Florida earned its third No. 1 overall seed Monday in the NCAA Tournament and will host a regional that features a pair of in-state teams and the Ivy League champion.
The defending national champion Gators, who again won the SEC regular-season title, will begin regional play Friday at McKethan Stadium against 4-seed Columbia (12 p.m.). 2 seed Jacksonville (39-19) will play 3 seed Florida Atlantic (40-17-1) at 6:30 p.m. The regional will be streamed online at ESPN3.
Florida is vying for its second straight national title and 12th trip to the College World Series in school history. The last school to win back-to-back national titles in baseball was South Carolina in 2011 and 2012.
“At the beginning of the year our goal is always to earn a national seed for the NCAA Tournament, and now we’ve done it nine times in the last 10 years,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “That’s incredible.”
O’Sullivan said two weeks ago that the Gators were going to pick playing the afternoon game for the regional in order to avoid potential rain delays that have often occurred at night in recent regionals. In the last two postseasons alone, seven scheduled night games in Gainesville have been affected by rain or lightning delays. Several regional hosts in recent years have decided to play game one on Friday due to weather concerns.
With temperatures expected to be in the upper 80s, the UAA has arranged for several heat initiatives to help fans cool off. Misting fans will be set up on the first baseline, third baseline and behind home plate. Shade tents will also be in place down the first baseline. Free cups of ice and water will be available from stand-alone stations on the concourse.
The Gators have faced both Florida Atlantic and Jacksonville during the regular season, knocking off FAU 6-1 on Feb. 20. UF split two games with Jacksonville, beating the Dolphins 10-3 on March 21 and losing 8-4 on April 17.
“We always have a difficult schedule and this year was no different,” O’Sullivan said. “Being a top seed allows us the chance to play in front of our fans for both the Regionals and Super Regionals and that’s a huge advantage in the postseason.”
Columbia (20-28) knocked off Yale 2-1 in 15 innings to take the Ivy League title. The Lions are led by Liam McGill, who is batting .319 with six home runs and 30 RBIs.
Florida is opposite 16 seed North Carolina State in its bracket, setting up a potential UF-N.C. State series in Super Regional play. Another possible opponent out of the N.C. State regional could be 2 seed Auburn. The Gators took two of three from Auburn during the regular season, which began with Florida ace Brady Singer outdueling Auburn ace Casey Mize in a 3-1 win. Singer and Mize are both projected as top-five overall picks in next week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Florida (42-17) has lost six of its last seven games heading into regionals. But in making UF the No. 1 overall seed, the NCAA committee took into account injuries to Singer (hamstring) and senior catcher JJ Schwarz (broken hand) during that stretch.
“Obviously we haven’t played well lately, but coming home and having a full week of practice before the regional will certainly help,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll try to get healthy ahead of the weekend and get some guys back on track.”
Singer is expected back for regionals, while Schwarz remains questionable.
“Brady threw a bullpen session on Saturday in Hoover and it certainly looks like he’ll be ready to go this weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “Tyler Dyson also looked good in his last bullpen and we look forward to getting him back out there. JJ is day-to-day still, he’s working hard to get back and hopefully we’ll know more later this week.”
There was little doubt to the committee that UF would be the overall top seed regardless of the late struggles.
“They were incredible the majority of the season and didn’t finish strong,” NCAA Division I Baseball Committee chairman said Ray Tanner, athletic director at South Carolina. “As we were finishing up our data last week before coming to Indianapolis, I was curious to see if they were going to be a clear-cut (choice) once we got into the committee room, and they continued to be, despite not finishing the way coach O’Sullivan would have wanted them to finish. They clearly were the No. 1 seed with all the metrics considered.”
Note: The Gators are the first team to earn the No. 1 overall seed three times, having also done so in 2012 and 2016. Florida is the only team in the country to earn a national seed in each of the last five seasons. … Florida is 108-72 all-time in NCAA Tournament action. … Ten SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament field of 64, tying a league record last set in 2014. Four SEC teams — Florida (1), Ole Miss (4), Arkansas (5) and Georgia (8) — earned national seeds. … Play begins Friday in 16 regionals. Winners advance to eight best-of-three super regionals. Those winners move on to the College World Series in Omaha.