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2017 Super Regional Preview: Gainesville – Florida vs. Wake Forest

After a scare in the regionals, Florida will host one of the hottest teams in college baseball in Wake Forest in the super regionals.

This is one of just two super regionals that will feature two teams that were both one seeds in the regionals. The Gators are the number three national seed, but this will be a very competitive matchup.

This 3-game series begins on Saturday, June 10 at 3 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN. Game two will be played on Sunday, June 11 at 3 p.m. ET. If necessary, a third game will be played on Monday, June 12 at a time to be determined.

How They Got Here:

Wake Forest (42-18, 19-11) – The Demon Deacons were one of the more consistent teams in college baseball this year finishing the regular season with a record of 38-17. They entered the ACC Tournament as a three seed and won their first game 5-4 over Georgia Tech. However, they were eliminated after a 5-2 loss to Miami in the weird ACC Tournament format.

They were still selected to host a regional and blew through the competition. In game one against UMBC the Demon Deacons won 11-3 thanks to the top three hitters going 7-14 with 4 runs and 7 RBI. In a very entertaining game, Wake Forest earned a 4-3 victory over West Virginia with a walk-off hit from Gavin Sheets to move to the regional finals. They played the Mountaineers again, but this time won more convincingly 12-8. Stuart Fairchild was on fire in this regional going 6-13 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI.

Florida (44-17, 21-9) – The Gators entered the season as one of the favorites to win the College World Series, but a slow start in SEC play seemed to take them out of the picture. They finished the regular season with a record of 40-15, while winning 14 of their last 16 games. They won their first two games in the SEC Tournament, but like Wake Forest, they were eliminated after just one loss.

They hosted the Gainesville regional as the number three national seed, but it was not an easy ride. After a 10-6 win over Marist in their first game, they were in a 1-1 tie with South Florida until a 4-run outburst in the 12th inning. And then in the regional finals they lost game one to Bethune-Cookman, which was a major upset. Then in the decisive game seven it was 0-0 through five innings before the Gator offense got going. They certainly aren’t going into this super regional with a ton of steam, but they still possess the power to beat anyone.

The Matchup:

It’s no secret what the strength of the Florida Gators is, and that’s pitching. They possess one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Alex Faedo and Brady Singer. Faedo has a 2.80 ERA in 96.1 innings with 113 strikeouts, while Singer has a 3.37 ERA in 98.2 innings with 89 strikeouts. And if that wasn’t enough, Jackson Kowar has a 3.72 ERA in 96.2 innings with 68 strikeouts.

Coming out of the bullpen for Florida is Michael Byrne. He was the savior for the Gators in the regional throwing 10 scoreless innings, while allowing just 6 hits and 2 walks with 13 strikeouts. On the year he has a 1.69 ERA in 58.2 innings pitched with 66 strikeouts. The Demon Deacons don’t want to see him coming into the game late with a Florida lead.

Trying to combat that vaunted pitching staff is the powerful Wake Forest offense, which is hitting .311 as a team this year. Fairchild leads the team with a .359 batting average, 64 runs, 17 home runs, 67 RBI and 20 stolen bases.

Jonathan Pryor is hitting .347 with 55 runs, Jake Mueller is hitting .358 with 57 runs and Gavin Sheets is hitting .322 with 55 runs, 20 home runs and 81 RBI. So the Demon Deacons definitely have the bats to put a scare into the Florida pitching staff.

The question will be, can the Wake Forest pitching staff keep the Florida offense quiet. Typically, if the Gators score five runs or more they win. That was certainly the case in the regionals, and the task for Wake Forest will be to keep them under five runs.

Connor Johnston is the ace for Wake Forest with a 3.36 ERA in 88.1 innings pitched and 63 strikeouts. Parker Dunshee was pretty dominant against West Virginia in their first meeting giving up 3 earned runs on 6 hits and a walk over 7 innings with 5 strikeouts. He’s struck out 103 batters in 95.2 innings pitched this year.

Griffin Roberts is the top arm out of the bullpen for Wake Forest. He has a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched with 75 strikeouts. Morgan McSeeney is another relief option with 45 strikeouts in 34 innings.

Scoring runs has certainly been a problem for Florida this year as they’re hitting just .268 as a team. Nelson Maldonado leads the team with a .331 average. JJ Schwarz is their best power threat with a team-high 10 home runs and 49 RBI.

There has been no word yet as to whether or not Ryan Larson – who was hit in the head with a pitch in the SEC Tournament – will be able to return for this weekend. If he does, that will be a huge boost for the Florida offense.

This is going to be a great matchup this weekend to see if the pitching of Florida can hold up against the powerful offensive attack from Wake Forest.

Prediction:

Coming into the NCAA Tournament I had Florida pegged as a College World Series team, but after seeing their lack of offensive production in the regionals, I’m not so sure anymore. As mentioned, if Larson is able to return that changes things.

The key to this super regional for Florida will be scoring runs. If they can give their pitching staff some breathing room and get the ball to Byrne with a lead, I think they survive and advance.

On the flip side, Wake Forest has to find a way to break through against Faedo and Singer. I believe they have the bullets offensively to do so, and I think they carry that momentum into Omaha.

Winner: Wake Forest

 

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