Gators feast on regional competition
1. Florida (40-20) at-large berth, won SEC regular season, No. 7 national seed, 23rd NCAA Tournament, sixth consecutive appearance
2. North Carolina (40-17-1) at-large berth, fifth in ACC, 20th NCAA Tournament, fourth consecutive appearance
3. Notre Dame (36-22-1) automatic berth, won Big East tournament, 20th NCAA Tournament, seventh consecutive appearance
4. Stetson (35-26) automatic berth, won Atlantic Sun tournament, 13th NCAA Tournament
Gainesville Regional schedule
At Alfred A. McKethan Stadium
Friday, June 3
Game 1 -- North Carolina 5, Notre Dame 1
Game 2 -- Florida (40-20) vs. Stetson (35-26), ppd. rain
Saturday, June 4
Game 2 -- Florida 8, Stetson 3
Game 3 -- Notre Dame 7, Stetson 4, Stetson eliminated
Game 4 -- Florida 5, North Carolina 2
Sunday, June 5
Game 5 -- Notre Dame 3, North Carolina 0, North Carolina eliminated
Game 6 -- Florida 23 Notre Dame 3, Notre Dame eliminated
Florida (43-20) advances to super regionals
Player To Watch
Andrew Miller grew up just miles from the Florida campus, but chose North Carolina because he wanted a change of scenery. How the sophomore lefty with a low-90s fastball and power slider pitches in his homecoming game could determine his team's ultimate fate. He's struggled with command and confidence at times, but he's still 8-3, 2.74 with 96 strikeouts in 89 innings.
A sophomore-laden, quick-strike offense that blasted 70 home runs and 97 doubles makes Florida a dangerous team to pitch against. Sophomore first baseman Matt LaPorta cranked 23 long balls and slugged .730 (sixth in the nation) to earn SEC player of the year honors, while senior center fielder Jeff Corsaletti's .379 batting average ranked third in the league. Florida's relief ace Connor Falkenbach (3-3, 2.92, eight saves) appeared in 25 of the 30 SEC games and 45 contests overall. A strike-throwing rotation that goes four men deep in quality arms tries to get a lead to Falkenbach and fellow side-arming reliever Darren O'Day (7-3, 3.22, six saves).
On The Other Hand
Sophomores also lead North Carolina's club, and the main names come on the mound. Miller and right-hander Daniel Bard have power repertoires, but classmate Robert Woodard's competitive nature and command leave him as the staff ace at 7-0, 2.22. There's plenty more pitching depth on a team with a 3.16 ERA, which ranks 14th nationally. Freshman corner infielder Chad Flack (team-best 14 home runs) and sophomore DH Matt Ellington (team-best 55 RBI) lead the offense. Defense (.957 fielding percentage) and overall inconsistency have plagued the Tar Heels. This talented team might be a year away, like the school's 2004 hoops squad.
Crafty senior left-hander Tom Thornton (6-5, 4.50) heads a Notre Dame staff that ended up with less depth and experience than hoped when Jeff Manship and John Axford failed to make quick recoveries from Tommy John surgery. But sophomore right-handers Dan Kapla (6-3, 3.64) and Jeff Samardzija (8-1, 3.93) emerged as solid options. Senior first baseman Matt Edwards led the conference with 66 RBI, ranked second with 14 homers and third with a .478 on-base percentage. Scrappy freshman Brett Lilley was league rookie of the year after leading the Big East with a .498 OBP and solidifying the defense by moving from second base to third.
Don't Forget About Us
In a region with lots of pitching depth, Stetson could test it with a .323 team average (seventh among tournament teams) and eight regulars batting .305 or better. First baseman Chris Johnson tops that list. The Atlantic Sun freshman of the year batted .381-8-52 and ranked second in the league in average and doubles (23). The Hatters struggle on the mound, though, as not a pitcher on the roster averaged a strikeout per inning pitched, leading to a 5.24 ERA.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.
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