Preston Tucker Powers Gators Back to Omaha

Game in, game out, from his freshman year in 2009, to his junior season now, Preston Tucker has always held the most dangerous bat. Who cares what changes the NCAA makes to it? It’s the guy holding it that produces the results. He’s been the epitome of consistency all three years he’s been at Florida.

So when he started out the Super Regionals with an ugly 0 for 7, I knew he was due for a big one.

Actually, I knew he was due after about the time he was 0 for 3- because he’d made the unfortunate mistake of drilling three straight lasers, all of them right into the teeth of the Tucker shift for outs. The Gators didn’t need him anyway in Game 1, and routed Mississippi State 11-1.

They didn’t seem to need him in Game 2 either, as it seemed that the Gator bullpen would hold onto the admittedly fragile 2-0 lead. But they didn’t, and all Preston Tucker had to show for a few more vicious liners were a few more outs and a celebration right in front of him, with MSU players mobbing their own version of Tucker, Nick Vickerson, who had just hit a walk off homer.

Sorry, MSU. There’s only one Preston Tucker, and Vickerson- great as he may be- is not him. Vickerson was clutch all weekend. Tucker was clutch all 2009, all 2010, and all 2011.

Including Game 3 of this Super Regional.

Pay attention to this guy, folks. He’s the baseball equivalent of Tim Tebow, and that’s no exaggeration. More than once, he’s driven in double digits RBI in one game. He’s been our biggest bat for three years now.

Although he’s hit “only” .309 this year, and despite just recently breaking into the hit column for the weekend, he was still the man to be feared yesterday. It’s understandably easy to forget this with SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino batting ahead of him.

Now onto the situation.

Tucker and his teammates couldn’t believe it, but there it was- a 4-0 lead being blown and down 6-4. But up came Mr. Tucker, who’d waited long enough for this. He took a fastball and hit a Backyard Baseball type electrifying line drive (or whatever that power up is called). Only this one cleared the center field wall- and three runs crossed the plate.

Daniel Pigott saw this and said what’s good for Tucker’s good for me, and in the next inning, he took one out.

Then Tommy Toledo closed the game out.


Isn’t he a starter?

Yeah, he was, but not anymore. This Gators team is so deep that this star pitcher is now a middle reliever who closed because Austin Maddox is hurt.

Speaking of, damn, this team is deep.

And that’s what cost MSU the game.

The Gators were without Austin Maddox and Brian Johnson, two of our best players. Yet without them, we got the job done- Vickash Ramjit, Maddox’s replacement, smacked a homer yesterday to prove that the bench isn’t half bad, either.

Anyway, Toledo got the first two batters out, and then of course, as all good movies go, Vickerson stepped up. And I’ll be honest- he smoked one. Only it was time for him and Tucker to switch spots. Tucker was the one celebrating a win, and Vickerson watched the celebration, infuriated with his bad luck to hit one directly into an outfielder’s glove.

And here’s what Kevin O’Sullivan had to say. Or do.

The night before, Gators co-head football coach, Charlie Weis, along with Billy Donovan, called Kevin and gave him some advice, including meet with the players the night before the game.

It paid off.

Florida catcher Mike Zunino celebrates the Gators win over Mississippi State on Sunday.

Now, the Gators are in Omaha. And does this experience help them?

Definitely. In fact, it’s good that the Gators experienced a loss on Saturday. They know they are not invincible, and they know that they cannot spend a second thinking about how awesome it is to be in Omaha. They have to just play baseball.

Last year, the Gators played for fun.

This year, they’ll play for a championship.

Last year, the Gators played for a trip to Omaha.

This year, they’ll play for wins in Omaha.

And now we look at just how dynamite our team will be. Austin Maddox, one of our four best hitters, and our closer, will likely be back. Brian Johnson, another solid pitcher and hitter, will also be back.

This is a team that is as talented, hungry, and ready as there is.

Screw Virginia. The Gators are the favorite to win the World Series.