As the NCAA Baseball Tournament prepares to kick off, here is an in-depth preview of what to expect on Day 1.
First of all, the four teams that will compete on the campus of Florida State University will be FSU, The University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, and Marist. Friday’s matchups will pit Georgia against Ohio State at Noon, and FSU against Marist at 4 p.m.
From there, the teams will proceed in a double-elimination tournament until a winner emerges from the bracket on Sunday or possibly Monday. Florida State is the top seed in the Tallahassee regional, but second-seeded Georgia and third-seeded Ohio State both pose risks to the Seminoles.
FSU will go with freshman pitcher Brian Busch to start against the Marist Red Foxes, who will counter with senior lefthander Josh Rickards. Rickards is 5-3 with a 5.57 ERA and has given up 79 hits in 76 innings pitched.
This means that the Seminoles should expect to score runs in bunches against one of the worst teams in the entire field of 64. A repeat of last season, when FSU dropped the opening game of the regional to fourth-seeded Bucknell, would be catastrophic.
The good news for the Seminoles is that Marist seems to have avoided any semblance of top competition all season. Having not played a single team all year from a power conference, Marist may have trouble against a nationally-ranked powerhouse like Florida State.
If the task doesn’t seem daunting yet for the Red Foxes, throw in the challenge of manufacturing runs against Busch, who has come on strong at the end of the season. Busch managed a 6-2 record with a 4.28 ERA and a 59/33 strikeouts to walks ratio in his first year on campus.
Simply put, this should not be a game the Seminoles sweat out to the final play. However, as this season has shown us, anything is possible.
Marist carries an RPI of 180 into the tournament, but Florida State has had close calls against below-average teams this season. Against North Carolina-Asheville (RPI #274), a come-from-behind, 10-inning stunner was necessary to beat a team that ended the season with a pitiful 9-42 record. 9-42. A record that would make the Washington Nationals cringe.
Oh, and this happened at Dick Howser Stadium.
Keep in mind that the near-catastrophe occurred on April 22, long after the meltdown to open the season that saw the Seminoles with a 10-8 record after 18 games.
Weeks earlier, FSU welcomed High Point (RPI #186) to Tallahassee for a two-game series on March 10-11. In the second game of the series, FSU trailed the Panthers 3-2 into the 7th inning. A rally prevented the unthinkable yet again.
In other words, the ‘Noles have been taken down to the wire by teams worse than Marist. This season has been a wild one but I think it is fair to assume the matchup against Marist won’t resemble the nailbiters of this season against teams even worse than the Red Foxes.
Now is where I will make a few excuses for those aberrations. In both of my examples, Florida State used a “weekday pitcher”, meaning that a player who normally logs bullpen innings was asked to start and give the weekend pitchers a break.
This time around, FSU will be throwing a weekend starter, and one of the best on the roster. Brian Busch has had plenty of rest since shutting down Miami in the ACC Tournament last Thursday. Anytime your pitcher’s last outing was a six-inning, four hit, two run gem against Miami, confidence should be running high for the next start.
The full lineup will be ready to go for this game, which is not always the case in weekday games. When walk-ons and backups are filling in, upsets and close calls can happen, which may also help to explain those tight finishes against the worst teams on Florida State’s schedule. Everything seems to be lining up for a good win over Marist.
But this is the postseason, and Florida State fans have been taught to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
My predictions for Games 1 and 2: Georgia beats Ohio State 8-7 in 10 innings and Florida State beats Marist 11-5.
Let’s Go Seminoles.