It’s finally NCAA postseason time, which means the Gators are ready to get down to business. The Gators turned some observers off during the regular season by having some weekends where they went into lulls. But make no mistake about it, this club has the potential to win the program’s first national title. UF enters the weekend with a good offensive lineup. Though it’s only hitting .281, the Gators have some big-time hitters to watch, such as catcher Mike Zunino, who’s hitting .323 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs, and will be one of the top picks in the upcoming draft. Meanwhile, Daniel Pigott, Brian Johnson and Preston Tucker are hitting .320, .318 and .312, respectively, with Tucker being a power threat with 14 homers and 44 RBIs … Pitching-wise, there’s not a team in college baseball with more depth. The Gators have an excellent rotation with Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson leading the way, while Jonathon Crawford, who can run it up to 96 with his fastball, has been excellent as well. The Gators also have a stout bullpen with veterans Greg Larson (1.32), Steven Rodriguez (2.04) and Austin Maddox (2.28) leading the charge. Keep an eye on right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson. The Gators aren’t real sure if he’ll start this weekend, but Whitson has the ability to be great. But as shown last weekend in Hoover, Ala., he can be erratic, too.
The Yellow Jackets have been extremely inconsistent this season, but injuries really have set them back. However, this is a team that is playing a tremendous brand of baseball right now, and one that is very confident after winning the ACC tournament title. The Jackets have a productive offensive lineup, entering the weekend hitting .296 as a club. Toolsy outfielder Brandon Thomas leads the charge at the plate, hitting .352 with four homers and 41 RBIs. Meanwhile, third baseman Sam Dove is hitting .338 with two homers and 28 RBIs and two-way stud Jake Davies, who was tremendous last week in Greensboro, N.C., is hitting .332 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Daniel Palka, who is a big-time power producer with 12 homers and 47 RBIs … Pitching-wise, the Yellow Jackets actually have done a nice job of holding things together this season after losing stud closer/starter Luke Bard and starting pitcher Matt Grimes for the season because of injuries. Buck Farmer is a premier arm and has a 3.43 ERA in 99 2/3 innings. He has struck out 110 and walked 34. Meanwhile, other starters such as Cole Pitt and Jake Davies have ERAs of 4.36 and 5.22, respectively. In other words, consistency is a big key with this group. Bullpen-wise, Alex Cruz has been fantastic with a 2.00 ERA in 29 appearances. Meanwhile, catcher Zane Evans also serves as a key reliever with a fastball in the 92-94 range.
This has been a rather bizarre campaign for the Cougars. This is a program typically built on offensive production, but the opposite has been true for much of the year. For instance, the Cougars are hitting just .269 as a team, but do have three stud hitters to watch in outfielders Marty Gantt and Brandon Murray, who are hitting .375 and .324, respectively, with Gantt having 10 homers and Murray having 12 homers. Also keep an eye on outfielder Daniel Aldrich. He has had a sub-par campaign with a .279 batting average, but has big-time power potential with 10 homers and 44 RBIs … Pitching-wise, this actually is a talented staff with starting pitchers Christian Powell and Josh Renfro leading the way. Powell has a 2.39 ERA in 90 1/3 innings of work, and teams are hitting him at just a .240 clip. Meanwhile, Renfro has a 3.66 ERA in 76 1/3 innings. Also keep an eye on Matt Pegler (2.92) and reliever Kyle Owings, who has appeared in 28 games and has a stellar 1.33 ERA in 40 2/3 innings.
Some around Bethune-Cookman were a little surprised when long-time head coach Mervyl Melendez bolted to Alabama State last summer. However, this program hasn’t skipped a beat this season, once again winning the MEAC tournament title to appear in yet another NCAA postseason. The Wildcats are hitting .276 as a club and have a couple of very productive hitters to watch in shortstop Brashad Johnson and outfielder David Lee. Johnson is hitting .346 with two homers and 34 RBIs, and is 20-for-25 in stolen bases. Meanwhile, Lee is hitting .316 with three homers and 47 RBIs, and is 13-for-19 in stolen bases … Pitching-wise, the Wildcats don’t have a lot of fantastic options but have a great one in ace pitcher Rayan Gonzalez. Gonzalez has a fastball in the 88-92 range and has a 1.96 ERA in 87 1/3 innings. Teams are hitting just .227 against him. Also keep an eye on reliever Jordan Dailey, who has appeared in 33 games and has a 3.38 ERA and 11 saves in 45 1/3 innings of work.
The Wolfpack put together an impressive regular season campaign and was very close to earning one of the top eight national seeds. As it stands, though, N.C. State has some work to do and likely will have to get through Florida to get to Omaha. The Wolfpack has a solid offensive lineup, entering the weekend hitting .290. Shortstop Chris Diaz is hitting a team-best .364 with 50 RBIs, while talented young third baseman Trea Turner is hitting .345 with four homers and 39 RBIs. Also keep an eye on catcher Danny Canela (.335/6/42) and power-producing designated hitter Ryan Mathews, who’s hitting .330 with 14 homers and 54 RBIs … Pitching-wise, this can be a very fun team to watch. The Wolfpack has arguably the nation’s top left-handed pitcher in freshman Carlos Rodon. Rodon has been phenomenal this spring, compiling a 1.46 ERA in 105 innings. He also has struck out 126 and walked 36, while teams are hitting .180 against him. Also keep an eye on Ethan Ogburn and Anthony Tzamtzis, who have ERAs of 3.01 and 3.65, respectively. Bullpen-wise, the Wolfpack has a stud closer in Chris Overman, who has recorded six saves and has a 2.81 ERA in 32 innings of work.
Focusing on statistics when it comes to the Commodores isn’t a smart idea. Sure, Vanderbilt probably doesn’t have the most impressive statistics of any team in this field, but it’s red-hot and playing a very good brand of baseball right now. The ‘Dores enter the tournament hitting .266 as a team, but are hitting at a much better clip over the past couple of weeks. Anthony Gomez leads the offense with a .354 batting average and 51 RBIs, while hard-hitting first baseman Conrad Gregor is hitting .321 with three homers and 32 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Mike Yastrzemski and Tony Kemp, who each are hitting .269 and .267, respectively, but have potential to have big-time weekends at the plate … Pitching-wise, the Commodores have really settled into a groove over the past couple of weeks. T.J. Pecoraro has returned strong from an injury and has a 3.57 ERA in 45 1/3 innings of work, while left-handed pitcher Sam Selman has been a huge key down the stretch in the rotation, and has a 3.33 ERA in 70 1/3 innings. There’s also lefty Kevin Ziomek, who has a 4.97 ERA in 76 innings, and freshman righty Tyler Beede, who has a 4.48 ERA in 66 1/3 innings. Drew VerHagen is another premier arm to watch, as he was consistently 91-94 with his fastball at last week’s SEC tournament.
The Seahawks put together a very solid regular season campaign, especially while in CAA play. There’s a good reason for that, too, because this team is very balanced. Offensively, the Seahawks enter the weekend hitting .302 as a club with outfielder Thomas Pope leading the way, hitting .381 with 18 doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs. Meanwhile, first baseman Hunter Ridge is hitting .335 with four homers and 40 RBIs, while second baseman Michael Bass is hitting .333 with 32 RBIs. Also keep an eye on center fielder Andrew Cain and Tyler Molinaro, who have combined for 25 homers this spring … Pitching-wise, this is an intriguing group of arms. Tyler McSwain (3.12) and Mat Batts (2.59) formulate a very formidable one-two punch for UNCW, while the bullpen has been very good with Tom Timoney (2.19), Kelly Secrest (2.22), Ricky Holden (2.33) and Jack Lane (4.05) leading the way. I said earlier this week UNCW could be a team to watch in this tournament. Look at the bullpen as for a reason why.
It was a bit of a surprise when the Pioneers won the Northeast Conference automatic bid over Monmouth, but give them a bunch of credit for getting the job done. The Pioneers are hitting just .272 as a club entering the weekend, but are playing a good brand of baseball. Shortstop John Murphy and designated hitter Dan Perez are the two key cogs to watch from an offensive standpoint. Murphy is hitting .347 with a home run and 34 RBIs, while Perez is hitting .320 with a home run and 36 RBIs … Pitching-wise, SHU will need to overachieve a bit this weekend to compete for the NCAA Regional title. The Pioneers haven’t been particularly great from a consistency and depth standpoint. For instance, starting pitchers Troy Scribner (4.04), Nick Leningen (4.12) and Kody Kerski (4.90) are having decent campaigns, but the bullpen has arms such as Jeff Stoddard and John Hermanson, who have ERAs well over 5.00. Those arms must rise to the occasion this weekend.