GAINESVILLE, Fla. >> Casey Mize and Brady Singer expect to pitch under less stress than they did the last few weeks, maybe even months.
Mize and Singer will take the mound Saturday for the first time since becoming first-round picks in the Major League Baseball draft. Mize was the top selection out of Auburn, taken by Detroit, and Florida’s Singer went 18th overall to Kansas City.
It’s a matchup of soon-to-be millionaires in the NCAA baseball tournament. Mize and Singer will square off for the third time in 15 months — the rubber match between two of the best arms in college baseball.
This meeting, which comes in the opening game of the best-of-three Auburn-Florida super regional, has more at stake than the previous two.
But given the stress Mize and Singer felt leading up to the draft, it should be a relatively relaxed environment for the hard-throwing right-handers.
“I’m very relieved,” said Mize, whose projected signing bonus is a little more than $8 million. “It was a great process and a great day on draft day, but I’m very relieved to have it over and now we can just focus on what we’re trying to do for the rest of the year.”
And that’s get to the College World Series.
The team that loses the opener will be in a hole, needing to win back-to-back games to advance to Omaha, Nebraska, and college baseball’s biggest stage.
“The whole baseball world will be watching,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s Singer versus Mize and Florida versus Auburn, two SEC teams. I think you embrace it.”
The Tigers (42-21) cruised through their regional at North Carolina State, beating Northeastern, Army and the host Wolfpack by a combined score of 40-12.
Mize (10-5, 2.95 ERA) was stout in his start, allowing four hits and a solo home run in seven innings. He walked two and struck out 11. The junior from Springville, Alabama, has 260 strikeouts and 21 walks his last two seasons, gaining command of four pitches that include a nasty slider and a split-finger change-up that often have opposing batters looking silly.
“You don’t see a guy that polished that much at this level,” Florida right fielder Wil Dalton said. “You got your guys that have the tools to go and pitch in the big leagues, but his stuff is so refined and so consistent. … He throws every one of his pitches for a strike, any count, any time. He’ll pitch you backwards. He’ll pitch you however he wants to.”
The Gators (45-18), the last team to advance to the super regionals, feel Singer compares favorably with Mize.
The Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year is 11-2 with a league-leading 2.27 ERA. He held hitters to a .188 average while going at least seven innings in 11 of 14 starts in 2018. Over his last six starts, Singer is 4-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 44 innings.
After missing three weeks with a strained left hamstring, Singer showed a little rust in his regional win. But teammates and coaches expect him to return to form this weekend, especially with the draft no longer in the back of his mind. His projected signing bonus is $3.35 million.
“He’s just so competitive that you always feel like he’s going to out-gut everyone out there,” said fellow Florida starter Jackson Kowar, also drafted by the Royals (33rd overall). “You pair that with outrageous stuff, and that’s a really good combination.”
Mize and Singer split their first two head-to-head outings.
Florida beat Auburn and Mize 3-1 in late April. Mize allowed four hits and three earned runs in seven innings. He walked one and struck out 10. The difference in the game was Jonathan India’s two-run homer early. Singer gave up four hits and an earned run in seven innings. He walked two and struck out eight.
The game lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes. Their first matchup was even faster.
The Tigers edged the Gators and Singer 2-1 in March 2017. Mize surrendered five hits and an unearned run in seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.
Singer gave up five hits and two earned runs in seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.
That one took just two hours, 13 minutes.
Round three has more on the line, with Auburn trying to get to the CWS for the first time since 1997 and Florida trying to keep alive its goal of repeating as national champions.
“I think it will be fun,” Mize said. “But it’s more of a team thing. I thing (Singer) will even tell you that now. All that’s behind us, I guess. We’re just playing for a chance to go to Omaha.
“But it definitely is great when you get to pitch against somebody of his caliber. He’s an elite pitcher. He’s a first-rounder. He’s very talented, and you always enjoy competing against great competitors.”