Gators, Bulldogs Ready for Super Regional

The familiarity between Florida and Mississippi State adds an interesting dynamic to this weekend's Gainesville Super Regional. It's the only series that features teams who played during the regular season, which the Gators and Bulldogs did four times. Florida outscored Mississippi State 35-11 in those four matchups, but that number can be deceiving.

"There are positives and negatives (to the familiarity)," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We know us and we know them. We know each other's tendencies. At the end of the day, it'll come down to who makes pitches, who gets timely hits and who plays defense. That's what it'll come down to."

The cumulative score doesn't tell the full story. After losing the opening game of their conference series in Starkville, the Gators ran away with an 18-0 win. Taking that game out, the Gators only won the three remaining matchups 17-11, including two two-run wins.

The Mississippi State offense doesn't strike immediate fear into the opposing pitcher. They don't have more than two home run threats in the lineup, as shortstop Jonathan Ogden has eight home runs and second baseman Nick Vickerson has seven. The Bulldogs lineup has combined for 28 home runs this season, one less than Florida sluggers Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker have combined to hit.

The difference comes in the type of hitters in the Mississippi State lineup. They're patient, working the count for the pitch they want to hit. If they don't get it, they'll happily take a walk.

The Gators have walked 214 times this season, while the Bulldogs have walked 260 times in four fewer games.

The issue for Mississippi State this weekend comes in the strengths of the Florida pitching staff. The Gators haven't walked hitters all season. The Florida pitching staff is averaging 1.83 walks per nine innings pitched. The Gators' 116 total walks are by far the lowest in the SEC, with Alabama coming in second at 163.

"For us, we don't walk people," O'Sullivan said. "We haven't walked a lot of people, but (Mississippi State) is an older club with a lot of experience."

Game one of the Super Regional will feature a pair of right-handers on the mound. Florida will send ace Hudson Randall (9-3, 2.38) to the mound against Mississippi State freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell (6-1, 3.47).

Randall is excited for a shot at redemption after his worst start of the season came at Mississippi State earlier this season. The sophomore lasted 2.1 innings, giving up nine hits, three home run and six runs.

Saturday's matchup hasn't been announced, but the Gators are expected to send freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.42) to the mound against Bulldogs junior left-hander Nick Routt (3-3, 3.78).

If Sunday's game is necessary, the Gators would have a decision to make. Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66) will be back with the team to hit and pitch this weekend after suffering a concussion two weeks ago at the SEC Tournament. He could start on Sunday, or the Gators could give the ball to the suddenly hot Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76), who has thrown 12 consecutive shutout innings against Vanderbilt and Miami.

Whatever the decision, the Gators are just happy to get their star two-way player back.

"I anticipate that he'll be ready to go," O'Sullivan said. "He was out here (Wednesday) and went through a full practice and threw a bullpen. He took batting practice and looked great."

The injury wasn't a situation to wish on anyone, but it might help Johnson as the season comes to a close. He has thrown 78.2 innings this season, and after throwing only 21 pitches two weeks ago before the concussion, Johnson is essentially working on two weeks off.

"He's fully rested," O'Sullivan said. "He's a big, physical guy, and I think the rest probably helped him a little bit. It would help anybody at this time of the year. You get to this point in the year when a guy has thrown 80-85 innings, it's not a bad thing he gets a week off.

The news isn't so optimistic for two-way player Austin Maddox. His foot sprain caused him to miss both games against Miami in the Regionals last weekend, and it looks like the injury could keep him out this weekend, too.

If Maddox is out, the Gators will need a new closer. O'Sullivan won't single one player out as the ninth inning man. Instead, he will use his best relievers in the most important situations, regardless of what inning that happens.

"Each game presents different situations," O'Sullivan said. "If we get in trouble in the fifth or sixth (inning), I'm not going to throw our second or third option. I'm throwing whoever I think can get us out of that jam. We'll go with the guy that can get us out of a jam, and then at the end, we'll just see what we've got."

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