2014 Gainesville Regional Preview


McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. (Host: Florida)

Taylor Gushue

Taylor Gushue (Photo by Tony Farlow)

No. 1 Florida (40-21, 21-9 in SEC East) Roster | Statistics
30th appearance (seventh straight), at-large, first place in SEC East regular season
Top 200 Prospects: C Taylor Gushue (108)

No. 2 Long Beach State (32-24, 17-7 in Big West) Roster | Statistics
19th appearance (last in 2008), at-large, second place in Big West
Top 200 Prospects: OF Richard Prigatano (174)

No. 3 North Carolina (34-25, 15-15 in ACC Coastal) Roster | Statistics
29th appearance (13 straight), at-large, fourth place in ACC Coastal
Top 200 Prospects: SS Michael Russell (135)

No. 4 College of Charleston (41-17, 15-6 in Colonial) Roster | Statistics
Sixth appearance (last in 2012), automatic, second place in Colonial Athletic Conference, Colonial Athletic Conference tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

floridaAfter squeaking into the NCAA tournament last year and exiting quietly in regionals, Florida reloaded with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in the fall, and its talented freshmen helped it dramatically exceed expectations this year. A back-of-the-Top 25 team in the preseason, Florida won the SEC regular-season title by three games and went 18-10 against RPI top 25 teams; no other team in college baseball won more than 11 games against the top 25. This group of Gators is different than the star-laden bunch that made three straight Omaha trips from 2010-12, and as Kevin O'Sullivan said at the SEC tournament, this team sometimes gets unfairly compared to those teams. The 2014 Gators lack flash, but they make up for it with rock-solid fundamental play: They throw strikes, play sound defense and take advantage of scoring opportunities at the plate. They play with abundant energy, and they have heady baseball rats all around the field, led by 2B Casey Turgeon and SS Richie Martin, their slick double-play tandem. Switch-hitting catcher Taylor Gushue (.323/.385/.477, 6 HR, 49 RBI) and athletic CF Harrison Bader (.333/.412/.432, 24 RBI, 13 SB) are the only two Gators hitting above .300 or slugging above .400, but UF can hit situationally up and down the lineup. Similarly, freshman ace Logan Shore (7-3, 1.99, 91 IP) is the lone starter who reliably pitches into the middle innings; no other pitcher on the staff has topped 55 innings. But O'Sullivan is a master of managing his pitching staff, mixing and matching quality strike-throwers from the left side (Bobby Poyner, Danny Young, Kirby Snead, A.J. Puk) and the right side (Eric Hanhold, Ryan Harris, Aaron Rhodes, Karsten Whitson). Twelve Gators have made starts this year, and eight have recorded saves—it's a versatile staff filled with pitchers willing to do whatever job helps the team win.

Long Beach State finished one or two games above .500 in each of the past three years, falling just short of the 30-win plateau all three seasons. For a while, this year looked like a carbon copy; the Dirtbags were 16-18 after losing a series at UC Davis in mid-April, but they haven't lost a series since, finishing with six straight series wins (four of them against Big West contenders UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine). LBSU is extremely battle-tested, having opened the season against Vanderbilt and winning a series against Indiana. As usual, pitching is Long Beach State's strength, as it must be in cavernous Blair Field, and the team's small-ball style of play is not an ideal fit in cozy McKethan Stadium. Long Beach has just six home runs as a team, but the Dirtbags do have a couple of players with the strength to drive the ball in physical outfielder Richard Prigatano (the team's best prospect, a potential top-five-rounds pick) and seniors Ino Patron and Michael Hill, all of whom are hitting better than .300 and slugging .398 or better. So is dynamic freshman shortstop Garrett Hampson (.316/.354/.404), who has solidified the infield defense thanks to his exceptional instincts and quality tools. Long Beach is fielding .977 as a team, 13th in the nation, which gives its less-than-overpowering pitching staff the confidence to attack the strike zone (it ranks 10th in the nation with just 2.47 walks per nine). Redshirt sophomore righthander Andrew Rohrbach (6-2, 2.13) and senior righty Josh Frye (8-0, 1.51) have been wonderful success stories for the Dirtbags. Rohrbach, the Friday starter and a potential top-10-rounds draft pick next month, had almost no pitching experience at JC of the Canyons before arriving in Long Beach—he threw just four innings last year. A Tommy John surgery survivor, Rohrbach has caught scouts attention at LBSU by running his fastball up to 94-95, though he pitches at 89-91. He flashes an average changeup, but his breaking ball needs a lot of work. Rohrbach threw a complete-game gem last week at Hawaii, and he has been a good tone-setter atop the rotation. Closer Kyle Friedrichs (six saves) is another Tommy John surgery surviver; he has re-established himself as an effective bulldog at the back of the bullpen.

A year after earning the No. 1 national seed and reaching the final four at the College World Series, North Carolina saw its offensive output plummet from 7.6 runs per game to 5.2 (133rd in the nation). The Tar Heels won just one series all year against an NCAA tournament team (Maryland), but they still finished .500 in the ACC and snuck into the Gainesville Regional (the same regional site where their 2005 season ended). UNC's offense did show signs of life down the stretch, largely because sophomore line-drive machine Landon Lassiter recovered from his slow start to reach the .300 mark on the year. Fellow 2013 freshman All-American Skye Bolt (.256/.373/.343, 3 HR, 11 SB) failed to recapture his brilliant form from the first half of last season, but his plus speed and power potential still give him a chance to change games quickly. UNC's best player is junior Michael Russell (.345/.430/.505, 4 HR, 19 2B, 13 SB), the field general at shortstop and the premier run producer in the lineup. But he and Lassiter have combined for 34 errors on the left side of the infield, making UNC (.966 fielding percentage) a below-average defensive team. The Tar Heels might have the horsepower to make a run at this regional, however. Sophomore righthander Trent Thornton (7-3, 2.24) has thrived as the staff ace after spending most of last year as the bullpen stopper; he has a low-90s fastball and two swing-and-miss secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Junior righty Benton Moss (4-2, 3.33) has been up and down, but when he's locating his upper-80s fastball and sharp curve, he can be tough. After closer Chris McCue (0.77 ERA, 7 SV) went down with thoracic outlet syndrome in March, Reilly Hovis (8-1, 2.10, 6 SV) emerged as the backbone of the bullpen, and he has shutdown stuff, with a low-90s fastball that can bump the mid-90s and a plus 81-83 slider. LHP Zach Rice, RHP Spencer Trayner and sidewinder Trevor Kelley give the Tar Heels a reliable setup crew.

College of Charleston won more games than any team in this regional, starting with a season-opening series win against North Carolina. At No. 53 in the RPI, the Cougars are the best No. 4 seed in the tournament. They finished a half-game behind William & Mary in the CAA standings in their first year in the league, then beat the Tribe twice in a row to finish an unbeaten run through the conference tournament. CofC's identity as a program has been tied to its offensive prowess for many years, but this team ranks just 201st in the nation in batting (.261), 149th in scoring (5.0 runs per game) and 108th in slugging (.375). Instead, Monte Lee has remade Charleston as a pitching-first club, ranking 19th in the nation in ERA (2.80) and seventh in WHIP (1.12). Lee said throwing strikes and playing consistent defense has been the hallmark of his team's success. Redshirt sophomore righthander Taylor Clarke (10-, 2.65) emerged as the staff ace midway through this season; he works in the 88-91 range, bumping 92-93 on occasion, and can throw his slider and changeup for strikes. CAA rookie of the year Bailey Ober (9-2, 1.37), a 6-foot-8 righty, sits at 88-90, but his fastball jumps on hitters because of the extension in his delivery, and he has an excellent changeup. Charleston’s bullpen is anchored by a pair of seasoned upperclassmen with plenty of poise in tight spots: Chase Henry (2-0, 2.31, 51-13 K-BB in 47 IP) and Michael Hanzlik (3.53 ERA, 14 SV). Henry has good sink on his 88-92 fastball and can throw all three of his pitches for strikes, like most of the staff. Hanzlik is a sidearmer who works in the 84-87 range; he can mix in a slider, but like most of the staff he pitches heavily off his fastball. CofC has a versatile infield with a few movable pieces; Champ Rowland gives Lee a second strong defender at shortstop, which was critical when starter and leading hitter Gunnar Heidt (.335/.417/.482,1 5 SB) missed time down the stretch with a hand injury. When healthy, the speedy Heidt and patient leadoff man Blake Butler (.288/.379/.386) make the Cougars go. Carl Wise and Nick Pappas hit for occasional pop in the Nos. 3 and 4 holes while also playing strong defense on the infield corners.