A few weeks ago, it seemed as if Dick Howser would be shut down until 2018.
However, here we are. Florida State went on a torrid run to the end the regular season and Tallahassee will see its seventh-straight regional hosted in the capital city of the Sunshine State.
The Seminoles welcome in three challenging opponents, UCF, Auburn, and Tennessee Tech. Florida State will play its first game against four-seed Tennessee Tech Friday at 6:00 p.m.
It’s staged to be one of the best regionals in the country this postseason and has plenty of star power. Here’s a look at the visitors in Tallahassee this weekend:
No. 2 seed: UCF (40-20, 15-9 American Athletic Conference)
The Knights won the AAC regular season title in head coach Greg Lovelady’s first season at the helm. Lovelady is no stranger to NCAA Regionals as he led Wright State to back-to-back regional final games the last two seasons before heading to Orlando. UCF hits .282 as a team, but relies on its outstanding pitching staff to shutdown opposing lineups. The Knights head into the weekend ranked No. 4 in the NCAA in Team ERA (2.91).
Players to Watch: Rylan Thomas (1B), Robby Howell (LHP)
Thomas (.305, 13 HR, 52 RBIs) leads the Knights in home runs and runs batted in on the year on his way to Second Team All-AAC honors and is the notable power threat in the UCF lineup. Howell (10-0, 3.28 ERA, 37 BB, 90 K) is the ace of the Knights’ pitching staff, being named AAC Pitcher of the Year in 2017. Howell, also named a Second Team All-American this week by Collegiate Baseball, ranks No. 6 in the NCAA with his 10 wins.
“Robby has been our guy all year, he’s been the ace for two years,” Lovelady said on Howell, who will start against Auburn on Friday. “He’s had a lot of success this year and we’re not in a position to give the ball to anyone else.”
No. 3 seed Auburn (35-24, 16-14 Southeastern Conference)
The Tigers were in a position to host a few weeks ago as they were in contention for the regular season SEC crown before being swept at home by Alabama and on the road by LSU. The Tigers hit .275 as a team, but are led in large part by a standout one-two punch in their starting rotation. The Tigers come into the weekend with a Team ERA of 4.33.
“We are a team that’s led by our starting pitching, Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize have led that group,” Coach Butch Thompson said. “Both of them missed time with injuries, but we feel they’ve rested up and are looking like they did early in the season.”
Players to Watch: Casey Mize (P), Jonah Todd (CF)
Thompson has been the Friday-night guy for Auburn this season and will be a high MLB Draft pick this year, but Mize (7-2, 1.93 ERA, 8 BB, 97 K) arguably has the better makeup of an “ace.” With a fastball that touches 96 MPH and a wipeout splitter, the sophomore has been one of the top arms in the SEC this season and is a projected first-round pick for the 2018 MLB Draft. In fact, Mize will spend this summer pitching for the USA Collegiate National Team.
Todd enters the regional as one of the best hitters in the SEC (.385, 87 H, 36 RBI). The junior was named a Second Team All-SEC member and his 87 hits are good for second-most in the conference.
No. 4 seed Tennessee Tech (40-19, 23-7 Ohio Valley Conference)
The Golden Eagles won both the OVC regular season and tournament crowns on their way to the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009. TTU has one of most dynamic offenses in the country ranking No. 1 in the NCAA in home runs (97), No. 3 in hits (698), No. 3 in doubles (140), No. 4 in runs (495)…you get the idea. Unfortunately, the offense has had to carry TTU all season because the team ERA stands at an unimpressive 5.29.
“Our conference is a very offensive league, but I’m convinced we have some really good hitters,” Coach Matt Braga said, “It’s nice to be in a hitting atmosphere (in Dick Howser Stadium).”
Players to Watch: Ryan Flick (DH), Trevor Putzig (3B)
In a lineup that features five players with at least 10 home runs, Flick (.384, 18 HR, 70 RBI) is the top power bat. The big, burley junior was outstanding in the OVC Tournament as he hit five home runs in the week. Flick is listed at 6-3, 230 pounds and was named a Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
Putzig (.395, 6 HR, 51 RBI) leads the Golden Eagles in batting average and total hits (88). The junior was named a Second Team All-OVC member and his .395 average is good for No. 10 in the NCAA. If the Golden Eagles stand any chance in the Tallahassee Regional, their bats will lead the way.