Florida’s road to Omaha has become official.
The Gators received the nation’s #4 overall seed, meaning they will get to play Regional and Super Regional action on their home field. That’s what happens when you run up a gaudy win-loss record in the SEC and then win the SEC Tournament on top of that. Job well done by Kevin O’Sullivan and his group of guys.
Florida will open the Gainesville Regional at 7pm on Friday on the SEC Network against the same team the Gators’ softball team began their tournament with- Florida A&M. The other two teams in the region are South Florida and Florida Atlantic. It’s a much easier region to navigate through than the booby trap they were given last year with North Carolina, Long Beach State and the College of Charleston. This time around, the NCAA plucked three lower level teams from the Sunshine State and put them in Florida’s regional.
The Gators’ regular season schedule featured all three teams in their regional, and swept them all, though their game against FAMU got rained out. But Florida crushed 3rd seeded USF twice, 13-3 and 5-1, and topped 2nd seeded Florida Atlantic in Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium 10-8. And all that was midweek action, meaning none of those teams faced Florida’s best pitchers. No doubt Logan Shore, Dane Dunning and AJ Puk will make it much harder to hit against Florida than it was in the teams’ respective regular season games.
Should Florida do what they failed to do last year and advance out of their own regional, they’ll meet the winner of the Tallahassee Regional- either Florida State, College of Charleston, Auburn or Mercer. From a revenge standpoint, I want FSU, just to shut up Nole fans who are bragging about sweeping the Gators in football, basketball and baseball, as beating them in the Super Regional suddenly makes their months of boasting factually incorrect. And again, FSU beat Florida in midweek games, without Florida’s best pitchers. Of course, FSU didn’t use their best pitchers either, but that’s what makes it fun. And I’m confident that Florida would beat FSU with both teams using their top pitchers.
But really, I think Florida could match up well with anybody. There’s always one Super Region- one pairing of two Regions together- that features eight extremely dangerous teams, while the rest are pretty easy for the hosts to cruise through. This Gainesville Super Region is not it. FSU is the best team Florida could possibly face, and they got swept at home by Clemson just last weekend. Florida has also taken three out of four from Auburn this season; College of Charleston, while not a joke, took a small step back from last year; and Mercer doesn’t really scare anybody.
The big key for Florida is to win their opening game. Do that, and they’ll be fine. They’ve lost the opening game in each of the last five weeks now, wasting a few really good efforts by Logan Shore, and then having to dig deep into the bullpen to bail themselves out and win the series, or in last week’s case, the SEC Tournament. The problem is, now they’re facing teams that are the ultimate kind of hungry. It’s the NCAA Tournament. Opponents sniff an upset, and a chance to make history for their school. If Florida loses once, they’re in big trouble, because not only will it require near perfection from every succeeding pitcher, but they’ll be facing teams who don’t want their seasons to end. Laugh at that all you want, but remember that Florida hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2012, and has lost six straight beginning with the 2012 CWS.
As long as Florida takes care of business in their opening game, they should be in great shape to return to Omaha. Now let’s see them do it.