The storyline of the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series between Florida and Auburn at McKethan Stadium centers around Saturday’s match-up between aces Brady Singer and Casey Mize.
But for overall top seed Florida to move on to its fourth straight College World Series appearance, it will need big-time performances from the rest of its pitching staff as well.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan will send junior righty Jackson Kowar to the mound Sunday, and Monday’s starter, if needed, could come down to a choice between freshmen right-handers Jack Leftwich or Tommy Mace.
Kowar is coming off another rocky outing, allowing seven runs (four earned) on 11 hits in six innings Monday during UF’s 7-4 loss against FAU. In his last three starts, Kowar is 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA.
“It comes down to locating,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got an electric fastball, but when the ball is above mid-thigh you’ve got a chance for hard contact. The ball has got to get down. He’s got to get back to pitching at the knees and get his secondary pitches going.”
Kowar said he notices on film that his stride was short in his delivery and has spent the week working on lengthening his stride, which he hopes will result in more pitches down in the strike zone.
“I was elevated in the zone, but I was not throwing a ton of strikes,” said Kowar, who was taken 33rd overall in the Major League Baseball amateur draft Monday by the Kansas City Royals. “I was in some pretty predictable counts there for a while and that’s what hurt me.”
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Kowar said there will be some added motivation in facing Auburn, a team that touched him for five earned runs in 4.1 innings in a loss during the regular season.
“They have a pretty unique blend of guys who are scrappy and can put the ball in play and run and then a couple of guys who can really drive the ball,” Kowar said.
If it comes down to a third game Monday, O’Sullivan could turn to Leftwich, who allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings with seven strikeouts in a regular-season win over Auburn on April 28.
Another wild card is sophomore righty Tyler Dyson, who hasn’t pitched competitively since May 8 against USF due to shoulder and confidence issues. O’Sullivan said Dyson was throwing 93 to 96 miles per hour in an intra-squad scrimmage earlier this week while pounding the strike zone and looked, “as good as he’s looked all year long.”
Asked if Dyson could be used against Auburn this weekend, O’Sullivan responded: “You’ve got to gamble big to win big …. if I feel like Tyler is the best option at that point, and it works out, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll stand by my decision. I do think that at the end here we’re probably going to need him at some point if we’re going to wind up winning the whole thing.”
O’Sullivan said he feels good about the state of his bullpen, which bounced back in regional play after some shaky outings against Mississippi State and during the SEC Tournament. Freshman lefty Jordan Butler allowed just one run in five innings of relief to pick up a win against Columbia. Junior righty Michael Byrne pitched five scoreless innings and notched a pair of saves.
“Our bullpen is better than it has been,” O’Sullivan said.
Singer has been unflappable as UF’s ace this season, going 11-1 with a 2.25 ERA. But the Gators have an equally tough challenge in facing Auburn’s righty ace Mize, who was taken first overall in this week’s draft by the Detroit Tigers (Singer went 18th to the Kansas City Royals). Mize is 10-5 with a 2.95 ERA.
“He throws every one of his pitches for a strike, any count any time,” Florida right fielder Wil Dalton said. “He’ll pitch you backwards. He’ll pitch you however he wants to. He commands every pitch for a strike. That’s his biggest thing; he’s not going to walk you. He’s just going to fill up the count.”
Florida touched Mize for three runs during the regular season, a game Florida won 3-1 behind Singer, who allowed just the one run in seven innings. The rematch should be even more compelling, given the higher stakes.
“It’s going to be something that everyone is going to want to watch,” Florida shortstop Deacon Liput said. “Both very good arms and good, competitive spirits.”
EXTRA BASES: O’Sullivan said catcher JJ Schwarz remains day-to-day while recovering from a broken hand suffered May 14 against Mississippi State. “Our lineup with JJ right in the middle is a better lineup,” O’Sullivan said. “So hopefully we’ll get him back sooner than later.” … Liput, on UF’s recent fielding woes: ”Defense is something that we’ve always taken pride in and always done well with. So I think it’s something that we just need to come naturally and stop worrying too much about it.” Florida has committed 16 errors over its last nine games.
PARKING: First-come, first-serve parking will be available all weekend in the O’Connell Center Parking Lot and Garage.
HEAT INITIATIVES: 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.
GAINESVILLE SUPER REGIONAL
At McKethan Stadium
Saturday: Auburn (42-21) vs. Florida (45-18), noon
Sunday: Florida vs. Auburn, noon
Monday (If necessary): Auburn vs. Florida, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Pitching matchups -Today: AU’s Casey Mize (10-5 2.95 ERA) vs. UF’s Brady Singer (11-1, 2.27)
Sunday: Tanner Burns (7-4, 3.12) vs. Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.38)