Wednesday May 27, 2009Gators To Begin NCAA Regional Action Against Bethune-Cookman
No. 10 Florida (39-20) will begin its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance beginning on Friday at McKethan Stadium against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bethune-Cookman (32-26). The Gators drew the top seed at the double-elimination event and will meet the fourth-seeded Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. on the first day of action. Second-seeded Miami (Fla.) (36-20) of the Atlantic Coast Conference will tangle with third-seeded Jacksonville (36-20), the Atlantic Sun Tournament champion, in the opening game at 1 p.m.
Senior righty Hiram Burgos (6-3, 3.73) will start for Bethune-Cookman against a Gator pitcher to be announced. He has registered 88 K in 72.1 innings and held foes to a .243 batting average. Burgos threw five scoreless innings in his last start against Norfolk State at the MEAC Tourney on May 14 and had a no-decision at Miami (Fla.) on May 8 after six scoreless frames in which he allowed four hits, with eight strikeouts and five walks. The right-hander faced Florida as a sophomore on March 27, 2007, and scattered seven hits over six innings in a 5-3 setback. Burgos totaled four strikeouts, permitted one walk and took the loss.
Freshman Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) went 4-for-4 and drove in four runs to power the Gators to a 12-7 victory over B-CU on April 7. He belted a two-run homer in the first inning and later snapped a 6-6 tie with a two-out RBI single in the sixth that put the hosts ahead to stay. Junior Tony Davis (Cooper City, Fla.) improved to 4-0 with 2.1 innings of relief as UF improved to 22-0 all-time against the Wildcats. Bethune-Cookman rallied from a 6-1 deficit and tied the game with four runs in the sixth before UF erupted for five runs on four hits and two errors in the seventh to put the game away. Senior Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) got a no-decision after giving up seven hits and six runs (five earned) over 5.1 IP. Freshman Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) bashed his first collegiate homer in the first.
This season marks the eighth time that McKethan Stadium has hosted NCAA Regional action and the first time since 2005. The Gators have gone on to the College World Series from Gainesville on four previous occasions: 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2005. Florida is 22-7 (.759) on its own turf during NCAA play and is riding a five-game winning streak after sweeping both the 2005 NCAA Gainesville Regional and Super Regional rounds.
Considering past history, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Gators will begin the NCAA Tourney in their home state. In its 24 previous Regional appearances, UF had been placed at sites within Florida 18 times (Gainesville-7, Coral Gables-7, Tallahassee-4). The squad has also traveled to North Carolina (1958, 1960, 1962), Minnesota (1977), Texas (2000) and Oklahoma (2004).
All 64 teams preparing for NCAA Regionals have the same destination in mind: Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. The Gators have reached the “Promised Land” five times - 1988, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2005.
The Southeastern Conference placed eight squads into the 64-team NCAA field. The Gators join LSU and Ole Miss as number one seeds who are hosting, Alabama (Clemson), Arkansas (Oklahoma), Georgia (Tallahassee) and South Carolina (East Carolina) are seeded second and Vanderbilt (Louisville) is a three seed. The Tigers and UF are the third and eighth national seeds, respectively.
The Gators were the second seed at the Tallahassee Regional last season and fell to No. 3 Tulane (7-4) in round one before being eliminated by top-seeded Florida State (17-11). The Seminoles eventually made it to the College World Series. It marked just the third time Florida went 0-2 in NCAA play (1982 Atlantic Regional in Coral Gables, 1984 South I Regional in Tallahassee).
According to statistics guru Warren Nolan, Florida’s strength of schedule was fourth in the country, trailing the trio of Arkansas (34-22), Georgia Tech (35-17-1) and Miami (Fla.) (36-20) that was ranked first through third, respectively. The NCAA site had the Gators seventh in the Ratings Percentage Index and Boyd’s World ranked the SEC the best for conference RPI.
Florida defeated Kentucky twice in three meetings on the final weekend of the regular season to capture its first SEC Eastern Division title since 2005. It was also the SEC-leading 19th divisional crown for the program. The Gators finished league play with a 19-11 record, one game behind co-champions LSU and Ole Miss, who were both 20-10. UF was 12-3 against its East counterparts and posted sweeps of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Only five teams in school history have won more SEC games than this year’s squad (21-1988; 21-1998; 20-1996; 20-2002; 20-2005). Four of the five Gator teams that have won more SEC contests than this year’s squad have advanced to the NCAA College World Series (1988, 1996, 1998, 2005). UF’s 38 regular-season victories were its most in four years.
Florida went 1-2 at the 2009 SEC Tournament held at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. The second-seeded Gators dropped an 8-5 decision to seventh-seeded Arkansas on May 20 before bouncing back to oust third-seeded Ole Miss the following day, 12-2, in eight innings. Facing the Hogs in another elimination game on Friday, the Orange and Blue was on the short end of a 10-7 count. Top-seeded LSU repeated as tourney champion with a 6-2 win over Vanderbilt.
Junior right fielder Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and Tucker were chosen to the SEC’s All-Tournament squad. Pigott continued his torrid stretch recently by clubbing three homers in the Gators’ final two contests at Regions Park and led the squad in slugging percentage (1.000) and total bases (12). On Thursday, he became just the second Florida player to homer twice in an SEC Tournament game when he belted round-trippers in both the first and sixth innings versus Ole Miss. In Friday’s setback to Arkansas, Pigott pulled the Orange and Blue to within 8-7 in the seventh stanza with a two-run jack. The big fly enabled him to match Mike Stanley for Florida’s career record for dingers in the SEC Tournament with three.
The SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and a unanimous selection to the All-Freshman Team, Tucker was 4-for-12 (.333) with six RBI and three runs in Hoover. During UF’s opener against Arkansas, he had an RBI grounder in the third inning and a two-run single in the fourth. The slugger went 3-for-5 in the triumph over the Rebels, with his team-leading 12th home run to begin the fourth, an RBI double in the fifth and a run-scoring single in the eighth.
· Florida has faced all three teams in town for the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium this year. The Gators were swept in a three-game series by Miami (Fla.) from Feb. 27-March 1 (8-5, 2-1, 16-2) and notched mid-week victories over Bethune-Cookman (12-7 on April 7) and Jacksonville (7-4 on May 12).
· UF is 3-0 against B-CU in NCAA play, most recently defeating the Wildcats at the 2003 Coral Gables Regional, 8-6. The Gators have faced Jacksonville once during the postseason, a 3-0 win at the 1991 NCAA East Regional at McKethan Stadium.
· Miami (Fla.) has taken 12 of its 15 encounters with Florida in NCAA Tournament action and has ended the Gators’ season on eight different occasions: 1981 South Regional, 1985 Atlantic Regional, 1989 East Regional, 1994 Atlantic I Regional, 1997 Atlantic Regional, 2002 Gainesville Regional, 2003 Coral Gables Regional and the 2004 Coral Gables Super Regional.
· Out of UF’s 39 victories, 25 (13 against SEC foes) have been of the come-from-behind variety.
· In the SEC statistics, the Gators’ pitching staff is third in earned run average (4.17), their offense is sixth in batting average (.304) and fielding percentage is 12th (.965). Through the 30 league games, UF’s offense (.312) and pitching (4.65) were second and the .969 fielding percentage was eighth.
· Tucker leads the Gators with 21 multiple-RBI games and is second behind senior Avery Barnes (High Springs , Fla.) (23) for the top spot with 22 multiple-hit games. UF is 32-13 (.711) when the rookie starts at first base.
· Tucker’s 77 RBI are the most by a UF player since Matt LaPorta had 79 in 2005 and the school record of 80 was set by Ryan Shealy in 2002. The rookie is tied for third in the SEC in RBI with Georgia’s Rich Poythress, four behind the duo of Alabama’s Kent Matthes and Tennessee’s Cody Hawn.
· Junior Billy Bullock’s (Balm, Fla.) 11 saves are third in the SEC behind the 14 by LSU’s Matty Ott. Bullock’s save total is the most since Josh Fogg tied the school record held by Danny Wheeler (1994) with 13 in 1998.
· Barnes leads the league with six triples, the most by a Gator in a season since Tripp MacKay had six in 1994. Barnes’ 12 career three-baggers are third at UF, trailing Brian Duva (21, 1991-94) and Rob Teegarden (15, 1978-79). He also paces the conference with 69 runs.
· Junior Mike Mooney’s (Loxahatchee, Fla.) on-base percentage of .461 is seventh in the SEC and his 32 walks are third on the squad.
· Florida is 16-for-71 (.225) pinch-hitting entering NCAA Regionals. Daniel Pigott is the top sub, going 5-for-12 (.417).
· Newcomers to the program have started 40 of the Gators’ 59 games this year: Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) (10), Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) (10), Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (9), Jeff Barfield (Perry, Ga.) (7), Justin Poovey (Granite Falls, N.C.) (3) and Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (1). The group is a combined 22-13 with a 4.38 ERA.
· Tucker is 7-for-14 (.500) with the bases loaded and has 21 RBI and a pair of grand slams. As a team, the Orange and Blue is 33-for-93 (.355) with 96 RBI and five slams.
· Five of Bullock’s 10 earned runs allowed this year came during his two appearances versus Arkansas.
· Sophomore Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) begins the weekend on a career-high eight-game hitting streak in which he is 13-for-33 (.394) with nine RBI and seven runs. The All-SEC performer rates second on the squad in batting average (.339), RBI (47) and doubles (nine).
· Adams is batting .368 (32-for-87) against left-handers, while Barnes is at .353 (30-for-85) and senior Brandon McArthur (Seffner, Fla.) has a .338 (25-for-74) average.
· Jonathan Pigott has started the last 14 games in right field and has responded with a team-best .357 (20-for-56) average with 18 RBI, six walks and six extra-base hits during the stretch.
· Florida’s starting pitchers are 19-12 with a 4.91 earned run average in 273.1 innings, with 196 strikeouts and 72 walks. Senior Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) (4-2, 4.55), DeSclafani (4-2, 5.44) and Panteliodis (4-3, 5.18) each have four wins when drawing a start.
· The Gator bullpen is 20-8 with a 3.35 ERA and has collected 13 saves in 247.0 innings, with 191 K and 103 walks. Davis (5-0, 2.43) is second behind Bullock (2-2, 11 saves, 2.06) in relief innings pitched and has held the opposition to a .192 clip.
· Opposing left-handed hitters are just 10-for-56 (.179) against Davis, who has limited foes to a 6-for-48 (.125) average with two outs.
· In his last seven appearances, Keating (3-3, 5.05) has a 0.82 ERA over 11.0 innings.