Gators not blocking Noles’ path to CWS this season

Florida State and Florida are each two wins away from the College World Series. And this year, they aren’t facing off against each other.

The Gators have defeated the Seminoles in the last two Super Regionals. But this year, the NCAA Selection Committee didn’t have the two teams in the same bracket. And they have battled through the regionals but found success due to the strength of their starting pitching.

Florida (45-17) will play host to Wake Forest (42-18) in a Super Regional that begins at 3 p.m. today on ESPN. Florida State (43-21) will face off against Sam Houston State (44-21) in a Super Regional that starts at noon today (ESPN2) in Tallahassee.

The Gators have a talented starting rotation led by right-hander Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.70 ERA, 123 strikeouts). Florida also has RHP Jackson Kowar (12-0, 3.72 ERA) and RHP Brady Singer (7-5, 3.48 ERA).

They will face a dangerous Wake Forest lineup that has 100 home runs and is hitting .311 on the season. Gavin Sheets (.322, 20 HR and 81 RBI) leads a Demon Deacons order that features five players who have hit 10 or more home runs.

“They can hit but we can pitch,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It will be your classic matchup.”

FSU will face a Sam Houston State team that loves to bunt, whether to sacrifice a runner over or just to reach base. The Bearkats have an aggressive, unique offensive philosophy but it has worked as they have seven players hitting over .297 and eliminated Arizona and Texas Tech in the Lubbock Regional.

The Seminoles will throw left-hander Tyler Holton (10-2, 2.22 ERA) in the first game on Saturday and will likely use left-hander Drew Parrish (5-3, 4.67 ERA) in Game 2. Holton has been one of the nation’s most dominating pitchers down the stretch, allowing just two earned runs in his last three starts (25 innings).

What makes Holton so successful is his ability to throw a fastball, change-up or curveball, in any count, for strikes. And there’s no way to distinguish them given the similarity in the arm slot, arm action, tempo or delivery, FSU pitching coach Mike Bell said.

Hitters are left guessing. He’s recorded 132 strikeouts, which is sixth nationally, in 105.1 innings. Holton matched a career-best with 13 strikeouts in the regional win over UCF.

And it’s also in part a credit to Holton’s change-up, a deceptive pitch in baseball but also one that he throws exceptionally well whether it’s for strikes or ones that leave hitters chasing out of the strike zone.

“There will be times when guys will sit change-up,” Bell said. “And you can see it. Next thing you know, you’re sneaking a fastball by him.”

Like a lot of pitchers at the youth baseball level, Holton said his dad cautioned him to hold off on developing a curveball until he could shave or was in high school. At 9 or 10, Holton was a fastball or change-up pitcher.

“Getting comfortable throwing a change-up in any count is definitely what helps me today,” Holton said.

Once he moved down the road from Tallahassee’s Lincoln High to FSU in the summer of 2015, Holton has tried to refine his curveball. He has more confidence in the curveball and attributes the three-pitch mix for his dominance late in the season as he’s put together back-to-back wins over Louisville and a shutout of UCF.

“As of late, I’ve been able to mix in my curveball and throw it when I want,” Holton said. “That’s been able to give me the three pitches. I would throw the three pitches for strikes. It gives you success.”

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