Where: McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Schedule: Friday - No. 2 Long Beach State (32-24) vs. No. 3 North Carolina (34-25), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
No. 1 Florida (40-21) vs. No. 4 College of Charleston (41-17), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
Tickets: GatorZone.com/tickets. 1-800-344-2867, ext. 6800.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
That's certainly the attitude that College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee has taken when it comes to the Cougars' pitching rotation heading into this weekend's Gainesville Regional.
Lee said Tuesday that sophomore right-hander Taylor Clarke will start Friday night against Florida in the opening round of the regional.
There was some thought that Lee might tweak his rotation, opting to start to freshman Bailey Ober, the Colonial Athletic Association's Rookie of the Year and tournament MVP, against the SEC's regular-season champions.
But in the end, Lee decided that sticking with the season-long rotation of Clarke, Ober and freshman Tyler Thornton would give the Cougars the best chance for success during the regional. All three Cougar starters had dominant performances during last weekend's CAA tournament.
"We're going to stay with what we've been doing and go with Clarke Friday night and Ober Saturday and Thornton in game three," Lee said. "I think it's important for our guys to be consistent. We preach consistency with our program, and we're going to stay consistent with what we've been doing all season from a rotation standpoint."
The decision to stick with Clarke wasn't as difficult as some might assume. Clarke's resumes speaks for itself. Clarke, who transferred from Towson after the program was nearly shut down last spring, is 10-3 with a 2.65 earned run average with the Cougars. He has a team-high 85 strike outs and just 22 walks.
"Any time you make a change in your lineup or in your rotation there needs to be a reason to do it," Lee said. "There was just no reason for us to change it. Taylor Clarke has done an outstanding job for us in Game 1s all year long. He won 10 games and he's an all-conference pitcher. I feel like he can compete with anybody in the country. To be honest, it wasn't something that we had to think too hard about."
Clarke also has been one of Charleston's most durable starters, leading the Cougars' pitching staff with 91.1 innings of work. It's a remarkable turnaround for Clarke, considering he missed all of the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to pitch against Florida," Clarke said. "I know they've got a great team, a great lineup, but I'm not going to change anything I do. I'm going to attack the zone, attack hitters, work down and get ahead in the count."
The Gators, the second overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, are expected to counter with one of the top freshmen pitchers in the nation in Logan Shore. Shore, a 29th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins last summer, was 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA this season.
"We know that (Shore) is really good," Lee said. "The thing about facing a pitcher like Shore is that he's going to throw strikes. He's going to throw a lot of fastballs, sinking fastballs and he's going to challenge our hitters. Our guys better get in the box and be ready to hit a really good fastball because (Shore) is going to be consistently in the low 90s."
Charleston infielder Gunnar Heidt, the Cougars' leading hitter during the regular season, returned to practice on a limited basis on Monday. Heidt, who led the Cougars with a .335 batting average, has been out of the lineup after getting hit by a pitch in late April during a series against Bethune-Cookman.
Lee is hoping that Heidt will be able to play, even if it's in a limited capacity.
"Gunnar is starting to swing the bat, he swung the bat for the first time on Monday," Lee said. "He took some light swings during batting practice (Monday). I don't think he's close to being 100 percent. He can't throw. He's trying to build his strength. I don't anticipate him being able to start this weekend. We'll just see how he progresses as the week goes on."
College of Charleston sophomore pitcher Taylor Clarke was 10-3 with a 2.65 earned run average with a team-high 85 strike outs and just 22 walks. (Photo by Al Samuels)×
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