rice in 2006. Wingo finished his South Carolina career with 63 HBPs, a school record. He also appeared in 254 career games, one shy of Michael Campbell's school record. Not bad for a lightly recruited player who hit .230, .196 and .250 in his first three seasons before blossoming into a .338 hitter as a senior.
"I thought he was a tremendous influence on the program for the last four years, and then he saved his best for last offensively," Tanner said of Wingo. "He's been a key ingredient to the success we've had between the lines. He loves to play . . . Scott Wingo is the epitome of what our program is all about, and I know I'm going to miss him. I told him a few minutes ago he's really going to miss me come next fall."
• The Gamecocks are the first team ever to go 10-0 in a single postseason, and just the fourth team since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999 to go undefeated in an NCAA tournament. Miami went 9-0 in 2001 and 1999, and Louisiana State did it in 2000.
• South Carolina's national title is the third straight for the Southeastern Conference, which now owns nine national championships. That's the second-most all-time behind only the Pacific-10 Conference's 15 titles.
• The final game of the 2011 CWS drew the event's largest crowd: 26,721, setting a record for the brand-new ballpark, and a record for a CWS Finals game. Fans flocked to the new ballpark for the CWS, which drew an average of 22,977 fans per game, the highest since the 2005 Series, which set a record by averaging 23,952 per game.
• Naturally, South Carolina dominated the CWS all-tournament team, placing seven players on the 11-man team. The complete list: C Robert Beary, South Carolina; 1B Christian Walker, South Carolina; 2B Scott Wingo, South Carolina; 3B Cody Dent, Florida; SS Peter Mooney, South Carolina; OF Tony Kemp, Vanderbilt; OF Connor Harrell, Vanderbilt; OF Bryson Smith, Florida; DH Brady Thomas, South Carolina; P Michael Roth, South Carolina; P Matt Price, South Carolina.
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