The junior’s recognizable stride could be seen as soon as he walked up the steps from the Florida Gators clubhouse. Broad shoulders, hat high on his head and a smile from ear to ear greeted us. Harrison Bader was the first player to greet the media that had gathered in the first base dugout prior to the 2015 baseball season and the outspoken veteran didn’t mince words.
“My biggest focus, and really my only focus, is making it to the World Series,” said Bader. “It’s been my third year, I’ve heard incredible things about it from the coaches and players in the league, friends, that’s just what I’m focused on, that’s my goal.”
The Florida Gators took a step in that direction on Sunday, beating Vanderbilt 7-3 to capture the school’s seventh SEC Tournament Championship. The team celebrated on the field in Hoover but there was no dog pile. Smiles and high fives, some posing with the SEC Trophy and signs were taken but Sunday was not the goal — just step one in realizing the goal.
Florida was rewarded for their hard work on Monday with the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. As a National Seed the Gators’ road to Omaha won’t leave McKethan Stadium in Gainesville. The Florida Gators are the only team in the country that has earned a National Seed in six of the last seven years.
The Gators were in a similar situation last season. The No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Florida hosted a regional but were quickly ousted, losing their first two games. The Gators are riding high on a four-game winning streak and will look to keep that momentum going this week as they host Florida A&M, South Florida and Florida Atlantic in the Gainesville Regional.
The Gators had one game scheduled with FAMU this season but it was canceled due to weather. Florida beat FAU 10-8 at Roger Dean Stadium in their only matchup with the Owls this season and beat USF 13-3 in Tampa in February, then again 5-1 in May.
The Gainesville Regional is linked up with the Tallahassee Regional, meaning that if both Florida and Florida State win their regions, the Noles will travel to Gainesville for the Super Regional with a College World Series berth on the line.
The Gators are the SEC Champions but that was never their goal. Familiar faces will meet them at McKethan Stadium as Florida looks to make it back to Omaha.
“That’s always the goal,” Richie Martin said.