In trying to reach the pinnacle of college baseball, Seth McGarry, Casey Mulholland and Ryan Valdes have each traveled a unique journey -- and they will all be at the University of Florida this weekend for the NCAA Gainesville Regional baseball tournament at McKethan Stadium.
McGarry is the closer for second-seeded FAU (40-17). Valdes and Mulholland are slated to start on the mound in the second and third games, respectively, for third-seeded USF (33-24-1), which is making its first NCAA region tournament in 13 years.
The teams face each other Friday in opening-round play. Top-seeded Florida (44-16), ranked fourth nationally, takes on FAMU (23-23) in the other game.
McGarry and Mulholland first made a name for themselves playing in Braden River Little League before going their separate ways.
Mulholland has had a difficult road. In a period of less than two years, he underwent Tommy John surgery and reconstructive facial surgery. Now, the senior righty couldn't be happier -- especially with new USF head coach Mark Kingston.
"It's pretty awesome. We set a goal for the regions and the coaching staff showed us the way. I did what I could to help the team and feel like I made the most of my last season," the 23 year-old said.
At IMG Academy, Mulholland had a 37-1 record and was 3-1 his senior year (2010) before an arm injury ended his season. He played one year at Mississippi and then transferred to State College of Florida before joining USF last season as a junior.
In the summer of 2011, he was hit in the face with a line drive in a college league game in Michigan that almost took his left eye out, requiring reconstructive surgery.
"I wasn't about to be going on any dates for awhile after the surgery," Mulholland said. "But things are good now. Everyone on the team is on cloud nine. A lot of guys thought this would never happen. It's been 13 years and this opportunity is a reward."
After he finished his career at SCF, Mulholland chose USF because Lance Carter was coaching there and they had a good relationship.
"He said 'I know what you've been through', and having an opportunity to work with him was a big plus. He guided me through last season," said the 6-4, 190 pound Mulholland, who was 5-8 with a 3.71 ERA and threw the only two complete games on the staff.
McGarry went to the region two years ago as a freshman, but was a little-used player. A starting pitcher at Lakewood Ranch, he was used in relief last year at FAU and continued pitching well there this season in earning the closer's role about a month ago,
"The coach tried to get me to start, but I've been doing better out of the pen and my mindset is to be a good closer," McGarry said. "I prefer it. Closing is a lot more fun for me, because I like the adrenaline you feel coming from the pen and it's a more spontaneous. I also like hanging out in the bullpen."
The right hander is tied for the team lead with five saves, though he has had limited opportunities. In 20 appearances, he's hurled 37 innings with a 2.43 ERA and 33 strikeouts.
"I really try to pitch with a chip on my shoulder and give it all I've got. I mainly just throw a fastball and use a slider, the 6-1, 180 pounder said. "I am happy with my career and I'm looking forward to the draft. If everything works out, I would take an offer. It depends on what round I was picked."
Valdes was 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA and had 70 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched for USF. Primarily a position player all his life, he got his first extensive work on the mound at SCF last season where he was 6-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 63 innings.
"I don't care whether I am pitching or playing in the field. I just want to be out there," Valdes said. "Baseball has been a dream of mine since I was three years old. I started at FSU and then SCF gave me a chance. It helps my pitching that I am a position player. I understand what hitters are thinking."
Scouts have told Valdes that his chances to make it on the professional level are better a pitcher. He doesn't have the power they are looking for in position players and has been clocked at 93 miles per hour with his fastball.
Also pitching for FAU is Cardinal Mooney graduate Devon Carr. The junior has a 3.51 ERA in 25.2 innings. He pitched for SCF last season. The USF roster includes junior Luke Maglich from Sarasota Riverview, the Bulls second leading hitter (.305), and freshman pitcher Joe Cavallaro from Venice.