OMAHA — Florida (50-17) will receive an added boost when it faces off against perennial powerhouse Texas (49-17) Saturday at 7 p.m. on the opening day of the 2011 College World Series.
Injured stars Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox are set to return to UF's lineup and rotation this weekend.
After sitting out more than three weeks, Johnson was medically cleared Tuesday for all team activities. The southpaw is fully recovered from the mild concussion he suffered at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Austin Maddox, Florida's pseudo closer and first baseman, isn't yet completely healthy, but the hard-throwing right-hander pitched a bullpen session Wednesday and showed no ill affects of his sprained foot.
Maddox hasn't played since the opening game of the Gainesville Regional against Manhattan when the sophomore sprained his foot scaling a wall in foul territory.
Maddox's foot was in a hard-cast and he was walking with crutches as late as Tuesday, leading to speculation that his foot was also broken. But O'Sullivan said the cast was for preemptive measures and said that Maddox will definitely pitch Saturday night.
"Brian's going to be full go for this tournament," O'Sullivan said. "Maddox is certainly going to be a guy that we're going to use on the mound [Saturday]. But hitting wise, I'm not quite sure yet."
The six-time national champion Longhorns and the top-ranked Gators will debut the new TD Ameritrade Park in primetime on ESPN in a rematch of the 2005 CWS championship when the Longhorns swept the Gators to take the title.
"Our players know what Texas is all about. They know the history and the pride," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Our players are fully aware of how talented Texas is."
Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (10-3, 2.29 ERA), who has anchored UF's staff all season, will oppose Longhorns ace Taylor Jungmann (13-1, 1.38 ERA), the 12th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in last week's Major League Baseball Draft.
Both teams possess veteran squads with talented staffs and top-flight defense, but noticeable differences in offensive philosophy create an intriguing matchup.
The Gators feature a deep, effective bullpen, while Texas sports the nation's second lowest team ERA (2.27) and one of the preeminent closers in the country in All-American Corey Knobel (19 saves, 1.15 ERA).
"You know they're going to pitch and play defense," O'Sullivan said about Texas. "They're similar to our pitching staff, if not better, to be honest with you."
But the Longhorns have nowhere near the offensive prowess of the Gators.
Florida plated 11 or more runs three times this postseason, while Texas has yet to score in double figures. The Gators are fifth in the country in homers, and SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino has knocked more round-trippers (18) than Texas' entire squad (17).
"They hit balls hard," Texas coach Auggie Garrido said. "They hit them far, and they hit them often, and that is surprising for me."
The Longhorns play a completely different style of baseball, depending on walks, slap hits and a small-ball approach. Garrido's team leads the nation in sacrifice bunts and has the lowest batting average (.279) of all eight teams in Omaha.
Gators slugger Preston Tucker said the key for Florida is to avoid letting Texas get the leadoff man on base. The right fielder said if they limit that production the Longhorns would struggle to score runs.
But the new stadium could also play a pivotal role in Florida's stay at the CWS, as the dimensions are very similar to Regions Park at the SEC Tournament.
Although the Gators won the tournament in Hoover, Ala., they knocked only two homers and were forced to amend their usual power identity.
"We bunted a little bit more. We hit-and-run a little bit more," O'Sullivan said. "We had to manufacture some runs."