Fresh off another Super Regional win against Florida State, the top-ranked Florida Gators baseball team (52-14) are headed back to Omaha for consecutive years for the first time since the 2010-12 seasons. The Gators are no strangers to the College World Series, as this is their 10th overall appearance in Omaha and 5th trip under 9th year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
With the dominating success the Gators have had since Kevin O’Sullivan arrived in Gainesville, they are still missing one important piece of hardware to showcase — a National Championship trophy. They look to change that this year.
The quest begins this Sunday night with the Baton Rouge Super Regional champions of Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleer’s stunned LSU this past weekend by sweeping the series, and clinching the school’s first ever spot in Omaha.
After dropping Game one to FSU 3-0 Saturday, and being shut-out for only the second time this season, the sight of Omaha and hopes of the school’s first championship began to fade in many fans’ minds, but, boy, did the Gators turn things around.
Over the next two games, Florida played like it had all season, getting the leadoff man on base, delivering clutch hits when needed, playing solid defense with the leather, and threw a high number of first pitch strikes. “They were able to respond…I think as the season goes on, you just gotta draw from your past experiences.” Sully added on how the Gators took the Game 1 loss. “I do think the tournament (SEC) helped us this past weekend.”
The story of the series were the arms of Logan Shore and Dane Dunning and the bats of 1B Peter Alonso and sophomore J.J Schwarz.
The ace, Logan Shore, did not get his usual game one start, but when he was on the bump for game two, he fooled the bats of Nole hitters. Shore threw 8+ innings of work, for the fourth time this season, allowing 2 hits, 2 walks, while fanning 9. Florida State’s powerful lineup was confused all night.
Peter Alonso also continued his hot streak during the final two games and helped contribute to the wins by going 5-8 at the plate, which included 3 doubles, 3 RBI’s, and a solo-shot in Game 3. He has 4 homers in the Gators first 6 NCAA Tournament games. O’Sullivan was quick to comment on the recent tear Alonso has been on, “It’s like you think he’s gonna hit a home run every time he comes to the plate. That’s how I feel about Pete right now, it’s crazy.”
The MVP in my mind of the series had to be RHP Dane Dunning. Drafted in the first round on Thursday night, he lived up to his expectations over the weekend. Dunning relieved Faedo in Game 1, with 2.1 innings of work, but his weekend wasn’t over quite yet. The future National’s player raced towards the bullpen early on in Game 3, as A.J Puk struggled to locate his pitches. Dunning then came in during the 4th inning and from there it was all over for the Noles. He mowed down FSU. Striking out 5 on 57 pitches, Dunning was able to maintain enough stamina to relieve Puk with 4.1 innings of relief pitching, which helped out this ball club tremendously.
He also got the run support from one bat all Gator fans are aware of, and that is the bat of sophomore J.J. Schwarz. After a phenomenal freshman campaign, many believed J.J experienced the sophomore slump, but those questions were erased during the Super Regional. In the final two games, he batted .500 (4-8) at the plate while driving in 6 runs on 2 extra-base hits. One stood out more than the others. He launched a towering grand slam in the 5th, that left the ballpark, and extended the Gators lead from two, to six.
He has a hot bat and for the Gators to make a run in Omaha, it must continue.
Inside the other dugout Sunday night will be the Chanticleer’s of Coastal Carolina (49-16). Winners of 18 of their last 20, including their 14th Big South Conference Tournament championship in the last 30 years, the Chanticleer’s look to extend their historical regular season success to Omaha.
After being hired by his alma mater in 1996, Gary Gilmore (841-436) has led his teams to 14 NCAA post-season appearances, including the schools first national seed, regional and super regional hosting’s, as with the program’s first trip to the CWS. Gilmore played CF for Coastal Carolina during his playing years, including a short stint in the Phillies farm system.
What sticks out about this team? Power, and a lot of it. Coastal Carolina’s ability to hit the ball out of the park at a high rate (1.47 per game) has helped carry this team throughout the season. They have launched an NCAA leading 94 home-runs in their 65 games, with four players alone hitting 15 or more.
Leading the ball club in home-runs is Senior 3B Zach Remillard, a 6’2 190-pound product from Cohoes, N.Y. He has hit 19 home-runs in his final year as a Chanticleer, 6 more than he has hit in the previous three years combined. Remillard, a NCBWA third-team All-American selection, has driven in a team high 69 runs as well. Along with the power, he provides the consistency to get on base, as he’s second on the team in batting average (.347), and posses an on-base percentage around the .400 mark.
Another bat the Gators will be cautious throwing too, is the right fielder Connor Owings. He’s posted an average of .379 this year, which is in the top 35 among hitters in the nation, while leading the team in doubles (18), triples (2), and being third on the club with 16 home-runs. During his senior campaign, Owings has an on-base percentage of .495, which leads the team. In three of his four years on campus, he has produced an OBP of .400 or greater. Owings was also rewarded with a first-team All-American selection by NCBWA.
The Gator coaching staff is aware of the dangerous line-up the Chanticleers have, and the main thing O’Sullivan ask from his pitchers is to throw strikes. “If we throw strikes and play good defense and execute pitches, we have a chance to be successful.” Sully added, “If we don’t, then we’ll get beat. It’s just that simple.”
That’ll be play a huge factor on how well the Gators can control the nation’s most powerful team.
Coastal Carolina also provides a solid pitching rotation to go along with the bats. Alex Cunningham, a junior RHP, has 30 career starts under his belt, with 15 of them coming this year. On the mound, Cunningham has posted a record of 9-3 while striking out 91 batters over the course of 105.2 innings this year. Even with a high number of K’s, he has walked a career high and team worst 34 batters this year. If the Gators can be patient and make him throw strikes, they may be able to jump all over the junior pitcher.
Besides Cunningham, Coastal Carolina has another arm to throw at the Gators and that’s Andrew Beckwith. Beckwith, a junior RHP from Blythewood, S.C., offers the best opportunity for the Chanticleer’s to win. The 6′ 180-pound pitcher has appeared in 23 games this year, seven of them being starts. He has a record of 12-1 on the year, with a team low ERA of 2.12. In 93.1 innings of pitching, Beckwith has fanned 61 batters and allowing only 14 walks. He commands and locates the ball at a high level.
The other game in this bracket provides a little bit of pressure on who’s the best in the state of Texas, as TCU takes on Texas Tech.
Texas Tech, winners of the Lubbock Super Regional, come into Omaha with a record of 46-18. Not known for their baseball success, this is only the Red Raider’s second appearance in the CWS, previously done in 2014 when they went 0-2 before being sent home.
Tim Tadlock (144-91) was promoted by Texas Tech and took over the baseball program in 2013, he played SS for the Red Raiders for two seasons from 1989-1990. In his 4 short years at the helm, he has put Tech baseball on the college baseball map. He has led his teams’ to the only two super regionals and CWS trips in school history.
The most reliable player for this team has been first baseman Eric Gutierrez. The senior has played and started in all 241 games during his time in Red and Black. Gutierrez is second on the team with a .324 average at the plate, and leads the Red Raiders in home-runs (12) and RBI’s (58). He has the most experience in Omaha, appearing in the CWS in 2014 and participating in the home-run derby the previous two years.
The ace of this Texas Tech pitching staff is Freshman RHP Davis Martin. During his first year on campus, he certainly has made an impact in the starting rotation and is one reason why Tech is in the CWS. Martin has had a phenomenal year as freshman, posting a 9-1 record this season with a 2.73 earned run average, which leads the starting pitching staff. He’s not your typical ace who strikes out an absurd amount of hitters, only fanning 58 in 82.1 innings thrown, but he doesn’t allow batters to get on base at a high right. He leads this staff with a .239 batting average allowed.
TCU (47-16) went into College Station this past weekend and knocked off the SEC Tournament champions Texas A&M in three games. The Horn Frogs have been winners in 14 of their last 16 games heading into Omaha.
They are coached by the winningest head coach in TCU baseball history, Jim Schlossnagle. He was name the 2010 NCBWA Coach of the Year when he lead them to their first CWS appearance in school history. From then on, he has taken TCU to four CWS in the last six seasons. Just like the other teams in the side of the bracket, they are seeking their first national championship.
Freshman sensation and first-baseman Luken Baker has exceeded expectations during his first year as a Horned Frog. The big body, 6’4 265 pounds, of Baker leads the team in batting average (.379), hits (88), home-runs (9), RBI’s (57), total bases (130), slugging percentage (.560), and OBP (.488). He also has an amazing eye while in the box, walking 44 times this year, which is second on the team. This kid is a stud and has a bright future
ahead of him. He has played and started in all 63 games this year as well.
TCU’s best pitcher during the 2016 season has been Junior RHP Brian Howard. Standing at 6’9, he creates an intimidating presence to batters. Posting an ERA of 3.29 in 16 starts this year, Howard has a record of 9-3. He leads the Horned Frog pitching staff with 93 innings thrown, including one complete game on the year and two shutouts. Howard has sat down 86 players due to strike out and only allowing 27 men to reach base due to walks. He leads the team in batting average allowed to opposing hitters at .224. Expect a dominating performance by Howard every time he’s on the bump.
These two teams have faced off twice this season with Texas Tech taking two out of three from the Horned Frogs.