After looking at Pool A this morning, we preview the teams in pool B. Pool B features first time College World Series participant Coastal Carolina, top overall seed Florida, and a pair of teams from the Lone Star State in Texas Christian and Texas Tech.
Florida got to Omaha by winning the Gainesville regional, beating Georgia Tech in the regional final. In the super regional, also in Gainesville Florida took down Florida State in three games, winning the last two contests after dropping the opener.
Alligator Army Editor Andy Hutchins joined us to learn a bit more about the Gators.
Who are the players to know on this Gator team?
I think fans need to know Logan Shore, Florida's righty ace; Peter (often Pete) Alonso, the Gators' masher; and JJ Schwarz, who could be primed for a big College World Series.Shore is unbeaten on the year, and hasn't taken a loss since last April. Some of that is due to his incredibly advanced pitching, which makes a fastball in the low 90s and a killer changeup do more than they probably should, but some of that is due to his durability, and ability to go deep enough in games to get run support. Shore isn't a strikeout artist like fellow Florida starters A.J. Puk and Alex Faedo are, at least generally -- he did fan nine Florida State batters last weekend -- but he could throw a shutout and surprise no Gators fan.Likewise, Alonso hitting a homer every time up wouldn't be a shocker. He has four home runs this NCAA Tournament, all of them no-doubters, and has been as locked-in as hitters get since returning from a fractured hand for Regional play. Alonso hits for average, too, and is the fulcrum of Florida's lineup: If he is on in Omaha, things will probably go well for Florida, and if he is off, maybe not.Schwarz, though, is the biggest X-factor other than Puk, who is definitionally mercurial. Schwarz socked 18 homers and drove in 73 runs as a freshman in 2015, but hasn't been that player in 2016, with just seven homers and a slugging percentage that has fallen off by more than 150 points. Schwarz walks more now, and actually has a better on-base percentage than he did as a freshman, but his power outage left Florida struggling to push across runs without Alonso. Now that Alonso is back, Schwarz can't be quite so easily avoided -- and he protects the big bopper, too -- and has seemed to calm down in his most recent at-bats, more or less matching Alonso's output as Florida rallied from a Game 1 loss to top FSU in its Super Regional. If he is on in Omaha, Florida may well win it all.
I think the biggest strength is pitching depth, as Florida has about seven guys with weekend starter-caliber stuff (Shore, Puk, Faedo, Dane Dunning, Jackson Kowar, Scott Moss, and Brady Singer) that it could theoretically use as starters or in long relief, and yet still has a fantastic bullpen backended by Shaun Anderson, who has tied a team record for saves. Simply put, no one has as much pitching as the Gators do, and while there might be better pitching, especially if the inconsistent Puk has a blow-up outing, Florida has more options than the field.If there's a weakness, I think it's a young and inconsistent lineup. Alonso's return has solved a lot of problems for Florida, but he didn't get hits to fall despite very solid contact in the Gators' loss to Florida State, and that makes me wary of being sure that the rest of a freshman- and sophomore-laden attack can be relied upon if he goes cold in the Omaha heat.
I think most Florida fans want a title and know that this team can win one, but are a little less bullish on the expectations. I do think that the Gators should make the championship series out of a weaker bracket, especially with the gift of a seemingly far less talented and deep Coastal Carolina team in their first game, but the truth is that I don't know what to expect for certain. Florida has been both excellent and maddeningly cold in Omaha under Kevin O'Sullivan, and while the Gators that ripped off two shutout wins over Florida State should win it all, if the the ones that lost Game 1 to the Seminoles show up, they will be eating barbecue before next weekend.
To get a better idea of how Coastal made it this far, we take a look at a few questions.
Who are the players to watch from Coastal Carolina?
The Chanticleers are led by four players who have slugged fifteen home runs or more on the season. Zach Remillard, G.K. Young, Michael Paez and Connor Owings have combined for 67 home runs on the season. Some of this total is due to Coastal Carolina's ballpark being homer friendly (325 down the lines). Owings is the team leader in batting average, and is one of three players who has over 40 walks on the season.
Andrew Beckwith was moved from the bullpen midseason to be the Chanticleers ace. Beckwith will battle with the best of them, and will give Coastal the opportunity to win any game he starts. Behind Beckwith is Mike Morrison in the bullpen. A lethal slider fastball pitcher, if Morrison is in the game and Coastal has a lead, you will like their chances.
What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Coastal Carolina?
Their biggest strength is the depth of hitting. No team in college baseball has four fifteen home run sluggers in the lineup. Not to mention as a team, Coastal hits .300. Morrison is a true closer who is a big plus for the Chanticleers.
If Coastal has a weakness, it would be starting pitching behind Beckwith. Alex Cunningham, the number two starter has given up 36 extra base hits this season. Cunningham and Zach Hopeck are both serviceable, but will give up a fair share of runs.
What to expect from Coastal Carolina in Omaha?
This is a tough question, because Coastal could shock Florida the same way they went to Baton Rouge last weekend. Coastal also could go 0-2 and people would not be surprised. I would lean towards a loss, followed by a win followed by a loss. I just don't think Coastal can slug their way past TD Ameritrade park.
While Coastal Carolina and Florida will play the nightcap on Saturday afternoon, we get a battle of Texas teams to start the College World Series.
Texas Tech made their way to Omaha through the Lubbock regional, defeating Dallas Baptists after DBU after DBU defeated Tech to force a second game. Tech stayed in Lubbock for the super regional and defeated East Carolina in consecutive games after falling in the series opener.
Hunter Cooke of Viva The Matadors filled us in on Texas Tech Baseball.
Eric Gutierrez, Tyler Neslony, Stephen Smith, and Davis Martin.Gutierrez, fondly known as "GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTE", is the current Big XII Player of the Year and the unquestioned leader of the team. He didn’t have a great regional or super regional, but he drove in the winning run in the 13th inning of a game in which we were playing for our lives. Defensively, Gute is excellent as well. He and pitcher Hayden Howard have had this weird ESP thing going on in terms of picking runners off of first base.Neslony is a great power hitter, and he hit something like 3 or 4 doubles in the Super Regional alone. He’s been getting it done for us all season long in whatever capacity he can, and he has CWS experience along with most of our team.Smith is huge at the plate as well, hitting .318 with 39 RBIs on the season. It seems that if we need a clutch hit, we have a multitude of people that can step up. Our offense is a definite strength of our team.Martin is a freshman pitcher who is currently 9-1 on the season. He struggled in his Super Regional outing, but he’s done well enough in other key conference matchups to warrant being named as an impact player. We started 3 freshman pitchers in the 3 Super Regional games we played. Texas Tech has a crazy deep bullpen, so much so that if Tim Tadlock feels like pulling a pitcher after 7 pitches, he can do that and we aren’t hurt too bad.
Our biggest strength is our ability to put runs on the board from anywhere on the lineup. Every single one of our batters has the capacity to take the ball for a ride at any given time.As for weaknesses, I’m a baseball layman, but I’d say our streakiness. We *could* go on a 6-7 run tear at any given time. We also could be in a huge slump at any given time. Arguably our best hitter, Eric Gutierrez, went 2-28 in Regional/Super Regional play before erupting in the last game of the Super Regional.
I expect a few wins, at least. TCU is a team that we’ve beaten before. We’ve split with Florida State this season. We’ve only lost series to Texas and Cal State Fullerton, both of whom are down this year. We’ve also swept Oklahoma State. A fully engaged Texas Tech team is incredibly difficult to beat. Florida is going to be tough as all hell to beat, but I like the fact that we’re the de facto #2 seed in our half of the bracket with Florida, Coastal Carolina, and TCU.
It has to start with true freshman Luken Baker. It's unfathomable that a freshman can be 6'5", 260 and be about as wide an apartment complex. While he's not pitching anymore this season, his bat is absolutely deadly force and even in the more pitcher friendly park of TD Ameritrade, I'd still expect him to drive a couple out--at least one out--in the series.
Speaking of skyscrapers; pitcher Brian Howard has been absolutely dynamite lately. The gem he pitched against Texas A&M allowed TCU to get back to Omaha for third straight year. A&M is a great team and while the offensive wasn't really clicking last Sunday, in combination with allowing
I think the biggest strength and the biggest weakness is youth. Since the Big 12 Tournament, the Frogs have been on a based wave. The weakness is that the pitching is still, by in large, not as experienced as the past two seasons and with Mitchell Traver still trying to find his old footing since returning from injury, the arsenal just isn't as deep on the mound.
However, even with some of the greatest college pitching staffs of the millennium in '14 and '15, TCU learned the hard way, in the winners bracket, that you're pitching can sustain a one-run lead for so long. Albeit those first winners' bracket games were well fought and very well pitched, TCU's come out on the losing end.But unlike the last two years, the hard reset of our squad--on the mound and in the field--has allowed a sea change in the identity of the team. While it was a little more laconic the past two years, this year is a little more boisterous. And when you're in a tournament setting like this, that chippier attitude definitely works towards your advantage.
Whether it was a 1-run loss run to Vanderbilt in '15 or a 1-run loss to Virginia in '14 or even the 3-run loss to UCLA in '10; TCU needs to get over the hump.
I see the rematch of Texas Tech going well. Assuming Florida advances as well, and thus playing who I think is the best team in the country, the option to throw either Traver or Howard becomes an interesting discussion. Do you try to get over the hump that even some of the best college pitching staffs couldn't get you over because the offense was stagnant? Who knows.With this young of a team, I see the winners bracket loss coming in again, and as we've learned, it's hard to pull yourself out of that hole.But this team continues to prove people wrong. So should they win that second game (assuming they win the first), I may be placing a bet for them to win it all.