Coming up aces: Florida has the pitching staff to win title
GAINESVILLE — Florida's pitching staff is widely considered the best in the country, potentially in college baseball history.
The Gators had five pitchers selected in the top 108 picks of the Major League Baseball draft last week — plenty of talent and depth to make another deep run in the College World Series and possibly win the program's first national championship.
Florida has been close before in Omaha, Nebraska. But this time the top-seeded Gators (52-14) feel like that elusive title is realistically within reach. For coach Kevin O'Sullivan's group, it's essentially 60 feet, 6 inches away.
"There's quite a few guys on this pitching staff that have a chance to pitch for a long time," O'Sullivan said. "It's not easy to kind of get all these arms together. First, the recruiting process and getting them through the draft. And then getting them to campus and then helping them get better. And then them actually performing at the highest level.
"There's a lot of things that go into it."
Florida enters the CWS having not allowed a run in 22 consecutive innings and with a 1.50 ERA in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators shut out rival Florida State twice in as many nights to win the super regional and land a spot in Omaha for the fifth time in the last seven years. They will begin CWS play Sunday against Coastal Carolina (49-16), which leads the nation in home runs (94).
"The best pitching staff in the country against the team with the most home runs," Florida ace Logan Shore said. "It will be a good game No. 1."
The Gators, who rank sixth nationally with a 2.93 ERA, could have the advantage considering TD Ameritrade Park has yielded just 40 home runs during the CWS during in the five years that it's been open.
"It's a pretty big park and typically the ball doesn't travel as well there," said Florida first baseman Peter Alonso, who has two homers at TD Ameritrade. "Having a good pitching staff like that, the long ball is going to be less of a factor. You're going to have to focus on playing the game of baseball, and having a pitching staff that is able to stifle offenses like we do is an incredible confidence booster."
Here's a look at Florida's staff:
— Shore (12-0, 2.24 ERA): The junior right-hander was named the Southeastern Conference's Pitcher of the Year after an undefeated regular season that included three complete games. He was a second-round draft pick by Oakland (47th overall) and is coming off his best outing of the season. He gave up two hits and struck out nine in eight scoreless innings against FSU.
—Alex Faedo (13-2, 3.25): The sophomore right-hander is expected to be Florida's ace next season and could develop into a top-10 pick. He has a team-high 124 strikeouts and just 21 walks this season. He will start Florida's second game in Omaha.
—A.J. Puk (2-3, 3.05): A 6-foot-7 lefty who throws in the mid-to-upper 90s, Puk was the sixth overall pick in the draft. Also chosen by the Athletics, Puk was less than impressive in his two starts in the NCAA Tournament. Puk's last victory came April 14, and he's lasted less than five innings in four of his last six outings.
— Dane Dunning (6-3, 2.40): The right-handed reliever was the 29th pick in the draft. He's carried the bulk of the load in the bullpen, making 31 appearances and pitching 75 innings, and has the stuff to be a starter at the next level.
—Shaun Anderson (3-0, 1.00): He developed into one of best closers in college this season. His 13 saves tied the school's single-season record held by Danny Wheeler (1994) and Josh Fogg (1998). The junior was the 88th overall pick in the draft, going to Boston in hopes of becoming a starter.
—Others: Left-handed relievers Scott Moss (3-0, 1.59) and Kirby Snead (3-1, 2.78) were the fifth and sixth Florida pitchers drafted, respectively. Moss went to Cincinnati at No. 108, and Snead fell to the 10th round. ... Freshmen Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer are considered future starters and maybe the program's next mound stars. Kowar (3-0, 3.37) hasn't pitched since April because of a collapsed lung, but O'Sullivan thinks so highly of him that he put him on the 27-man travel squad for Omaha. Singer (2-2, 4.95) was a second-round pick by Toronto last season, but failed to sign and ended up at Florida.