Southern Mississippi scored 42 runs in four games in the regionals to reach the Gainesville Super Regional for the right to play Florida. The Gators scored 32 in three games.
Expect more of the same this weekend.
Florida (42-20) and Southern Miss (38-24) have similarly-structured teams: a dynamic offense and a pitching staff that will likely need every bit of those runs.
It will be up to Florida’s Stephen Locke (5-2, 4.02 ERA) and Southern Miss’ JR Ballinger (6-3, 3.92) to hold the offenses at bay in Saturday’s series opener at McKethan Stadium.
That turned out to be a tough task for opposing pitchers’ in the Regionals. Florida cruised to a 3-0 record, with a win over Bethune-Cookman (8-7) and two victories over Miami (8-2, 16-5); while the Golden Eagles took a 17-15 game over Elon and won two-of-three over Georgia Tech (despite both teams scoring 25 runs).
With sluggers Bo Davis, Kameron Brunty, Corey Stevens and Joey Archer, the Golden Eagles have the talent to replicate that offensive success in their first-ever appearance in a Super Regional.
“We have been trying hard for six years to go to the next step, and we just got there,” said Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer following the Regional victory. “We are going to our first super regional. We worked really hard to get to this next step, and hopefully we can take it farther.”
But Florida’s pitching staff (4.16 ERA) was tough-to-hit in the Regionals, led by Locke’s stellar performance (0 ER in 7.1 IP) in Game 2. The bullpen was strong as well, surrendering five runs in 12-1/3 innings of work.
“The whole goal going into the weekend was to win this one and earn another weekend to play,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the Regional-clinching win over Miami. “We came out tonight with a really good approach at the plate. We didn’t chase anything out of the zone. When you get an early lead like we did, it makes it awful easy on your pitching staff. The relief pitching once again was outstanding.”
As the pitching staff held their opponents down, the trio of Preston Tucker (.357/14/83), Avery Barnes (.359/8/42) and Josh Adams (.343/8/50) provided more than enough offense for Florida.
In charge of stopping Tucker and Co. will be the starting rotation of Ballinger, Todd McInnis (9-4, 3.21) and Jeff Stanley (4-2, 4.43). It was a task they were unable to complete in the previous Regional, but one they got away with thanks to the potent offense.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Golden Eagles, who moved into the Top 20 in all major polls released on Tuesday, will be playing on the road – especially against a Florida squad that has been exceptional on its home field.
Amazingly, Southern Miss has had a much-higher success rate on the road this season – accumulating a 14-7 record, while finishing 21-17 at home. But the Gators have been nearly unbeatable at McKethan Stadium, winning 30 of their 38 contests. Florida had little trouble at home in the Regionals, outscoring its opponents 32-14. The Gators have won nine of their last 11 at home.
GAINESVILLE SUPER REGIONAL
June 6-8 | Gainesville, Fla.
Game 1: Southern Miss vs. Florida, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 2: Florida vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN360.com)
Monday (if necessary)
Game 3: Southern Miss vs. Florida, 1 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN360.com)