Gators earn No. 2 national seed, host regional

Published: Monday, May 26, 2014 at 12:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.

In seven seasons at Florida, baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan hasn't shied away from competition.


Gainesville Regional
at McKethan Stadium

Friday's games

Game 1: 1 p.m. - No. 3 North Carolina (34-25) vs. No. 2 Long Beach State (32-24) (ESPN3)
Game 2: 7 p.m. - No. 4 College of Charleston (41-17) vs. No. 1 FLORIDA (40-21) (ESPN3)

Saturday's games
Game 3: 1 p.m. - Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 (ESPN3)
Game 4: 7 p.m. - Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 (ESPN3)

Sunday's games
Game 5: 1 p.m. - Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 (ESPN3)
Game 6: 7 p.m. - Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5 (ESPN3)

Monday's game
Game 7: (if necessary) – 1 p.m. - Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 (ESPN3)

— ESPN3 is web stream only

So O'Sullivan wasn't about to question a Gainesville Regional field that wound up perhaps tougher than expected for the host Gators.

Instead, O'Sullivan embraced it.

“I told our team, to be honest with you, this is probably a regional we need,” O'Sullivan said. “We tend to play up to our competition or sometimes down to our competition. So I'm excited about it.”

As the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, top-seed Florida (40-21) will open regional play against another 40-win team, four-seed College of Charleston (41-17) at 7 p.m. Friday at McKethan Stadium. Two-seed North Carolina (34-25) and three-seed Long Beach State (32-24) round out the region, which is double-elimination, and will play Friday at 1 p.m.

All four teams in the Gainesville Regional are ranked in the top 53 in the nation in RPI, led by Florida (3), Long Beach State (29), North Carolina (42) and College of Charleston (53).

“I'm not going to compare our regional to anybody else's regional,” O'Sullivan said. “We've got three really good opponents. We're going to have to play the best we can.”

O'Sullivan strongly hinted that freshman ace righty Logan Shore (7-3, 1.99 ERA) will start the opening regional game against College of Charleston.

“I don't know how else you can look at it,” O'Sullivan said. “I mean, we're playing a team that's got over 40 wins. You're going to roll the dice? I think you have to respect your opponent.”

Florida, ranked No. 3 in the latest Baseball America poll, is coming off an inspired effort at the SEC tournament in Birmingham, Ala. The Gators fell to LSU 2-0 in the title game Sunday, but after dropping its opening tourney game against Kentucky, rallied to win three consecutive games to reach the title game.

“I'm really, really pleased at how we are playing right now,” O'Sullivan said. “I think we're playing at a high level.

“We're pitching well. Offensively, we're grinding out a lot of at-bats. We're getting a lot of two-out hits, a lot of clutch hits. We're playing hard.”

One of the most encouraging signs of the SEC tournament was the performance of redshirt junior pitcher Karsten Whitson on Sunday against LSU. A former Major League Baseball first-round draft pick, Whiston has struggled with injuries and control problems throughout his college career. But Whitson looked sharp against the Tigers, throwing six scoreless innings while allowing just three hits and three walks.

“When I was catching him in the pen it was just one of those days, he was clicking,” Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. “It was exciting. It was definitely exciting to put my glove up and have him hit it the whole day. It was good. It was definitely a step in the right direction and I think you are going to see more of that.”

O'Sullivan also was encouraged by Whitson's performance.

“I've said this before, for us to get where we want to go, he's going to have to be a part of it,” O'Sullivan said.

Miami again?

By earning the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Florida is ensured of hosting both this weekend's regional and next weekend's Super Regional.

And if the Gators advance, there's a chance they could host No. 11 Miami in a Super Regional matchup. The ACC regular-season champion Hurricanes (41-17) are in the opposite bracket and will host Texas Tech, Columbia and Bethune-Cookman in the Coral Gables Regional. During the NCAA baseball tournament selection show on ESPNU, Miami coach Jim Morris questioned whether it was to fair for the Hurricanes to be paired with Florida, given that the Gators are a two seed and Miami was a borderline top-eight seed.

When asked about the Miami pairing Monday, O'Sullivan said he didn't want to look that far ahead.

“There's going to be no pairing with whoever wins that regional with our regional if we don't take care of our business here,” O'Sullivan said. “I think that's a discussion to have down the road. Right now, all I'm worried about is my regional. I can't look too far ahead. I told that to our players, too.

“You get to Omaha it's not going to be easy. It don't matter. There's no easy road. I mean you've got to play really good teams. Would it be nice to have a variety, yeah, but at the end of the day you've got to beat good teams if you want to be one of the top eight teams. It doesn't matter.”

Florida hosted Miami in an NCAA regional in 2009 and an NCAA Super Regional in 2010. In both instances, the Gators came out on top. Earlier this season, Florida and Miami played a three-game series in Coral Gables, with Miami winning two.

“We're not really concerned about Miami right now,” Gushue said. “We know that we have to face College of Charleston and that's all that I'm worried about.”

The 68th College World Series begins June 14 at the TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Neb.

2. North Carolina

Mascot: Tar Heels

City Located: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Conference: ACC

Overall Record: 34-25

How Qualified: At-large berth.

Head Coach: Mike Fox (16 seasons, 728-299-1)

Players to Watch: Reilly Hovis (rhp, 8-1, 2.10 ERA), Michael Russell (dh, .345, 4 HR, 32 RBI), Wood Myers (2B, .302, 1 HR, 29 RBI).

Fast Fact: North Carolina has won 49 postseason games since 2006, the most by any team in the country during that span.

3. Long Beach State

Mascot: 49ers/Dirtbags

City Located: Long Beach, Calif.

Conference: Big West

Overall Record: 32-24

How Qualified: at-large berth.

Head Coach: Troy Buckley (fourth season, 117-105)

Players to Watch: Josh Frye (rhp, 8-0, 1.51 ERA), Andrew Rohrbach (rhp, 6-2, 2.13 ERA), Garrett Hampson (ss, .316, 1 HR, 16 RBI).

Fast Fact. Of Long Beach State's 106 extra-base hits this season, only six are home runs (79 doubles, 21 triples).

4. College of Charleston

Mascot: Cougars

City Located: Charleston, S.C.

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association

Overall Record: 41-17

How Qualified: automatic bid after winning Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

Head Coach: Monte Lee (sixth season, 228-128)

Players to Watch: Bailey Ober (rhp, 9-2, 1.37 ERA), Taylor Clarke (rhp, 10-3, 2.65 ERA), Carl Wise (3B, .293, 3 HR, 52 RBI).

Fast Fact: College of Charleston will be making its sixth regional appearance in its last 11 seasons.

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