College : : Story
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Gainesville SR: Who has the edge?

Kendall Rogers        

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After the many miles traveled by some teams last week, the Road to Omaha either continues or comes to an abrupt halt for 16 teams this weekend.

With the NCAA Super Regionals around the corner, we take an in-depth look at how each team stacks up against the other.

First up is an in-depth look at the Gainesville Super Regional, which features Mississippi State (37-23), the winner of the Atlanta Regional last week, and Florida (48-16), the No. 2 national seed and winner of last week's Gainesville Regional.

For Mississippi State, the key to the series is to get solid starts from its weekend arms. The Gators are incredibly tough to slow down once they get off to a hot start. And it's certainly difficult to rally against Florida's deep pitching staff. For Florida, this weekend is all about continuing where it left off last weekend in the Gainesville Regional. UF played at an extremely high level last weekend and should take care of business this weekend if it performs at the same level.

WHO HAS THE EDGE? Austin | Chapel Hill | Charlottesville | Columbia | Nashville | Santa Clara | Tallahassee

Gainesville Super Regional: Who has the edge?
Starting pitching

Florida has the nation's deepest and best pitching staff, and it might have been best illustrated last weekend in the Gainesville Regional. The Gators lost starting pitcher Brian Johnson to a concussion in the SEC tournament, and the talented left-hander missed his normal start. UF, though, didn't skip a beat. The Gators have fantastic starting pitching. Brian Johnson will return to the rotation this weekend and has a 3.66 ERA in 78 2/3 innings with opponents hitting him at a .248 clip. Right-hander Hudson Randall is the staff ace and is a college version of former big league star Greg Maddux. He is 9-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 102 innings. He also has struck out 54 and walked 10 and teams are hitting .237 against them. Freshman sensation Karsten Whitson, who I thought should've been named SEC Freshman of the Year, rounds out the rotation with a 2.42 ERA in 81 2/3 innings with teams hitting him at a .238 clip. The Gators simply don't have a weak link when it comes to their weekend rotation ... Mississippi State didn't exactly show well in the SEC tournament two weeks ago, but the starting rotation definitely rose to the occasion in the Atlanta Regional last weekend. Luis Pollorena, a part-time reliever and starter, started last week and was fantastic. He has a 3.97 ERA in 56 2/3 innings and teams are hitting him at a .264 clip. The Bulldogs aren't sure if Pollorena will start this weekend, but he definitely has earned the right. Other starters to watch include talented freshman Evan Mitchell and options such as Devin Jones and Chris Stratton. Mitchell is having a memorable first campaign for the Bulldogs and has a 3.47 ERA in 46 2/3 innings with teams hitting .249 against him, Jones has a 4.45 ERA in 54 2/3 innings with teams hitting him at a .262 clip and Stratton has a 5.21 ERA in 74 1/3 innings with teams hitting .278 against him. The Gators certainly have a substantial edge in this area, but don't be surprised if Mitchell, especially, and others put together solid starts this weekend.

Usually when someone says a team simply doesn't have a true weakness, observers scoff at the idea. But Florida truly might be a team without a glaring weakness. The Gators, in addition to their great starting pitching, also have an exceptional bullpen. Nick Maronde, Austin Maddox, Greg Larson and Steven Rodriguez lead the bullpen. Maronde is having an incredible year with a 1.66 ERA in 38 innings with teams hitting .179 against him, Maddox is day-to-day with an ankle injury and has a 0.74 ERA in 24 1/3 innings with teams hitting .178 against him, Larson has appeared in 28 games and has a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings and Rodriguez has made 27 appearances and has a 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. Also keep an eye on Tommy Toledo and Anthony DeSclafani. Toledo has made 25 appearances and has a 3.21 ERA with teams hitting .248 against him, while DeSclafani has a 4.36 ERA in 43 1/3 innings with teams hitting .276 against him. The Gators have many options in this department ... The Gators also have the edge in this department, but the Bulldogs aren't too far behind. They have some very impressive bullpen options. Caleb Reed is the ringleader of the bullpen, has made 27 appearances and has a 1.40 ERA in 57 2/3 innings. Teams are hitting him at a .224 clip. Daryl Norris has made 13 appearances and has a 2.49 ERA in 25 1/3 innings, Taylor Stark has made 14 appearances and has a 3.12 ERA in 17 1/3 innings and Pollorena and Jones each have the ability to come out of the bullpen. Also keep an eye on Tim Statz and Chad Girodo, who have ERAs of 4.64 and 5.76, respectively. Though the Bulldogs don't quite have the overall bullpen of the Gators, they're in fantastic shape if they can get to the eighth or ninth with a lead, then giving the game over to Reed.

Outside of the starting pitching category, this is where the Gators have the most impressive advantage. The two teams enter the weekend playing solid brands of baseball. But overall, the Bulldogs have a .282 batting average as compared to .311 for the red-hot Gators. For the Gators, catcher Mike Zunino has made a giant leap forward this season and is hitting .371 with 21 doubles, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. He also is slugging .668 and has a .442 OBP. Daniel Pigott is hitting .332 with a pair of home runs and 35 RBIs, Josh Adam is hitting .330 with five home runs and 40 RBIs, and Preston Tucker is hitting .319 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Bryson Smith (.305), Brian Johnson (.312), Nolan Fontana (.309) and Austin Maddox (.280) ... For the Bulldogs, they have several gritty and talented hitters to watch. Jarrod Parks, Nick Vickerson and C.T. Bradford have been fantastic this season, with Vickerson really impressing us at the SEC tournament a couple of weeks ago. Parks is hitting .365 with three home runs and 36 RBIs, Vickerson is hitting .314 with 16 doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBIs, and Bradford is hitting .309 with 12 doubles and 34 RBIs. It's also worth noting the Bulldogs can cause headaches on the base-paths with Vickerson 25-for-28 in stolen bases, Bradford 11-for-17 in stolen bases, Jaron Shepherd 12-for-15 in stolen bases and first baseman Ryan Collins 10-for-14 in stolen bases. Power-wise, keep an eye on shortstop Jonathan Ogden, who enters the weekend with a team--high eight home runs

If you're wanting to see some solid plays made in the field this weekend, you've picked the right series to follow. Both the Gators and Bulldogs play very solid defense, with the Gators having the slightest of an edge. The Gators have an athletic and stable outfielder with Tyler Thompson, Bryson Smith and Preston Tucker leading the way, while they have a solid infielder with third baseman Cody Dent (.943), first baseman Austin Maddox (assuming he comes back from an injury this weekend) and stud catcher Mike Zunino leading the way. The Gators also have a fantastic middle infield tandem in shortstop Nolan Fontana (.964) and second baseman Josh Adams (.982) leading the way. As a team, the Gators enter the weekend with a solid .974 fielding percentage ... Though UF has a slight edge, the Bulldogs also have done a solid job in the field this season. Outfielders Brent Brownlee, C.T. Bradford and Jaron Shepherd certainly have been stable and athletic, and the infield also is doing a solid job. Third baseman Jarrod Parks has a very solid .967 fielding percentage on the left side, while first baseman Ryan Collins has a .989 fielding percentage and catcher Wes Thigpen has made few mistakes behind the plate. Keep an eye on middle infielders Jonathan Ogden and Nick Vickerson, who have fielding percentages of .922 and 975, respectively.

The Gators have to feel great about their situation in the intangibles department. The Gators reached the College World Series last season and an NCAA Super Regional two seasons ago. In other words, they have plenty of experience in this type of postseason situation. The same can't be said for Mississippi State, which made its first postseason appearance in four years this season. Still, the Bulldogs played exceptionally well in the Atlanta Regional last weekend, so that may not be a factor. There's a lot on the line this weekend, though. In addition to experience, the Gators have the luxury of being at home, where they'll have a home-field advantage and will know the lay of the land. State is facing an uphill battle in this series.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at

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