Florida junior Jac Caglianone celebrates a home run with his teammates in last week's Clemson Super Regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. [Ken Ruinard - USA TODAY Sports]

College World Series: Florida Faces Familiar Foe In Opener

Amidst the doubt and outside noise, the Florida Gators, have found themselves back in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. The Gators are no stranger to a rich history of success, tallying their ninth appearance and second consecutive year in Omaha as they look to avenge a runner-up trophy from the 2023 MCWS Finals.

Though the team just scraped its way into the NCAA Tournament, Florida has blazed its path to the final eight teams standing.

From beating a pair of conference champions in Nebraska and Oklahoma State to a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller against the Clemson Tigers, the Gators have earned the right to claim a seat at the table in Omaha once again.

Though Florida (34-28) enters the final stage with the worst win-loss record, sophomore outfielder Michael Robertson, who came up with the walk-off hit against Clemson to punch their ticket, says the team is ready to put up a fight.

“Our backs have been up against the wall for what feels like the majority of the year,” he said following the game. “We’re battle-tested.”

Not only have the Gators earned their spot, but the team has also secured a rematch against a familiar Southeastern Conference foe that they have already faced in 2024. Florida is set to face the Texas A&M Aggies (49-13) on Saturday for the night cap game at 7 p.m. ET at Charles Schwab Field (ESPN, ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF).

Rewind

The Gators have faced four of the seven other teams coming to Omaha earlier in the season (Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Florida State). Out of those four, Florida only came away with a series victory against the Aggies.

In March, Florida faced their first ranked opponent of the season when then-No. 4 Texas A&M rolled into Gainesville for the Gators’ first true test of the season. Florida pulled out two come-from-behind wins with some late inning heroics on the mound and at the plate to hand the Aggies their first set of losses on the season.

Fast Forward

Jumping back out to June, the Aggies went on to be a No. 3 overall seed in the tournament and slug its way to a 49-13 record.

Led by a trio-punch from Golden Spikes award semifinalist Braden Montgomery, All-American Jace LaViolette and freshman phenom Gavin Grahovic, the Aggies punched their second ticket to Omaha in the last three years.

Texas A&M paved its own path with a dominant regional performance, including a tight win over rival Texas, and an impressive Super Regional victory over the Oregon Ducks. However, the Gators will be facing a completely different squad from College Station than the one they faced in March.

https://twitter.com/AggieBaseball/status/1800922864167883197

How Gators And Aggies Stack Up

When the two SEC foes first faced off, the plan of attack and the players each team relied on were much different.

In March, right-hander Brandon Neely started on the mound for Florida in a decisive rubber match, closed out by freshman Luke McNeillie. Since then, Neely has still been Florida’s crutch in high pressure situations, but he now comes out of the bullpen as Florida’s primary relief and closer.

Neely has been virtually untouchable throughout the postseason. In four appearances, he has tossed 16 innings, allowing just three runs and 10 hits while striking out a stunning 23 batters.

https://twitter.com/GatorsBB/status/1799573419463213198

Sophomore Ashton Wilson has solidified himself in the clean-up spot for the Gators after erupting in the Stillwater Regional. Additionally, projected top-three draft pick and two-way player of the year Jac Caglianone has done nothing but continue to drop jaws throughout the entire season.

After being notably snubbed as a Rawlings Golden Spikes Award finalist, for the nation’s most valuable player, Caglianone has reminded the world why he is arguably the best player in the country.

Caglianone sits at 33 home runs in 2024, making him the only SEC player in history to record back-to-back 30 homer seasons. He is the only remaining top-five overall draft prospect to making it to Omaha.

New Heroes Step Up

For Texas A&M, it’s a different story. After Braden Montgomery transferred from Stanford and made an immediate impact with both his bat and glove in 2024, the projected top-five pick suffered a broken ankle in Game 1 against Oregon in the Super Regional, delivering a devastating blow to the Aggies lineup.

This newfound major hole in the Aggies lineup could prove a massive advantage in the World Series opener for the Gators. Nevertheless, young hitting and an unlikely star could be just what Texas A&M needs in Omaha.

LaViolette (28 HR, .314 avg) and Grahovic (22 HR, .306 avg) have provided some youthful and powerful hitting to bolstered the offense. The two underclassmen are the only Aggies with over 20 home runs besides Montgomery (27, .322). Texas A&M’s dynamic duo has combined for over a fourth of the Maroon and White’s RBI production (136 RBI) and will certainly be the feared bats at the top of the lineup.

With Montgomery missing the remainder of the season, the Aggies were looking for the next man up in game 2 against Oregon. Needless to say, they found it. Kaeden Kent, a platoon utility player who had just 77 at-bats entering the Supers, came through for his squad to deliver the decisive grand slam and break the tie in the seventh inning over the Ducks.

https://twitter.com/AggieBaseball/status/1800227136428736893

With both A&M’s Kent and Florida’s Wilson turning into unanticipated secret weapons, it brings forth a chess match for each head coach attacking on Saturday night.

On the bump, the Aggies carry a team ERA of 3.94 compared to the Gators’ 6.16 ERA. Left-hander Justin Lamkin (2-2, 5.73 ERA) is expected to get the start for the Aggies, while righty Liam Peterson (3-4, 5.97 ERA, 72 strikeouts) will take the mound for Florida.

The Question

Can the Aggies rely on role players and starting pitching to dominate, or will the Gators carry a red-hot rally into Charles Schwab Field on the shoulders of the nation’s greatest player?

If Florida wins, it will face Kentucky (46-14), which defeated NC State 5-4 in Saturday’s first game, Monday at 7 p.m. If Florida loses, it will face NC State (38-22) on Monday at 2 p.m.

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