The day has arrived.
The Florida Gators baseball team is back in a Super Regional for the first time since 2012 and joining them at the party is none other than the Florida State Seminoles.
A Sunshine State showdown with a ticket to Omaha and the College World Series on the line, it doesn’t get much better than this people. The Seminoles fans sold out their allotment of tickets on Tuesday and Florida fans followed suit on Wednesday. Single game tickets went on sale on Thursday morning and were available for a whopping 20 minutes before all of those were snatched up.
The atmosphere at McKethan Stadium will be electric this weekend.
The teams are familiar with one another having played three times this season. Both schools won at home and Florida State out-slugged Florida in their neutral site meeting in Jacksonville.
Those midweek games aren’t exactly indicative of what you will see this weekend. The Noles didn’t see Logan Shore or A.J. Puk (Friday and Saturday starters) and Florida didn’t see Boomer Biegalski or Mike Compton this season.
They’ve seen each other three times already and they’ll play at least two more this weekend, who has the advantage and the inside track to Omaha?
This one is easy.
Florida has the deepest pitching staff in the country. Guys like Bobby Poyner, Danny Young, Eric Hanhold, Brett Morales, Dane Dunning, Aaron Rhodes and Shaun Anderson could all be weekend starters for most teams in the country but are role players in Florida’s staff.
Florida will start with Logan Shore, who’s 8-6 record isn’t indicative of how well he pitched this season. Shore has walked just 20 batters in 90-plus innings and has turned up the heat the past two weeks. He’s returned to the form that earned him Freshman of the Year Honors at just the right time. Behind Shore is A.J. Puk, who has been as dominant as any pitcher in the country the last month of the season. Puk’s fastball has been clocked as hard as 99 MPH and the command he’s showing with his slider has kept batter guessing and whiffing more often that not. In his last five starts Puk has pitched 30.1 innings. That’s 91 outs. 48 of those were strikeouts. 53% of Puk’s outs are strikeouts. That’s incredible.
Again, easy call.
The poise that Taylor Lewis has shown in big situations this season proves he’s ready for the stage this weekend. Kevin O’Sullivan has put more and more on Lewis’ plate and the junior college transfer has responded by throwing up zeros and collecting wins and saves.
Last year, O’Sullivan made comments about how LSU and Vanderbilt had bullpens that were deep and filled with guys who could throw 90-plus. This year that is what Florida has. With Lewis and Kirby Snead earning the most prominent roles since the postseason began, couple with Bobby Poyner, Eric Hanhold and Danny Young, Florida can come after teams with power arm after power arm.
Florida State leans heavily on Billy Strode and Dylan Silva. The duo were the only two pitchers to come out of the bullpen for the Seminoles a week ago and, while they are both strong throwers, the Noles just don’t have the depth to matchup here.
The Noles’ offense is led by D.J. Stewart who leads Florida State in batting average (.322), runs (59), hits (66), triples (2), home runs (13), RBI (55), slugging (.580), walks (69) and on base percentage (.509).
However, as a team, Florida State is hitting just 254 as a team and have left 531 runners on base compared to Florida’s .298 team batting average and 480 runners stranded.
The Gators’ lineup has continued to progress throughout the year. With Pete Alonso and Jeremy Vasquez finally healthy after injuries, Florida doesn’t have an easy out from top to bottom. Freshman JJ Schwarz led the SEC with 66 RBI and added 15 home runs to his rookie campaign. Harrison Bader has added 14 dingers and Josh Tobias’ Cinderella senior season has him leading the team in batting average (.374).
I’ll make this quick.
The Gators are the best fielding team in the country. Florida has committed 18 errors this season. Florida State has committed 87.
The lights will be on in front of a jam-packed McKethan Stadium this weekend. We’ve broken down the stats, but anything can happen in the game of baseball. On paper, Florida should earn their first College World Series berth since 2012 but you have to play the games.
See you at the Mac.