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Friday, June 14, 2024

Gators face gauntlet in Gainesville regional

Florida opens play against the 42-win Central Michigan Chippewas

<p>Brandon Sproat pitching against Miami Feb. 21, 2021. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal. Sproat will start on the mound for Florida&#x27;s first-round matchup with Central Michigan.</p>

Brandon Sproat pitching against Miami Feb. 21, 2021. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal. Sproat will start on the mound for Florida's first-round matchup with Central Michigan.

The Gators’ march to the College World Series will begin with a regional at Condron Ballpark this weekend. Florida enters as the top seed. 

The Gainesville regional, which was granted after UF ranked as the No. 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament last week, promises to be one of the toughest gauntlets in the nation this year. The Gators will welcome Oklahoma, Liberty and Central Michigan University to Condron Ballpark; the four teams have the highest average RPI among any grouping. 

The regional marks the second straight year UF hosts postseason play at its new ballpark, though it will be fairly easy to surpass its 2021 performance: a winless weekend ended by a 19-1 loss to South Alabama.

“I think we learned a lot from [the South Alabama loss],” sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford said. “It was a quiet one, for sure.”

Oklahoma slots in second after winning 17 of their last 24 games, including an 8-1 victory over Texas for the Big 12 Tournament title. 

Liberty, the regional’s No. 3-seed, needs no introduction for the Gators. Since Florida began its 2022 campaign with an opening-weekend series loss to the Flames, it lost sophomore ace Hunter Barco to a season-ending Tommy John surgery.

UF is not granted the luxury of a lesser opponent to round out the regional grouping; Central Michigan may be the regional’s lowest seed, but the Chippewas enter the weekend with 42 wins, the most of any of the four teams.

CMU secured the Mid-American Conference Tournament title, outscoring its opponents 33-17 across the final three games. The effects of the Chippewas’ lack of competition in the MAC will be tested when UF and CMU face off in the first round Friday. 

Florida hopes to ride the momentum from a successful SEC Tournament, where multiple pitchers made their first appearances in months to bring home wins. Sophomore Timmy Manning and freshman Carsten Finnvold both put forth the best performances of their respective seasons after lengthy absences.

But five CMU batters boast at least a .300 batting average; Florida’s starting lineup contains just three who meet that criteria. In a region as tough as Gainesville, it may take every pitcher at O’Sullivan’s disposal to advance to the Super Regional in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Sophomore pitcher Brandon Sproat, who assumed Florida’s lead role in Barco’s absence, will start on the mound when The Gators open play against Central Michigan.

“[CMU is] very scrappy at the plate,” Sproat said. “They’re going to do anything to get on base.”

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The game can be streamed on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.

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Carson Cashion

Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.

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