Florida players congratulate Mike Zunino (3) after he scored in the first inning of the game against South Carolina during the Southeastern Conference tournament last week. The Gators were chosen as the No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
NEW YORK — Florida heads into the NCAA tournament as college baseball’s top team.
The Gators appreciate the honor, but they’re interested only in finishing No. 1 at the College World Series.
“I think that we have a good team,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I think that we had a good year. I’d agree with everybody that I don’t think we have played our best yet, which is encouraging.”
Florida (42-18) was selected Monday as the top seed for the 64-team tournament and will host one of 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals that begin Friday.
“That was a very close vote,” said Kyle Kallander, chairman of the Division I baseball committee. “The committee really discussed at length who deserved to be that No. 1 overall. There were several deserving teams.”
The other national seeds, in order, are UCLA, Florida State, Baylor, Oregon, North Carolina, LSU and two-time defending College World Series champion South Carolina.
“We had four teams that were in serious consideration for that last top national seed, that No. 8 seed,” Kallander said. “It was very competitive in the evaluation process.”
Kallander said the Gators’ overall body of work — including a 21-10 record against top 25 teams — put them in front of the field.
History has not been kind to the No. 1 overall seeds, though. Only once has a top seed gone on to win the College World Series: Miami in 1999, the first year the NCAA went to its current tournament format.
“Obviously, this is a great time of the year for everybody,” said O’Sullivan, whose team opens against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bethune-Cookman (34-25). “We’re excited to be in it. We’re excited to be home.”
The Gamecocks (40-17) are trying to join the 1970-74 Southern California squads as the only teams to win three or more consecutive national titles. South Carolina opens against Manhattan (33-25), the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament champion.
Florida and South Carolina are among a tournament field-leading eight Southeastern Conference teams, including Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is second with seven teams: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia.
The 16 regional winners move on to the best-of-three super regionals. Those eight winners advance to the College World Series, which begins June 15 in Omaha, Neb., at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Miami (36-21) is in the tournament for the 40th straight year, extending its own record, while Florida State is making its 35th consecutive appearance. Dayton (31-28) and Samford (39-21) are making their tournament debuts, while Valparaiso (35-23) will play in a regional for the first time since 1968.
“I don’t think our guys will be intimidated at all,” said Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson, a former major leaguer. “We’ve already played some great teams on our schedule this year.”
Among those not in this year are Texas (30-22), which last missed out in 1998, and Utah Valley (47-12), which led Division I in wins but had a low RPI. Kallander said both were among 12 schools considered for the last couple of spots.
Utah Valley plays in the Great West Conference, which doesn’t receive an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines won 40 of their last 41 games, and 45 of their last 49.
“We’ve done everything we can to control our destiny,” coach Eric Madsen said after Utah Valley won its third straight Great West tournament. “Forty out of 41, that’s incredible.”
Kallander, commissioner of the Big South Conference, said the lack of quality non-conference opponents was a key factor in the Wolverines being left out.
“They did very well against that schedule, so what you’ve got to do is go out in your non-conference schedule and schedule stronger, and of course, you have to have some success against that schedule,” Kallander said. “They did have a couple of good wins, no doubt, and scheduled a few very good teams in the schedule, but it wasn’t quite enough for the committee.”
Two teams with losing records made the field of 64 — Creighton (26-28) and Sacred Heart (25-30) — by winning their conference tournaments.