Noles in Gators way for trip to Omaha

The end of the year in football usually means a lot as well. This weekend, the NCAA Tournament number one seeded Florida Gators match up against arch rival Florida State for a trip to Omaha and the College World Series. It is nuts when the two teams meet any time, but for the second year in a row, so much is on the line for the perennial baseball powers.

#3 Florida Gators (50-13) vs. #14 Florida State Seminoles (40-20)

June 11, 2016, 6 p.m.

Gainesville, Florida, Alfred McKethan Stadium

TV: ESPN2

While the Gators come in at #3 in the country on D1Baseball.com’s polls this week, Florida State is no slouch at #14.  The Gators played the Seminoles three times during the year; all mid-week games and played during different weeks. Florida comes into this weekend having swept FSU in all three games played home and home and at a neutral site (Jacksonville).

Having played three times and every year for decades, the two programs know each other well.

“It’s a give and take,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of the big series. “There are positives and then there (are) negatives. The positive is we don’t have to scramble for scouting reports. Neither do they. The negative is they know us and we know them. Our players know their players, their players know our players. I would say there’s a little bit of a comfort level. If you’re playing somebody else you don’t know, if we’re matched up against somebody that we hadn’t played in our schedule or that we’re not familiar with, there’s a little bit of unknown there. I think us knowing each other probably helps us in certain ways and probably goes against us in certain ways, for us and Florida State.”

Florida does seem to have the right karma coming into this year’s Super Regional. The Gators are 32-4 at home this season while Florida State is 8-9 in real road games on the year. O’Sullivan is 18-15 versus FSU since he took over the skipper job, but he’s 13-4 since 2012 against the Noles.

FSU has been hitting the ball better as of late and has three hitters batting over .367 this season in Jackson Lueck (.408), John Sansone (.374), and Taylor Walls.  The Gators counter with only one of their main starters batting over the .310 mark, which is Pete Alonso (.368).

 Florida counters with a much more lethal pitching staff. Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Shaun Anderson, Scott Moss, and Kirby Snead were all selected in Major League Baseball’s Draft in the last few days. Sophomore Alex Faedo isn’t eligible for the draft yet and he would have gone very high. Florida’s strikeout to walk ratio is a lofty 6 to 1 among their top six slingers. The Noles come in throwing 2.2 strikeouts per walk among their top five pitchers.  That is a huge differential.

Kan Li / Scout
 Florida counters with a much more lethal pitching staff. Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Shaun Anderson, Scott Moss, and Kirby Snead were all selected in Major League Baseball’s Draft in the last few days. Sophomore Alex Faedo isn’t eligible for the draft yet and he would have gone very high. Florida’s strikeout to walk ratio is a lofty 6 to 1 among their top six slingers. The Noles come in throwing 2.2 strikeouts per walk among their top five pitchers.  That is a huge differential.

So, who will start the series for the Gators on the mound?  O’Sullivan isn’t divulging that.

“I don’t know who goes first game, to be honest with you,” he said Wednesday. “I’m going to look at all scenarios and figure it out from there.

“I just think that we get to this point in the season and obviously you gotta win two games. You just try to position your pitchers. I feel good about all of our starters.”

Florida also has a bevy of relievers that have been special this season.

“I feel great about Dane Dunning. I feel good about the way Brady Singer threw the ball yesterday at practice. I feel, obviously, great about Shaun Anderson and the job he’s done this year.  I don’t know. I think we’ve got some interesting options and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal who throws one and who throws two.

The bottom line is I want to give our team the best opportunity to win the first two games and then we’ll play game three if it’s needed.”

O’Sullivan understands the Noles hitting prowess, but he thinks it all goes back to the guys on the mound doing what they are supposed to do.

"Just keep doing what we're doing,” he said. “The game is pretty simple. Command the ball and jump ahead. Location always wins, no matter who you're facing, location always wins. And if we locate we have a chance and if we don't, we fall behind, leadoff walks and we have a chance to put up some crooked numbers. It just comes down to execution at the end.

“They've been swinging the bat good and every year they swing the bat good to be honest. It doesn't matter the names in the lineup, they just keep putting the same offensive production every year. It is what it is."

The Gator bats need to step up as well. Florida has seen its own rise in scoring and hitting, especially with the return of Alonso to the lineup. The junior missed almost a month of baseball after breaking a bone in his hand on a pitch versus Vanderbilt. He was the leading hitter in terms of batting average, RBI, and home runs before the injury returned with a huge bang in the Regional last week in Gainesville. O’Sullivan is just proud that Alonso was willing to work so hard to get back so fast and help his team.

"Well I think the biggest thing with him, and I spoke with the team about this the other day, I think he missed 27 days with his hand, and you got the draft looming. A lot of players might've quite honestly, not rushed back. Just get through the draft and that's where they're at.

“He's been very selfless. He rushed his way back to get into the lineup and help his team win. It's a story I'll tell forever. I mean, talk about selfless act. Let's do everything we can with our hand and get back to help our team win. He put his team first before the draft. He grabbed the bull by the horns and said 'I'm playing this weekend.' It says everything about his makeup and character and I'm very appreciative of it to be honest with you."

The insertion of freshman Danny Reyes has also helped with run production and overall hitting at the plate. Fishing for some production with Alonso out, Reyes was inserted during the SEC Tournament and was more productive than even O’Sullivan expected. Now, with Alonso back, that production looks to multiply with both in the lineup. Reyes also has flashed a nice glove in the outfield.

Kan Li / Scout
 What really would be nice is if the players that were supposed to be the leaders at the plate before the season, started living up to preseason accolades.  One that is headed that way is sophomore J.J. Schwarz.

While his numbers aren’t what they were a year ago, O’Sullivan understands Schwarz is very productive for his team.

"I don't talk to J.J. much,” he said about any kind of hitting slump. “I let J.J. hit. I write his name in the lineup and he's hitting third or fourth. I don't really say a whole lot to him to be honest with you."

“You look up on the scoreboard and see his numbers, they're pretty good. 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. At the end of the day, get a couple of hits here or there on Sunday and the next thing you know you go off for the next two weeks. He's certainly capable of doing that and I would expect him to have his best part of the season right now."

Starting this weekend would go a long way in getting the Gators to their biggest goal, which is winning a National Championship.

Gators in the Draft…

Every year the talk is about how awkward it is that the major League baseball Draft is right in the middle of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. The timing was less innocuous this year for Florida because it is over before they even start play in the Super Regional.

Nevertheless, Florida had a banner couple of days Thursday and Friday which saw eight current players get drafted by MLB teams. Five current players were selected in day one of the draft. A.J. Puk (#6), Dane Dunning (#29), Logan Shore (#47), Buddy Reed (#48), and Pete Alonso (#64) all had their names called early.

Day two saw three more current Gators get drafted by LLB teams. Junior pitcher Shaun Anderson (#88) was the first player taken on day two. Redshirt sophomore Scott Moss (#108), fought back from major injury and waited his turn before turning in a brilliant performance during SEC Tournament play. Kirby Snead (#312) was the final Gator selected on day two making eight, and none of them seniors.


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