Conference play is over, the National Collegiate Athletic Association selection show has come and gone and — as the calendar turns from May to June — the road to the College World Series begins.
The Florida Gators will begin their title chase close to home. In fact, UF starts at home, hosting the No. 2 seed Gainesville regional starting Friday. No. 2 Florida (44-14, 20-10 SEC) will host No. 10 UConn (43-15, 15-5 Big East), Texas Tech (39-21, 12-12 Big XII) and Florida A&M (29-28, 18-12 SWAC) at Condron Family Ballpark over the weekend.
Florida will open up regional play against the Florida A&M Rattlers Friday at 5:30 p.m. Florida A&M went just above .500 on the year, but secured its conference tournament championship to automatically qualify for the NCAA Regionals.
UF defeated FAMU 17-7 at home in the teams’ midweek matchup earlier in the regular season.
The Rattlers were able to put up 10 runs against Gators freshman pitcher Yoel Tejada Jr. but will face a greater challenge on the mound tomorrow against two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan announced Thursday the Tampa, Florida, native will make the start on the mound to open regional play. The skipper didn’t reveal his starting rotation for the remainder of the weekend.
“We’ll go from there,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, we’ve got two other choices for the next game.”
Caglianone is coming off a lackluster outing against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament. He gave up four hits, two walks and two earned runs in 1.2 innings pitched as the Commodores came out to a 6-0 lead and eventually secured the win in the semifinal round of the tournament.
Despite the rough start last week, Caglianone said his focus is on the regional opener tomorrow.
“You have no time to harp on a bad outing,” Caglianone said. “You just have to move forward. I’m more than ready to go out tomorrow.”
Texas Tech and UConn open the Gainesville regional Friday at noon on the other side of the bracket. Florida will play one of the two teams on Saturday.
The Red Raiders had a rocky start to conference play before closing the season on a strong run to secure a spot in the field of 64. Tech won three of its last four regular season series and won its opening two games of the Big XII tournament for the first time since 1998.
While Texas Tech battled its way into the postseason, UConn established itself as an at-large pick this year.
The Huskies finished No. 10 in the latest D1Baseball top-25 and are ranked No. 22 in RPI. It's likely the championship round in the Gainesville regional will be a top-10 bout between the Gators and UConn.
Florida faces the regional challenge coming off a disappointing 2022 Gainesville regional, in which UF fell to Oklahoma 5-4 after a late collapse to close its season.
“We’ve been in situations before where we haven’t made it out of a regional,” junior shortstop Josh Rivera said. “So we’re trying to change that narrative.”
O’Sullivan said the team has to flush its emotions from last year headed into the weekend.
Despite the hype surrounding this year’s team, combined with the superstition from last year’s finish, the Gators seem confident as they come to the starting line of a ring chase.
“We know we have enough talent on this team to make a good run for it,” Rivera said.
Jackson Castellano is a junior sports media journalism student at UF and the Senior News Director at The Alligator for Fall 2023. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.