The Florida Gators are set to host Georgia Tech, UConn, and Bethune-Cookman in the Gainesville Regional this weekend. Florida will be taking on No. 4 seed Bethune-Cookman at 6 p.m. Friday night, following the first game between No. 2 seed Georgia Tech and No. 3 seed UConn.
As the No. 1 National Seed, a lot of expectations are riding on Florida’s shoulders coming into Regionals. Those expectations should be met if the Gators can manage a few keys to success.
After a shaky performance against Texas A&M in the SEC Championship game, it is important for Florida to get back on track early in game one. This means production from the top of the order will be key in game one and throughout the weekend. The top third of the Florida lineup went a combined 13-60 in the SEC Tournament.
Buddy Reed is a key player in the leadoff spot. If he can cause some trouble on the base pass, opponents will be rattled from the start. When Reed performs, the rest of Florida’s young lineup follows his lead.
The return of Pete Alonso is huge for the Gators offensively. As Florida’s best hitter, batting .352, getting him back in the swing of things could be the spark the Gators are looking for. JJ Schwarz showed some signs of his old self possibly returning last weekend. If he can stay hot and get on base ahead of Alonso, opposing pitchers will be forced to give Alonso more pitches to hit.
A combination of better at-bats at the top of the order and continued steadiness throughout the remainder of the lineup, along with some timely hitting, is a good recipe for a strong offensive regional for the Gators.
It will be important for the pitching staff to take control and stay ahead in the count against several dangerous hitters to be faced this weekend. The entire Georgia Tech lineup is strong, with 7-of-9 starters batting above .300. The Yellow Jackets are led on offense by left fielder Matt Gonzalez. Both UConn and Bethune-Cookman have multiple players who can win it with the long ball. The Huskies are led by Joe DeRoche-Duffin (17), while the Wildcats count on Michael Cruz (16) to supply the power.
Keeping pitch counts low and having longer outings will keep the Gators from having to go so deep in the bullpen. Florida has a deep pitching staff, but having to go a little too deep hurt the Gators in the long-run of the SEC Tournament.
If Logan Shore is back in good health and throws his usual stuff, he should have a much longer outing in his regional appearance than he did against Texas A&M on Sunday.
Scott Moss could be a secret weapon in the Gators’ arsenal this weekend. After pitching six lights-out innings on the mound against LSU in the SEC Tournament, there is likely a spot saved somewhere in the Florida rotation for Moss. He could throw a few innings in relief, or even start a game for the Gators if needed. Moss threw three scoreless, hitless innings to get the win in the Bethune-Cookman game on May 3.
Florida was unusually sloppy on defense in Hoover, making seven errors in five games. The Gators are still the nation’s best fielding team, coming into regionals with a .983 fielding percentage. Getting back to playing clean defense is the final key to success this weekend.
If Florida can accomplish all or most of these things in regionals, the Gators will be welcoming a new victim from the Tallahassee regional to McKethan Stadium next weekend.