Junior ace for the Gators and recent All-American selection Alex Faedo was asked Thursday if he thought Florida’s season had been a success in his eyes so far.
“I wanted to be in the situation to go to Omaha at the beginning of the year, and I think we’re in that situation now, so as right now I think it’s been successful to the point where we are right now,” he said.
But the Gators have a few more steps to take before they can call the season the ultimate success.
That journey continues this weekend, as Florida (45-17) hosts its Super Regional against Wake Forest (42-18). The matchup is one of two Super Regionals featuring top seeds from the Regional round.
For both teams, the prize at the end of best-of-three series is the same. Win, and the tickets are punched to Omaha to fight for a championship at the College World Series.
Wake Forest at Florida
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 6, 2017
The Gators are coming off a hard-fought regional that went to the seventh game.
It started with a tricky Marist team that Florida couldn’t definitively put away until a three-run homer from J.J. Schwarz in the eighth inning gave them some breathing room.
That was followed by a 5-1 victory over USF in 12 innings, with Alex Faedo and Michael Byrne combining to allow just one earned run while striking out a NCAA Tournament school record 18 strikeouts. The Gators weren’t out of it yet though.
They then dropped the first game of the regional final to a Bethune-Cookman team that tagged Brady Singer for ten hits. With their backs against the wall, Florida clawed it’s way to a 6-1 win over BCU in the winner-take-all game to advance.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 5, 2017
Now, Florida finds itself in its seventh Super Regional in the past nine years. The Gators went on to advance to Omaha on five of the previous six occasions, including the past five times they’ve made it to this round.
If the Gators want to make it back to the College World Series, it will be on the strength of their pitching.
Arms Leading the Way
Byrne, the sophomore righty, has been the MVP of the season for Florida. He has an NCAA-leading and school-record 16 saves on the season and continued his impressive season in the regional. Byrne usually comes in for the ninth inning but made three separate outings in the regional lasting 2.2, 5.0, and 2.1 innings.
How’d he do in those prolonged appearances? He was dominant, notching 13 strikeouts and giving up just six hits across 10 scoreless innings on his way to two saves and wins.
“There’s something he does with the ball that hitters just don’t pick up… he’s probably been our MVP,” Kevin O’Sullivan said.
What if I told you…
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 8, 2017
Byrne was also named an All-American on Thursday, in addition to Faedo, who leads the trio of starters that Florida will lean on.
“Whenever I feel like I put the team in a good chance to win the first game, then usually we win the series or sweep,” Faedo said.
He’s done that often this season. Faedo dominated against USF giving up just one run and four hits while striking out 10 in 7.0 innings. Jackson Kowar pitched decently over the weekend, grabbing his 12th win of the season. Brady Singer, on the other hand, has struggled a bit as of late. Over his last three outings, he’s given up 15 earned runs in 15.1 innings, including an 8.80 ERA over that span.
Larson Returns to Lineup
The Gators will hope Singer can turn it around, as well as the lineup, which went into a bit of a slump over the past five games, hitting just .208.
“We kind of played a little bit tight… we just weren’t swinging it will this weekend,” third baseman Dalton Guthrie said.
On that front, they are supposed to get a big boost this weekend with the expected return of outfielder Ryan Larson. Larson emerged this season as one of the most consistent bats in the lineup, batting .318, second-best on the team.
“It almost seems like when things start going wrong, if Larson’s in the lineup, to pick us up,” Guthrie said. “He’s definitely a huge part of our lineup and our success this year, and if we can get him back this weekend, that would be a big boost for us.”
Standing in the way though is a hot Wake Forest team. The Deacons swept through their Winston-Salem regional, crushing Maryland-Baltimore County before beating West Virginia twice.
That now puts Wake Forest in their first Super Regional since their 1999 matchup against Miami. The Deacons have the offensive firepower to make this trip different than that trip to Coral Gables and have this one end in Omaha.
When you head to the Super Regional for the first time since 1999! pic.twitter.com/RF8Je4K5Y5
— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) June 5, 2017
They feature one of the most explosive lineups in the country, including leading the NCAA with an absurd 100 home runs on the season. That includes five different Deacons with double-figure jacks, led by first baseman Gavin Sheets (20). Sheets is also third in the country in RBIs with 81.
Additionally, the team led the ACC, a conference with three teams in the last 16, in numerous offensive categories such as slugging, runs, and on-base percentage.
“They can hit, but we can pitch,” O’Sullivan said. “So we’ll see. It’ll be a classic match up.”
Along with Sheets, the Deacons feature nine All-ACC selections, with many of them hitting over .300. That includes first-team selections Stuart Fairchild (.359), Jake Mueller (.358), and Ben Breazeale (.342). It certainly is strength versus strength when this lineup faces Florida’s pitchers.
“It should be fun,” Faedo said of the matchup. “I’m always excited to pitch. I was excited to pitch against USF because I knew they could swing it, and I’m excited to pitch against Wake because I heard they could swing it too.”
— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) June 8, 2017
On the Mound
Wake Forest’s pitching is no joke either. Their starters are led by Parker Dunshee and Connor Johnstone. Dunshee is 9-1 on the season with 4.14 ERA and is the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts (322), while Johnstone has not dropped a decision on his way to an 8-0 record with a 3.36 ERA.
Florida leads the all-time series 6-2. Wake Forest won the last meeting, a 4-0 win in Gainesville in 2006, while Florida won the last meeting in NCAA Tournament play, with a 12-9 victory in the 1998 Gainesville Regional.
Florida: Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.70 ERA)
Wake Forest: Parker Dunshee (9-1, 4.14 ERA)
Florida: Brady Singer (7-5, 3.48 ERA)
Wake Forest: Connor Johnstone (8-0, 3.36 ERA)
Monday (if necessary)
Florida: Jackson Kowar (12-0, 3.72 ERA)
Wake Forest: Donne Sellers (3-5, 4.81 ERA)