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Gators Host Gamecocks with Omaha on the Line


(SEC Tournament photos courtesy Ivy Rose Ball, Copyright 2023)


The last time these teams met in post-season play, the Gators ended South Carolina's season in the 2022 SEC Tournament. The last time they met in the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks took down Florida in two games to win the 2011 National Championship. Even though South Carolina swept the 2023 regular season series, both teams know the Gainesville Super Regional will be incredibly competitive. There is no love lost between these two squads, and I fully expect a weekend full of fireworks at Condron Ballpark. What should we see from both teams this weekend? Let's dive in, starting with the Gators.


Florida Gators


How They Got Here: The Gators hosted the Gainesville Regional as the #2 National Seed. They won the opening game, 3-0 against Florida A&M, before dropping the second game to Texas Tech, 5-4. The Gators would then stave off elimination game after game, defeating UConn 8-2 before taking down Texas Tech twice, 7-1 and 6-0, to win the regional.


Team Strength: The Gators have one of the best lineups in the entire country. They hit for average and power, including six players with double-digit home runs. Dual-threat Jac Caglianone leads the nation in HRs with 31, and with teammates like Josh Rivera, Wyatt Langford, BT Riopelle, and Cade Kurland, good luck keeping these guys off the scoreboard.


Team Weakness: When a team is as talented as the Gators, "weakness" is relative. The rotation is certainly loaded, but they have been susceptible at times for a couple different reasons. Both Brandon Sproat and Hurston Waldrep are strikeout machines, but both also give up more than their fair share of home runs. Jac Caglianone also has an impressive K/9, but that is somewhat diluted by 49 walks in 69 innings. The Florida rotation has the capability to win a series by themselves, but they have also shown some vulnerability throughout the year.


X-Factors: On the mound, Caglianone has to be the X-Factor. Statistically Florida's best starter, Caglianone has had a couple starts this season where he has struggled immensely. There have been seven conference starts this season where Cags does not make it through four innings, and that includes his previous start against South Carolina this season. If Caglianone cannot go reasonably deep into the game, it will tax the Gator bullpen. It remains to be seen which game he will throw, but Coach Kevin O'Sullivan will want, and need, more than three innings from him. At the plate, Langford has been dynamic, but BT Riopelle is my X-Factor. A leader behind the plate, no Florida hitter has been more clutch since the postseason got under way. Riopelle has five home runs since the SEC tournament commenced, including two in Game 7 of the regional. A locked-in Riopelle lengthens this lineup even more than it already is, and he is the kind of bat that can change a series. If Florida is to win this series, BT Riopelle will be right in the middle of the action.


South Carolina Gamecocks


How They Got Here: The Gamecocks hosted the Columbia Regional as the #15 National Seed. They swept through their regional, defeating Central Connecticut State 19-1, NC State 6-3, and Campbell 16-7.


Team Strength: The story early this season was the offense, but the pitching staff has been the key to success for the Gamecocks this season. What happens when Will Sanders struggles with performance and injury? Eli Jones steps in and answers the bell. And when Noah Hall, after dominating through seven starts, suffers a season-ending injury? James Hicks is waiting in the wings. Jack Mahoney has also stepped up and flat-out shoved to close out the year, securing some much-needed wins for an injured South Carolina roster. The Gamecocks also possess one of the best bullpens in college baseball as well. Chris Veach has closed out six games for Carolina so far, and Austin Williamson, Cade Austin, Nick Proctor, and Matthew Becker have thrown vital innings to close out wins this season as well.


Team Weakness: No other team in the NCAA Tournament has more strikeouts than the Gamecocks. South Carolina hitters have struck-out 602 times this season, with five hitters having more than 50 strikeouts each. Part of the Carolina hitting approach is to see pitches and work counts, which will lead to deeper counts and, therefore, more strikeouts. However, when opposing pitchers are filling up the strike zone, South Carolina has had some trouble generating offense. Facing a Gator rotation that can rack up Ks, the Gamecocks will need to capitalize on pitches they can do damage with.


X-Factors: The player every Gamecock fan has their eye on right now is Will Sanders. Sanders has a career 2.00 ERA against the Gators with 29 Ks, including 6 IP with 2 ER and 10 Ks earlier this season in a win. The Gamecock hurler has made it known he is not too fond of Florida, a team that did not offer him out of high school, despite Sanders attending multiple camps. Coming off of injury, it is unclear exactly what role Sanders will have this weekend. He came out of the bullpen in the regionals and shut down Campbell's offense to end the regional championship game. Will he come out of the bullpen again, or will he start? Offensively, Carolina has been led by Cole Messina and Ethan Petry all season, but Gavin Casas is the player who can propel this team to Omaha. Casas was struggling to end the season, but he has found his groove this postseason. In regionals, Casas went 6-13 with 6 RBIs, providing the Gamecocks with a boost from the 6-hole. His defense has also been excellent for the Gamecocks this postseason as well. If South Carolina wants to make it back to Omaha, Gavin Casas will have to make some noise with the bat.


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