Florida must turn to a new pitcher

The Gators' top three starters are unavailable for today's Series opener.

Published June 25, 2005

OMAHA, Neb. - Sometimes you have to take the cards you're dealt and make the best hand you can.

Sometimes, as is the case for the Florida baseball team this weekend, there are no other options.

Tuesday, the Gators were 2-0 and on track to advance to the College World Series championship series with their top three starting pitchers, Tommy Boss, Alan Horne and Bryan Ball, available.

But that changed when Ball started and lost to Arizona State on Wednesday. Then in Thursday's elimination game against Arizona State, Horne sustained a left hamstring injury while throwing a pitch in the fourth inning. His departure forced coach Pat McMahon to bring in Boss, who pitched 52/3 shutout innings.

The Gators (48-21) got the win, but it put the rotation in a state of flux entering tonight's Game 1 of the best-of-three series against Texas. So the Gators will make their best hand. "The whole year is about persevering," senior centerfielder Jeff Corsaletti said. "A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people in the nation didn't think we'd be here. Down the stretch, we lost seven of our last 10 games. But we persevered and didn't quit, and we're playing our best baseball right now."

Florida seeks its first title in its fifth Series appearance, but the biggest story line is its starting pitching. Although the Gators' bullpen was rarely used in the region tournament and super region sweep of Florida State (thanks to dominant performances from the starters), the relievers did see significant action during the regular season.

McMahon said he can't guarantee how they will perform, but he knows they are well-prepared.

"Darren O'Day and Connor Falkenbach are guys who have put us in this position," McMahon said Friday. "Steven Porter has put us in this position and Michael Pete. We ask a lot out of our guys out of the bullpen. At this stage of the arena, because of injuries and because of playing ourselves into this position, some other guys have to step forward."

Exactly which guy remains to be seen. McMahon is expected to go with Falkenbach (3-3, 2.83 ERA), freshman Stephen Locke (5-1, 3.71) or little-used freshman Tommy Wynn (0-2, 171/3 innings.)

Asked to name his starter, McMahon said, "Staff."

Whoever he chooses will have the full backing of his teammates.

"I have a ton of confidence in those guys," second baseman Adam Davis said. "We faced those guys - and I think we have some pretty good hitters in our lineup - and we struggled against our own guys when we played against them in the fall. They definitely are looking forward to getting a chance to get out there and prove themselves."

Texas, which hasn't played since Wednesday, is 3-0 in the Series and making its 11th appearance in the championship series. But Florida doesn't expect to be intimidated by the Longhorns' pedigree.

"Even though we haven't had experience, I think we've played our game," Corsaletti said. "If we play error-free ball, have quality at-bats, we've got a lot of guys that want to win and want to play hard.."

Because of its layoff, Texas' pitching staff is arranged almost perfectly, starting with redshirt freshman Adrian Alaniz today. The No.3 starter, Randy Boone, and workhorse Clayton Stewart have yet to take the mound.

"It's been a week since I've pitched," Alaniz said, the blister on his right middle finger almost healed. "That's the perfect amount of rest."

Texas is favored, but its players aren't getting caught up in the history or hype.

"At this point, everything starts over," Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden said. "It's a three-game season coming up. Obviously, we have a lot of confidence in the fact that we've won three hard games. We had to come from behind. The last three weeks, we've played some great baseball."

Having coached the Longhorns to the 2002 title, coach Augie Garrido knows pitching will be critical but ultimately there's no telling what will determine this year's champion.

"They all have their own identity," he said. "The moment for both of these teams will be established as the (series) begins. That's what's great about baseball. It provides everyone with an equal opportunity."

Florida hopes to make the best of its first chance.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.