UConn baseball is in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year, though this time the Huskies earned an at-large bid after winning the previous two Big East Tournament titles.
Jim Penders’ squad was placed in the Gainesville Regional along with hosts No. 2 Florida, Texas Tech, and Florida A&M. Here’s a closer look at the other three teams.
No. 2 Florida
The second overall seed in the field of 64 earned an at-large bid out of the SEC after falling to eventual champion Vanderbilt in the conference tournament semifinal. The Gators finished 44-14 overall, including 20-10 in SEC, winning the SEC East and tied with Arkansas for the outright regular season title. Florida is 21-12 against the RPI top 50 and 30-6 at Condron Family Ballpark, the site of the Gainesville Regional.
As a team, Florida hits .298/.397/.557, which are respectively 52nd, 63rd, and sixth in the country, but it tends to be feast or famine for its hitters. Of the seven regulars, four of them hit above .310 and have an OPS above 1.000, while the other three are below .270, though BT Riopelle (.266/.392/.542) is no slouch at the plate.
Florida is third in the country in home runs, led by two-way player Jac Caglianone (.349/.409/.790), who has 28 big flies, good for second in the country, while also giving 63 innings across 15 starts in a weekend role. Each of Florida’s big hitters has at least 15 homers, along with potential top MLB Draft pick Wyatt Langford (.398/.521/.823), Josh Rivera (.363/.466/.637), and Cade Kurland (.310/.414/.605).
The Gators are strong on the mound as well, with a 4.87 ERA that’s good for 61st in the country and a 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings mark that’s in the top 10, while the staff’s 1.41 WHIP is in the back end of the top 50. Caglianone (6-3, 4.14 ERA), along with Brandon Sproat (7-3, 4.71) and Hurston Waldrep (7-3, 4.80) started each of the team’s weekend games.
Out of the bullpen, Brandon Neely (0-2, 4.08) leads the team with 10 saves. He, along with Ryan Slater (9-0, 3.72), Cade Fisher (5-0, 3.58), and Nick Ficarrotta (0-0, 5.51) are the four relievers with more than 30 innings of work.
The Red Raiders are 39-21, earning an at-large bid out of the Big 12. Texas Tech’s conference tournament run also ended in the semifinals, as Oklahoma State took two straight games to eliminate the previously undefeated team from Lubbock. At No. 41 in the RPI, Texas Tech was 12-12 in Big 12 play, finishing sixth in the league.
The Red Raiders hit .309/.417/.519 as a team, which is respectively 20th, 15th, and 22nd in the nation. Like Florida, the top of the lineup is top-notch, with five of the seven regulars owning an OPS over .950. However, Texas Tech differs from the region’s 1-seed in that there isn’t a bottom, as Gage Harrelson (.322/.400/.446) is one of those two players, while the other is Tracer Lopez (.268/.342/.391), each of which has more than respectable offensive acumen.
Not only do the Red Raiders hit at a high level, but they can also work counts, too. They’re sixth in the country in walks, which contributes to a top-10 ranking in runs, along with an elite team-wide slash line. Nolan Hester (.374/.536/.485), who owns an incredible 20.5 percent walk rate, leads the way at 58 free passes, which is in the nation’s top 10, while Gavin Kash (.333/.406/.699) has 24 home runs on the year.
Mason Molina (5-2, 3.72) is the only full-time starter, with only Zane Petty (3-1, 6.27) joining him to register more than 10 starts this year. Molina was the Saturday starter until mid-April before taking over the Friday role. Trendan Parish (3-2, 6.00) has also factored into the weekend equation. In the bullpen, Brandon Beckel (5-2, 2.01) has six saves and the best numbers, while Ryan Free (5-4, 4.35) and Kyle Robinson (1-1, 5.58) also are oft-used out in relief.
The 4-seed, Florida A&M is the only school in the region to earn an automatic bid, doing so by winning the SWAC Tournament. The Rattlers, which finished fourth in the overall standings and third in the East Division, lost 9-8 to top-seeded Alabama State in the second round, pushing them to the losers’ bracket.
Florida A&M then held on to top Prairie View A&M 1-0 and then beat Alabama State twice in a row before taking down Bethune-Cookman in the title game to win four games in three days and earn the automatic bid. The 5-1 performance pushed the Rattlers to 29-28 overall, including 9-2 in neutral site games, with a No. 153 RPI ranking. They have played Florida once this year, losing 17-7 on the road in the midweek.
At .296/.386/.480, Florida A&M is ranked a respective 58th, 119th, and 71st in the three slash line categories, doing so against a weaker schedule, with 49 games against sub-100 competition, 33 of which are against Quad 4 teams. Jamey Shouppe runs a short bench, as his lineup consists of nine players that started at least 44 of 57 games, while just four others have recorded more than 10 starts.
Four starters have a slugging percentage above .550, but three more are under .400. Sebastian Greico (.271/.377/.623) paces the squad with 17 home runs, while Ty Jackson (.374/.479/.528), Ty Hanchey (.356/.458/.591) and Janmikell Bastardo (.342/.422/.594) each hit above .340. All three have an OPS above 1.000.
Hunter Viets (8-2, 3.12) is by far the team’s best pitcher and the only arm to exclusively begin games this year. He’s the only Rattler that pitched more than an inning with an ERA under 5.00. Caleb Granger (6-4, 6.61) made 13 starts against just five relief appearances, while Dallas Tease (2-4, 6.75) and Tre Simmons (2-4, 9.45) made nine and eight starts, respectively. Zach Morea (4-3, 6.62) is third on the team in innings despite pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, while Raylan Wagner (3-1, 5.70) has contributed 53 2⁄3 innings.
UConn and Texas Tech begin the Gainesville Regional at 12 p.m. on Friday. The game will air on ESPNU and ESPN+.