No. 1 Florida
Record: 40-21, 21-9 SEC
RPI Ranking: 3
Season in Review:
With the No. 2 national seed, Florida is a strong favorite to make it to Omaha. The Gators had the No. 1 strength of schedule of any team in college baseball and still managed to win 40 games.
In addition to playing in deepest conference in America (10 SEC teams earned NCAA Tournament bids; five will serve as regional hosts) head coach Kevin O'Sullivan wasn't afraid to schedule games against the ACC's elite. In 2014, the Gators compiled a 5-3 record against RPI No. 4 Florida State, RPI No. 25 Maryland and RPI No. 15 Miami.
Florida's starting rotation is anchored by one of the best freshmen in the land in Logan Shore. The young righty started 14 games, totaling a 7-3 record and 1.99 ERA (3rd SEC).
Counting Shore, six pitchers have won five or more games for the Gators, and almost every member of the staff has had at least one start. With Kirby Snead (3-1, 1.79 ERA in 31 appearances) coming out of the bullpen, it is entirely possible that Florida has the most pitching depth of any team in the entire tournament.
While the lineup might not have the most power, there is no denying this team's ability to get on base. Fourteen players have an on-base percentage over .300, and the fact that they will be playing in their home ballpark (McKethan Stadium) should provide a sense of familiarity to a team that been solid at home (23-11).
The player to watch at the plate is catcher Taylor Gushue. The durable junior has started all 61 games this season and has driven in 49 runs on the year (T-5th SEC).
No. 2 Long Beach State
Record: 32-24, 17-7 Big West
RPI Rank: 29
Season in Review:
This former West Coast power endured a rough start to the season, going 3-6 in their first 9 games. However, a series win over regional seed Cal Poly sparked a turnaround that saw the Dirtbags win 14 of their final 17 games.
This team is somewhat of a wild card given that they've only matched up against one East Coast team (they dropped their season-opening series to Vanderbilt). However, like Florida, LBSU has faced some stiff competition (they had the 12th-best strength of schedule), and finished with a respectable 11-9 record against RPI Top-50 teams.
LBSU has been tough in close games, posting a 12-10 record in one-run games, including winning four straight.
Unlike the other teams in this region, this pitching staff is heavily reliant on two starting pitchers. RHP Josh Frye (8-0, 1.51 ERA; first-team All-Big West) and RHP Andrew Rohrbach (6-2, 2.13 ERA; honorable mention All-Big West) have won 14 of their 24 starts and have only allowed 37 earned runs in their combined 31 appearances.
Rohrbach is slated to get the start against UNC on Friday.
Both pitchers will pose difficult challenges for opposing hitters, and head coach Troy Buckley will need his top two arms to throw deep into games if his team is going to advance. If either pitcher gets knocked around early, the lack of bullpen depth – only three relief pitchers possess ERAs below 4.24 - makes this team vulnerable in the later innings.
On paper, LBSU doesn't look like a team that would inspire fear in opposing pitchers. The lineup has only combined to hit six home runs, and ranks in the bottom half of its conference in nearly every statistical offensive category. The Dirtbags rank 25th nationally in sacrifice bunts (64).
However, over the last 20 days, the bats have sprung to life. In their final 10 contests of the season (9-1), the Dirtbags' offense scored 57 runs. Led by Big West Freshman of the Year Garrett Hampson (.316, 16 RBI) and junior outfielder Richard Prigatano (.314, 45 RBI), both of whom were First-Team All-Big West selections, this is a lineup that is trending in the right direction.
No 4. College of Charleston
Record: 41-17; 15-6 Colonial
RPI Ranking: 52
Just how good is the College of Charleston? On the one hand, the Cougars won 41 games this season, including the Colonial Athletic Tournament that earned them an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. On the other hand, their weak strength of schedule (159) and lack of quality wins meant that they possibly needed to win their conference tournament to make the field of 64, although several national pundits projected the Cougars as a regional 3-seed.
College of Charleston had just two wins against the RPI Top-50 and 10 losses against teams ranked outside the RPI Top-100. Both of those wins however, came against UNC in a season-opening series down in Charleston (it was originally scheduled in Chapel Hill, but was moved on account of a snowstorm).
This pitching staff is led by two quality front-end arms in freshman Bailey Ober (9-2 1.37 ERA) and sophomore Taylor Clarke (10-3, 2.65 ERA). In addition to having solid starters, the bullpen has three pitchers that possess ERA's below 2.50.
The problem for this smaller D-1 school is the level of competition. Other than William & Mary, no other team in the CAA finished the season in the top-70 offenses in college baseball. None of the teams in the Gainesville Regional are considered offensive juggernauts, so it will be interesting to see if these pitchers can rise to the occasion in the postseason.
The three higher seeds in this region all have proven pitching that have faced quality hitters all season long. The same can't be said for the Cougars, who have the second-lowest batting average (.261) in their conference. What's worse is that not a single opposing pitching staff in the CAA has an ERA under 3.00, and six of those teams have an ERA over 4.00.
Utility infielder Gunnar Heidt was the team's lone player to be selected as a First-Team All-CAA player. Unless Heidt (.335 avg., 4 HR, 35 RBI, 15 stolen bases) and third baseman Carl Wise (.288 avg., 2 HR 48 RBI) catch fire against a brutal slate of throwers, it's hard to imagine College of Charleston pulling off a major upset in the first round.