June 16, 2010
By Paul D. Bowker
Special to NCAA.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Two pitches. That is how close the University of Florida was to pitching perfection in their NCAA Division I Baseball Super Regional sweep of Miami last weekend.
In two games, the Hurricanes zapped Gator pitchers for runs just twice: A two-run home run by Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Yasmani Grandal in Game 1 and a three-run homer by Nathan Melendres in Game 2. Miami coach Jim Morris walked away impressed.
“I think they have the best pitching staff we`ve seen this year, top to bottom,” Morris said. “They have some good power pitchers.”
Florida’s pitching dominance in the postseason has helped carry the Gators into their sixth College World Series, which begins Saturday in Omaha, Neb. The third-seeded Gators (47-15) are one of three CWS teams unbeaten in the postseason and the only one to give up just five runs in the Super Regionals. Florida will play against UCLA (48-14) in the opening round on Saturday.
Arizona State (52-8), the No. 1 seed, ranked third nationally in pitching over the regular season, but gave up 11 runs in two Super Regional games, both of them extra-inning wins.
Among the Gators’ pitching power: sophomore left-hander Alex Panteliodis, who has won a team-high 11 games and struck out a career-high 12 in a 7-2 win over Miami; and freshman right-hander Hudson Randall, who won a game in an NCAA regional with a career-high 10 strikeouts and yielded just three hits in more than six innings to Miami before giving way to reliever Kevin Chapman.
“He`s a cool customer,” Florida coach Kevin O`Sullivan said of Randall. “To ask a freshman to go out there, even though you`re up one game, there`s a lot of pressure. I can`t say enough of what he`s been able to do this year.”
In five postseason games, the Gators have outscored their opposition, 43-10. Panteliodis` win over Miami was a complete-game victory, meaning the Gators` bullpen was not only rested for Game 2 on Sunday but also for the CWS. O`Sullivan dug into his bullpen for four pitchers Sunday, but none of them pitched longer than 1 1/3 innings.
“You have to take it one game at a time. The key to it, obviously, if you stay in the winners’ bracket, it makes it a little bit easier,” O’Sullivan said. “We have enough pitching to where we can work our way out of the losers’ bracket if that were to happen.”
Although the Gators’ team batting average is a dangerous .300, led by senior outfielder Matt den Dekker’s .358 and 49 RBIs, this is a squad that prides itself on pitching and defense. Their 50 errors were the least in the Southeastern Conference. Florida pitchers have allowed 130 walks in 62 games, by far the best in the SEC. The bullpen’s 18 saves have tied a school record.
“Attack the (strike zone), be aggressive, throw low strikes, get ground balls. The defense is outstanding. I feel very comfortable with them out on the mound,” Randall said.
Said Florida’s O’Sullivan: “When you don’t walk people and don’t make errors, you’ve got a chance to stay in every game.”
The pitching-and-defense formula has already carried the Gators to within one win of matching their 48-win season in 2005, the last time the Gators advanced to the CWS and the only time they played in the championship round (lost to Texas in two games). They won the SEC East championship for the second straight year.
“If we play baseball like we’ve been playing all season and play well in all phases of the game — pitching, defense and two-out RBI — we’ll have a chance in Omaha,” said den Dekker, a 16th-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 who chose to return to UF this year.
Panteliodis (11-2, 3.26 ERA) is the team`s ace, and would likely start the Gators` first CWS game, followed by Randall (8-3, 2.95) and Brian Johnson (6-4, 3.97). Kevin Chapman, a fourth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals, is the Gators` closer. Chapman has 11 saves and three wins (team-leading 1.48 ERA), although he did give up the three-run homer to Melendres.
“He`s been lights out for us all year long,” O`Sullivan said of Chapman.
Jeff Barfield, a senior who also pitched in Game 2 against Miami, is 4-0 and Steven Rodriguez is 2-0.