Tallahassee Regional Preview

Tallahassee Regional Capsule
Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
No. 1 Florida State (45-11)
46th appearance, at-large, second place in Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 4 national seed
No. 2 Florida (34-22)
24th appearance, at-large, third place in Southeastern Conference
No. 3 Tulane (37-20)
19th appearance, at-large, third place in Conference USA
No. 4 Bucknell (29-22-2)
Fourth appearance, automatic, Patriot League champion
Florida State entered the year outside the top 25 after losing rotation stalwarts Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde along with first-team All-American second baseman Tony Thomas. But the Seminoles far exceeded expectations on the mound, posting a 3.77 ERA (13th in the nation), and lived up to every offensive expectation. Led by junior catcher and national batting leader Buster Posey (.467/.567/.864 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs), Florida State has a powerful, patient lineup that leads the nation in batting (.350) and walks (369). Sophomore lefthander Matt Fairel (10-2, 3.32) and junior righty Elih Villanueva (6-2, 3.23) are competitors who know how to locate their stuff, and senior righty Ryan Strauss (8-1, 4.39 with four saves) is capable of excelling at the back of the bullpen or as a starter. Posey (0-0, 0.00 with six saves) gives FSU another power arm late in games, and he could shoulder more of a pitching load in the postseason after working just seven innings this spring. Defense is Florida State's greatest liability: its .960 fielding percentage ranked next to last in the ACC and 169th in the nation.
Florida failed to make regionals the last two years after reaching the College World Series finals in 2005, prompting the Gators to replace coach Pat McMahon with Kevin O'Sullivan. In his first year at the helm, O'Sullivan has maximized the modest talent on his roster, guiding the Gators to a third-place finish in the SEC's regular-season standings and series wins over Vanderbilt, Georgia, Louisiana State and Mississippi. Florida's offense lacks big boppers but has a number of players capable of hitting the ball out of the park from time to time, led by standout shortstop Cole Figueroa (.350/.422/.539 with nine homers, 57 RBIs and 19 steals in 23 attempts). The Gators run a lot, and they do it at the right times: their 106 steals led the SEC by a wide margin and ranked 15th in the nation, and they were caught just 22 times. Outfielders Avery Barnes (.372/.447/.488 with 26 steals in 29 attempts) and Matt den Dekker (.332/.416/.507 with 20 steals in 20 tries) set the tone from the top two spots in the lineup. The pitching staff has three solid but not overpowering starters in righthanders Tommy Toledo (4-4, 3.99), Patrick Keating (8-1, 3.47) and Billy Bullock (4-4, 4.69).
Tulane saw its streak of nine straight regionals snapped in a disappointing 2007 season marked by Hurricane Katrina-related adversity, but the Green Wave earned one of the final at-large spots this year thanks largely to series wins over East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. Tulane's greatest asset is junior righthander Shooter Hunt (9-3, 2.45 with 119 strikeouts in 92 innings), who could be drafted among the top 10 picks in June thanks to a plus fastball and plus curve. Hunt did seem to tire down the stretch, dropping his last two starts against Rice and Marshall (in the CUSA tournament), but Tulane's best chance of beating host Florida State might be to save Hunt for a possible meeting on Saturday. That strategy would likely mean sophomore lefthander Matt Petiton (6-1, 2.81) would start the opener against Florida. A transfer from North Carolina, Petiton has come on strong down the stretch. Tulane's offense doesn't do anything exceptionally well but has good athletes in outfielders Aja Barto, Anthony Scelfo and Drew Allain. Scelfo (12 homers) and first baseman Sam Honeck (seven homers) are the only real power threats in the lineup, though third baseman Rob Segedin (.333 with six homers and 56 RBIs) has good power to the gaps and occasional home run pop.
Bucknell won the Patriot League tournament as a No. 4 seed after winning four one-run games against the two favorites, Army and Navy. Patriot League player of the year Jason Buursma—Bucknell's best hitter and bullpen ace from a sidearm slot—earned the win in relief in all four games, striking out eight over 10 scoreless innings in the four games. In addtion to going 9-3, 2.72 with a 75-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 79 innings on the mound, Buursma paced the Bison offense, batting .372/.432/.676 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs. He gets some protection in the lineup from DH John Avanzino (.312 with nine homers), but the lineup has little power after that. If the Boson are going to win a game in this regional, Buursma is going to have to carry them.