Gators set to host familiar regional

Staying in Gainesville for the NCAA Tournament isn’t new for Florida baseball.

It has become a theme under Kevin O’Sullivan, earning national seeds in six of the last seven seasons.

The Gators get the benefit of staying at McKethan Stadium, where they are 28-6 this season. The young team gets to go through its normal routine instead of going on the road. That's a welcomed change after spending seven days in Hoover for the SEC Tournament last week.

But what makes this regional familiar is the opponents. With an all-Florida regional of Florida Atlantic (No. 2), South Florida (No. 3) and Florida A&M (No. 4), the Florida coaching staff doesn’t have to scour through scouting reports to gain information on their opponents. The Gators saw Florida Atlantic early this season in a midweek game that Florida won 10-8 in Jupiter, Fla. Florida also won two midweek games against South Florida, taking the first one 13-3 in Tampa in the fourth game of the year and winning the second game 5-1 on May 5.

The Gators didn’t play Florida A&M this year, but they still know about them. The Rattlers won 4-3 at McKethan Stadium in a midweek game last season, shocking Florida for the upset. This year, Florida A&M made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

There are challenges that Florida will face this weekend.

The FAU offense is potent. The Owls have five regulars hitting over .300 and five regulars with six or more home runs. South Florida has star power on the mound with Jimmy Herget, who is 9-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 94.2 innings, allowing 79 hits and 33 walks while recording 109 strikeouts. The Rattlers, despite going 23-23 this season, are scrappy with center fielder Jared Walker (.324 average, 8 SBs) and left fielder Marlon Gibbs (.311, 30 RBI) leading the way.

But this is still a very winnable regional for Florida. After the NCAA Tournament committee gave the Gators the most difficult No. 4 seed in the tournament last season when they played College of Charleston, the Gators head into this NCAA Tournament with a more clear path through their regional.

The familiarity could continue in the Super Regionals.

The Gators are paired with the Tallahassee Regional, setting up a potential Florida-Florida State Super Regional with a berth in the College World Series on the line. The Seminoles got a more difficult draw than Florida, facing off with No. 2 seed College of Charleston, No. 3 seed Auburn and No. 4 seed Mercer.

Florida isn’t guaranteed to emerge from the Gainesville Regional, but this is the best set up they could’ve hoped for.

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