Gators open against USF before possible rematch with Miami
For the first time in nearly three weeks, the Gators will be back at Florida Ballpark today to host the Gainesville Regional as a No. 15-national seed.
UF has won 17 of its last 20 games at home and closed out the season with eight-consecutive series wins in Gainesville. And for the first time this year, Florida’s new $65 million baseball stadium will be allowed to have full capacity.
“I’m really excited and I know our players are too,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of capacity limits being lifted. “We’ve already had good atmospheres, but I’m really looking forward to this weekend and having full capacity. It should be a lot of fun.
“Honestly, I feel really good about our team. I really do. I think we’re playing as good as we’ve been playing all year long.”
The Gators (38-20) open with the first game against South Florida (28-27) at noon on the SEC Network. The Gainesville Regional also includes South Alabama (33-20) and Miami (32-19), which won its first series over UF since 2014 on the opening weekend of this season.
“We always want to play them,” Florida’s Nathan Hickey said of the Hurricanes. “It’s Miami. They’re good. There’s a rivalry there, but we’re not really worried about that now. We just gotta worry about USF.”
UF is 22-3 overall against South Florida under O’Sullivan, including 19-2 in Gainesville, and will be going for its fifth consecutive win in the series. The Bulls are barely above .500, but have won six of their last seven games, including an 8-7 victory over UCF in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game last Sunday.
“Obviously they’re playing great at the right time,” O’Sullivan said of USF. “We’re very familiar with their roster. They’ve got enough pitching, offensively they’re good, so we’ve got our hands full.
“Our whole focus has to be on South Florida. Whoever we play on Saturday, we’ll worry about that Saturday. Looking ahead or putting too much time and effort into things that don’t matter can put you in a bad spot.”
The Gators will eventually match up with Miami, which finished the regular season unranked. The Hurricanes had lost 15 of their last 18 games against UF prior to their series win in February.
“Maybe that was the best thing that could’ve happened to this team,” O’Sullivan said of losing to UM. “It stung. We were all kind of confused at that point. It had been so long since we had been on the field together as a group.
“And then all of a sudden, we played the way we played and nobody expected that. And it took us a while to regroup, honestly, after that. I don’t think we recovered the next weekend — everything’s perfect again. I think it took us a while.”
Florida bounced back from early season losses to Miami, Florida Atlantic and Florida State with series wins against No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 2 Vanderbilt. The Gators were swept in their final conference series at No. 1 Arkansas, but held a players-only meeting afterward that propelled them to three victories in the SEC Tournament last week.
“I think it really needed to happen at some point. It was probably a little bit later than it should have happened,” Hickey said of the meeting. “It just brought us all closer together. The momentum that we had from the SEC tournament is huge. We played outstanding the first three games.
“Against Tennessee we didn’t play our best, but I didn’t think we played bad. We just gotta take that momentum we had from the first three games and bring it into the next few games we’re going to have here in Gainesville.”
Double elimination at Florida Ballpark
Game 1: Florida vs. USF, noon, SEC Network
Game 2: Miami vs. South Alabama, 5 p.m., ACC Network
Game Three: 12 p.m. - Loser Game One vs. Loser Game Two
Game Four: 4 p.m. - Winner Game One vs. Winner Game Two
Game Five: 12 p.m. - Loser Game Four vs. Winner Game Three
Game Six: 6 p.m. - Winner Game Four vs. Winner Game Five
Game Seven (if necessary): 1 p.m. - Winner Game Six vs. Loser Game Six
More:How to watch Florida Gators vs. USF Bulls in Gainesville Regional on TV, live stream
Regional At A Glance
1. FLORIDA GATORS (38-20, 17-13 SEC)
Ticket punched: At-large bid, No. 15 national seed
NCAA Tournament history: 116-78 overall (.598), 12 College World Series appearances, 2017 national champions
Key players: P Barco Hunter (3.81 ERA, 94 Ks); P Tommy Mace (4.32 ERA, 109 Ks); P Jack Leftwich (3.49 ERA, 74 Ks); OF Jacob Young (.317, 55 runs, 41 RBIs, 5 HRs); OF Jud Fabian (.258, 51 runs, 46 RBIs, 20 HRs); C Nathan Hickey (.312, 39 runs, 27 RBIs, 9 HRs) OF Sterlin Thompson (.313, 39 runs, 27 RBIs, 5 HRs)
Notable: This is the Gators 17th time hosting an NCAA Regional in 36 appearances. Florida ranks 17th in country in hits (555), 19th in walks (261) and 22nd in home runs (77). Fabian ranks 6th in home runs (20) and was named third team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
2. MIAMI HURRICANES (32-19, 20-15 ACC)
Ticket punched: At-large bid
NCAA tournament history: 194-101 overall (.658), 25 CWS appearances, four national titles (last in 2001)
Key players: P Jake Garland (5.40 ERA, 37 Ks); P Rosario Alejandro (5.37 ERA, 50 Ks); P Carson Palmquist (1.74 ERA, 72 Ks); OF Christian Del Castillo (.368, 33 runs, 36 RBIs, 4 HRs); IF Yohandy Morales (.277, 43 runs, 43 RBIs, 10 HRs); C Adrian Del Castillo (.284, 37 runs, 36 RBIs, 3 HRs)
Notable: Miami had its streak of 44 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances snapped in 2017, but has made the last two (2020 canceled due to COVID-19. The Hurricanes are 11-6 during Regional play in Gainesville. No player on the roster has been to the CWS.
3. SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS (33-20, 15-9 Sun Belt)
Ticket punched: Won Sun Belt Conference Tournament
NCAA tournament history: 38-54 overall (.413), last appearance in 2017
Key players: P Tyler Lehrmann (4.63 ERA, 50 Ks); P Matt Bosewell (5.40 ERA, 66 Ks); P Jase Dalton (1.54 ERA, 39 Ks); OF Ethan Wilson (.319, 36 runs, 32 RBIs, 8 HRs); OF Michael Sandle (.300, 46 runs, 44 RBIs, 9 HRs) IF Santi Montiel (.287, 31 runs, 28 RBIs, 5 HRs)
Notable: The Jaguars rank 27th in the country in team ERA (3.84) and 19th in fielding percentage (.979). The team has 12 players from the state of Florida. Went 0-2 against SEC teams in 2021, including losses to Alabama and LSU.
4. SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (28-27, 14-14 American Athletic)
Ticket punched: Won American Athletic Conference Tournament (No. 6 seed)
NCAA tournament history: 13-26 overall (.333), last appearance in 2018
Key players: P Jack Jasiak (2.92 ERA, 86 Ks); P Collin Sullivan (3.77 ERA, 84 Ks); P Logan Lyle (2.03 ERA, 42 Ks); UTIL. Carmine Lane (326, 40 runs, 41 RBIs, 10 HRs); IF Roberto Pena (.249, 50 runs, 38 RBIs, 12 HRs); IF/OF Riley Hogan (.280; 38 runs, 36 RBIs, 11 HRs)
Notable: The Bulls enter regional play having won 11 of their last 16 games, and six of their last seven. Over its last six wins, South Florida has outscored its opponents 42-12. The Bulls are seeking their first Super Regional appearance.
— Alan Festo