Noles Baseball Faces First Test

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Florida State is currently only one of three teams in the country to remain undefeated through the first month of the season. However the Noles have yet to play a single road game nor have they played a team who will sniff the postseason. They have taken care of business given the schedule laid out in front of them, winning some games easily and actually battling adversity, coming back late in games to win.

The Florida Gators on the other hand have had a rough start to the 2013 season and currently sit at 8-9 though the first month with a brutal schedule ahead of them. UF's weekend opponents thus far have consisted of Duke, FGCU, Miami and Indiana, those teams have a combined record of 40-17 with Florida going 4-8 in those four series.

During the first four weekend series of the season the Seminoles played URI, USF, Villanova and Boston College who have combined for only 17 wins compared to 38 losses. The picture I am trying to paint here is that Florida, while they do have their issues are not as bad as their record indicates and Florida State is probably not as good as their 15-0 record might indicate. Before we get into the game preview lets take a look at how the ACC played out in its opening weekend.

The ACC didn't exactly played out this past weekend as many predicted...

(As Of March 11)
ATLANTIC DIVISION
School Conference Pct. Overall Pct.
Florida State 3-0 1.000 15-0-0 1.000
Clemson 2-1 .667 9-5-0 .643
NC State 1-2 .333 12-4-0 .750
Maryland 1-2 .333 10-5-0 .667
Wake Forest 0-3 .000 9-8-0 .529
Boston College 0-3 .000 3-11-0 .214
COASTAL DIVISION
School Conference Pct. Overall Pct.
North Carolina 3-0 1.000 14-0-0 1.000
Virginia 2-1 .667 14-1-0 .933
Georgia Tech 2-1 .667 14-2-0 .875
Duke 2-1 .667 8-7-0 .533
Miami 1-2 .333 13-4-0 .765
Virginia Tech 1-2 .333 12-4-0 .750

Starting in the Atlantic Division the Clemson Tigers surprised everyone by taking 2 of 3 from NC State including a drubbing of Carlos Rodon, one of the top pitchers in the country. To make matters worse for the Wolfpack they lost one of the best players in the country, Trea Turner, to an ankle injury. The preseason All-American SS will be out at least 4-6 weeks. Maryland played Virginia close taking the Sunday game after losing both games in the Saturday doubleheader. That was the first lost of the season for the Cavaliers who have played well to start the season and are once again well coached with lots of young talent.

Wake Forest ran into the top team in the nation this past weekend and North Carolina proved to everyone that despite their cupcake schedule they deserve the number one ranking. After a 4-0 win on Friday, the Heels offense exploded on Saturday winning 20-4 and again on Sunday 6-2. As you know by now the Seminoles swept Boston College and moved to a perfect season record with top spot in the division.

In the Coastal, Georgia Tech continues to prove that they might have the best offense in the country and quite possibly the best pitcher in Buck Farmer. The senior righty who was drafted in the 15th round last season has now thrown 27 innings this season allowing only one earned run with a ridiculous 37 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio. The Jackets racked up 26 runs this past weekend against Virginia Tech who have a very formidable offense of their own. The Hokies are off to a great season start as are the Yellow Jackets, FSU faces both of these teams in 2 of the next 3 weeks. Duke was projected to be one of the worst teams in the conference this season but with series wins over Florida and now Miami the Blue Devils look like they might not be the doormat that they have been in years past. The Hurricanes scored just two runs in each of the first two games before scoring five in Sunday's to avoid a series sweep.

The ACC is off to a fantastic 2013 season currently having the number one ranked team in the country and also boasts four other teams in the Baseball America Top 25; Georgia Tech (9), Florida State (12), North Carolina State (18) and Virginia (22). The matchups to watch next weekend include Virginia at Clemson and Miami and North Carolina.

GAME PREVIEW:

Much has been made of the youth that both Florida State and Florida have this season, both teams were gutted by the amateur draft as well as the losses of key seniors. But one team has responded much differently than the other.

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Both teams lost 1st rounders to the draft and both teams lost some excellent college baseball hitters. The University of Florida currently has 9 players in their lineup that have started at least 10 games this season, of those nine only three came into the season with no experience. The six starters with experience had a combined 249 starts last season and 873 at-bats.

Florida State returns even less experience than the Gators, they too are breaking in three brand new players and the five remaining bats have a total of 207 starts with 744 at-bats. The Seminoles have been without their lone offensive starter Justin Gonzalez for most of the year with an injury and the Gators just recently lost the services of Richie Martin. So while both teams have had to rely on a lot of new faces the Seminoles have had much more success at the plate.

Pitching has been another issue for the Gators and rightfully so, they started off the season much like the Noles with a crushing injury. Both teams lost their Saturday starter, Karsten Whitson for UF and Mike Compton for FSU, which forced them to look at other much more inexperienced and lest successful pitchers. Losing one of your best pitchers as well as four other pitchers who went in the top 10 rounds of the draft is tough to bounce back from and as you can see below the Gators have yet too.

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Fifteen different pitchers have seen action for Florida this season, 7 of those 15 pitched zero innings last season and of the remaining 8 only 3 pitched more than 25 innings, 2 with at least 34 and Crawford led the team with 77 innings pitched. All totaled the Gators returned only 35% of the innings pitched from 2012 and the 7 new comers have pitched 47% of the Gators total innings this season.

The Seminoles were fortunate enough to return their Friday and their Sunday starter was pushed into the Saturday slot with the loss of Mike Compton. Florida State has seen 14 pitchers take the mound this season but unlike the Gators they have not been as heavily reliant on newcomers. Six brand new pitchers have only accounted for 18% of the innings pitched this season after the Noles returned 61% of their total innings pitched from 2012.

Now I am not neglecting the fact that Florida's schedule (33) has been much more difficult than that of Florida State (242), that definitely plays a role in the performances by both teams. But what cant be overlooked is that Florida is 6-9 at home, losing 3 of 4 series, and this is all before conference play starts. You can throw out all the excuses you want but the issues that are currently plaguing this team comes from ineffective coaching. O'Sullivan is no doubt a good recruiter and coach, he has excellent assistants but for whatever the reason is he has not been able to translate that into victories. Florida State has shown that year in and year out they can compete at the elite level regardless of roster turnover and UF better right the ship quickly because its not getting any easier. The next five weekend series has the Gators squaring off against the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 10th and 13th ranked teams in the country.

In the grand scheme of things tonight's games is for nothing more than bragging rights, it is quite evident who the better team is regardless of the score Florida State is in a much better state to make it to Omaha.

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On paper this games looks like its already won for the Noles, its pretty evident that Florida State has the better offense and the Gators offense has struggled mightily all season. Florida has decided to go with a lefty freshman who has only faced 9 batters all season and should have his hands full as this will be the best lineup he has season so far this season. Sophomore right-hander Luke Weaver is off to a stellar 2013 season making his 5th appearance on the season and 3rd start overall. In those outings he has walked only one while striking out a staggering 21 batters. If that trend continues tonight the Seminoles are in good shape to continue undefeated.

Tonight's game can be watched free on Gatorvision and of course we will have the play by play right here. Look forward to seeing everyone back at 7PM.

Go Noles!

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