The Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles are each 18 innings away from punching a ticket to Omaha and a spot in the College World Series. Some may grumble about the lack of creativity on the part of the NCAA Selection Committee, but it doesn’t get much better than this on Super Regional weekend.
“I mean, we don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s a big rivalry,” outfielder Buddy Reed said. “We expect the best out of the them and they’re going to get the best from us.”
The Gators and Noles both come into the series after sweeping their respective Regionals. Florida used great starts from Logan Shore and Alex Faedo, plus a boot to the offense with Pete Alonso’s return to the lineup. Florida State swept the Tallahassee Regional, out scoring opponents 43-14. The Noles have hit their stride since the postseason began, scoring 10.5 runs per game with a 6-1 overall record.
The Gators and Noles are no strangers on the diamond. This is the third time Florida State and Florida have squared off in a Super Regional, Florida swept in 2005 and 2015. The two teams off three times this season as well. Florida won all three contests, outscoring FSU 17-4.
“The University of Florida has been ranked No. 1 in the country, I’d say 75 percent of the year,” FSU manager Mike Martin told reporters following Florida State’s Regional. “We know that we have a strong challenge. It’s one that we know we have to play an awful lot better than we have played down there in the past.”
The past that Martin is referring to is Florida’s current five game winning streak over the Noles. The Gators are winners in 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two teams as well. Reed believes that streak will bring the Noles into Gainesville with a chip on their shoulder, while Kevin O’Sullivan was quick to point out how little the three regular season meetings actually mean this weekend.
“I don’t care that we won three games, midweek games,” he said Wednesday. “It doesn’t mean anything this weekend.”
Florida’s pitching staff has been the focal point the entire season. Florida’s 3.02 ERA is best in the SEC and ninth best in the entire country. Florida’s 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ration is tops in the SEC and second best in the country and the Gators lead the nation with 617 strikeouts as a staff. Major League Baseball took notice, selecting A.J. Puk (6th overall to the Oakland A’s), Dane Dunning (29th overall, Washington Nationals) and Logan Shore (47th overall Oakland A’s) on the first night of the Rule 5 Amateur Draft. The Gators have the arms to compete with any team in the country, but the offense is rounding into form at the right time.
The one component that hasn’t lived up to expectations is sophomore JJ Schwarz, who has a triple slash of .292/.404/.451 this season. Good numbers, just not the type of numbers he put up during his freshman campaign when he was named the Louisville Slugger Co-Freshman of the Year, NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year, a First Team Freshman All-American by multiple publications and the SEC Tournament MVP.
“You look up on the scoreboard and see his numbers, they’re pretty good,” O’Sullivan said of Schwarz. “I don’t have to keep reminding him and myself that it’s not what he did his first year, but it’s still pretty darn good. He’s having a really good season.”
Schwarz has shown his own frustrating at times this season, especially last weekend when he hit just 2-12 (.167) last weekend in Regional play with five strikeouts.
But the Super Regional opponent could get the sophomore slugger rolling. Schwarz has faced the Noles eight times in his career and he’s given Mike Martin’s ball club fits. Schwarz is 15-33 (.455) with 11 runs, 14 RBI; three walks and has slugged six home runs. In last season’s Super Regional he went 5-7 (.714) with six runs scored, five RBI, two walks and three dingers.
The two teams will meet Saturday in front of a sold out crowd at McKethan Stadium at 6 pm and again on Sunday in front of another capacity crowd. A third game, if necessary would be played on Monday.
18 innings stand between two bitter rivals and a trip to college baseball’s promised land.
“It’s a rivalry, the stakes are always high,” closer Shaun Anderson said. “It’s always good to ruin their season, end their season and keep ours going. To do that again this year as we did last year would be kind of cool.”