By Kevin Brockway
Through an injury-filled season, Florida managed to play well enough to secure home field in the both the Regionals and Super Regionals of the Division I baseball tournament.
The Gators still won’t be at full strength when they begin Gainesville Regional play Friday night against Marist (7 p.m., SEC Network, McKethan Stadium). But as the No. 3 national seed, Florida will have the majority of its regulars healthy.
Shortstop Dalton Guthrie will likely be back from a sprained ankle that sidelined him during the SEC Tournament, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Wednesday. But center fielder Ryan Larson will be out for the regionals after being hit in the head during last Friday’s SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State.
“Guthrie is fine,” O’Sullivan said. “He moved around really good yesterday, he was doing some sprints, took some ground balls, he’s been taking some BP this past weekend up in Hoover, so I think he’ll be ready. Larson, I think, will be out for the weekend and ready for the supers. So I think other than Ryan, we should be at full strength.”
O’Sullivan said Nick Horvath would likely start in center field with Larson out.
“We’re going to need him on the mound as well, so obviously the DH rule, moving him from center to the mound is going to be interesting so we’re going to have to think that thing through a little bit,” O’Sullivan said. “But right now, we’re looking at probably him with center because of his defense.”
Florida (42-16) has also had catcher Mike Rivera, third baseman Jonathan India and left fielder Austin Langworthy sidelined for extended periods at different points throughout the 2017 season due to injuries. But the Gators still managed to win a share of the SEC regular season title and earn a national seed for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
“It’s been a weird season, going back to all the personnel we lost from last year’s club, I think we lost close to $11 million worth of signing bonuses and we’ve had a lot of shoes to fill,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve had a balancing act with the injuries and all of those types of things. I think we’ve won 17 one-run games. I think our recipe for success has been our starting pitching on the weekend. We’ve gotten some timely hitting here the last five or six weeks.”
Florida junior catcher/designated hitter JJ Schwarz said the injuries have forced different players to step up during the course of the season.
“We have more injuries than I’ve ever seen and it’s really tough to overcome one key injury, but we’ve had so many,” Schwarz said. “I think that speaks a lot about our team, how deep we are and the obstacles we’ve overcome.”
Rounding out the four-team Gainesville Regional is second-seed USF and third-seed Bethune-Cookman. Florida didn’t play Bethune-Cookman during the regular season, but lost to USF 15-10 at McKethan Stadium on May 9.
“Whenever you are familiar with a team it helps a lot, regardless of what the score was,” Schwarz said. “Now we’re both familiar with each other and I think it’s going to make it that much more of a better game.”
O’Sullivan confirmed sophomore righty Jackson Kowar (11-0, 3.74 ERA) will start Friday against fourth-seed Marist. That will leave junior righty Alex Faedo or sophomore righty Brady Singer available for the remainder of the tournament. Singer struggled in his last start, allowing three home runs and eight earned runs in one inning during UF’s 16-0 semifinal loss against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals. But Florida players say they’ve already turned the page from the lopsided defeat last Saturday.
“I don’t know if there’s much to worry about,” Rivera said. “It happens. Sometimes you get beat up, sometimes you beat other teams up. It’s just how it is.”