The Florida baseball team’s stumbles down the stretch did nothing to diminish its national standing. Not in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee, at least.
Despite losing six of their last seven games, the Gators still earned the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Regionals and will host Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic and Columbia in Gainesville this week.
Florida becomes the first program to ever earn the No. 1 overall seed three times, previously doing so in 2012 and 2016.
“At the beginning of the year our goal is always to earn a national seed for the NCAA Tournament, and now we’ve done it nine times in the last 10 years. That’s incredible,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We always have a difficult schedule and this year was no different. Being a top seed allows us the chance to play in front of our fans for both the regionals and Super Regionals and that’s a huge advantage in the postseason.”
Florida (42-17) opens with Columbia (20-28) on Friday at noon at McKethan Stadium. Jacksonville (39-19) is the No. 2 seed in the four-team regional pod and Florida Atlantic (40-17-1) the No. 3 seed.
The Gators earned the SEC regular-season title and won each of their first nine conference series before ending on a four-game losing streak, including a sweep by Mississippi State.
After winning their first game in the SEC Tournament last week, they then took two lopsided losses (8-2 to Arkansas and 11-0 to LSU) for an unceremonious elimination.
Florida has been without ace pitcher Brady Singer the last two weeks, though, as he rests an injured hamstring. And senior catcher JJ Schwarz also sat out the conference tournament with a broken bone in his right hand.
The Gators will hope to be full strength and back in their earlier form this week as the stakes become real.
Singer, the SEC Pitcher of the Year, threw a bullpen session on Saturday and O’Sullivan said “it certainly looks like he’ll be ready to go this weekend.” Meanwhile, he said Schwarz is “day to day still … and hopefully we’ll know more later this week.”
GAINESVILLE REGIONAL GAME TIMES – JUNE 1
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) May 28, 2018
Florida, of course, won the College World Series last year and has been viewed all season as the favorite to do it again.
The last two weeks have caused some worry within the fan base, but there was also nothing on the line for the Gators in that stretch.
Now there is, and they’ll get a chance to show soon enough if they are, as the NCAA selection committee rewarded them, still the team to beat.
As for their first opponent, Columbia enters the tournament with a losing record while earning its place as the Ivy League champion.
Columbia is led on the mound by Harrisen Egly (3-3, 3.86 ERA), who is the only one of the team’s starting pitchers with an ERA less than 5.00.
Offensively, Liam McGill (.319 batting average, 6 home runs, 30 RBI), Joe Engel (.316-1-29), Randell Kanemaru (.296-4-16) and Chandler Bengtson (.257-10-31) set the tone.
“Obviously we haven’t played well lately, but coming home and having a full week of practice before the regional will certainly help,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll try to get healthy ahead of the weekend and get some guys back on track before we play Columbia on Friday. At the end of the day, everybody has a clean slate now and our guys will be as motivated as anyone to show everyone how good they are.”