BOCA RATON – FAU players believe their deep run in the Conference USA tournament last weekend will aid them later today and throughout the weekend when the Owls face Jacksonville in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s Gainesville regional.
“We’ll use that to our advantage, those games, and it will help us in the regional,” FAU shortstop Tyler Frank said.
FAU won four games in five days while reaching the finals of the C-USA tournament. To advance from the Gainesville regional, the Owls will only need to win three games in four days.
During the C-USA tournament FAU overcame weather delays, rallied to turn potential losses into victories and thrived in the general wackiness that tournament baseball can produce.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” left fielder Eric Rivera said. “We have a good team. I feel like we did a real good job in the conference tournament.”
FAU will need to apply last week’s lessons learned to this weekend, and do so against better competition.
No. 3 seeded FAU opens against No. 2 seed Jacksonville, which ended the season with an RPI of 21.
A win in the opener likely sets up showdown with Florida, the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
FAU will play Jacksonville with an eye on Florida. Coach John McCormack is electing to start Blake Sanderson on Friday, saving ace Jake Miednik (7-1, 3.05) for a possible Saturday match-up with Florida.
A reliever most of the season who joined the weekend rotation late in the year following injuries to Kyle Marman, Mark Nowatnick and Miednik, Sanderson carries a 1-1 record and 4.85 ERA into tonight’s 6:30 p.m. start.
The redshirt junior righty threw three shutout innings of relief in FAU’s Conference USA tournament opening-game win over FIU, then allowed four runs, only one of which was earned, two days later in a start against Rice – also an FAU victory.
“The ideal thing is to go there to win [the regional], not necessarily to win two games,” McCormack said.
FAU tried this pitching approach in 2015 – the last time the Owls played in the Gainesville regional. McCormack started Drew Jackson over Friday starter Kyle Miller in the opening game, a loss to South Florida. McCormack then needed to use Miller the following day against No. 4 Florida A&M in order to stave off elimination.
In 2013 as the No. 2 seed in Chapel Hill, McCormack elected to reserve ace Austin Gomber for a potential second-day match-up with tournament No. 1 seed North Carolina, only to see the Owls open with a loss to Towson, forcing Gomber to pitch an elimination game against Canisius.
McCormack did send Friday night starter David McKay to the mound in FAU’s most recent trip to the NCAA regional, resulting in a 2016 loss to Long Beach St.
FAU last won an NCAA regional’s opening game in 2003, when the Owls defeated Florida in the Coral Gables regional. This will be the Owls’ eighth NCAA tournament since that opening game victory.
Friday marks NCAA tournament appearance No. 11 for FAU, with five coming under McCormack.