Updated: May 10
A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
ARE THE GATORS BECOMING THAT TEAM NOBODY WANTS TO PLAY?
Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that folks were lamenting the demise of the Florida baseball program, thinking it would take a miracle for the Gators to even make the NCAA field? D1Baseball had the Gators as their last team when they dropped to 23-17 (6-12 SEC) after getting swept by Tennessee. Just a few days ago D1 had the Gators sitting on a No. 3 seed in the Coral Gables region in its NCAA projections.
Now that they’ve won six of their last seven games including an impressive weekend sweep of Mississippi State in Starkville, the Gators (29-18, 11-13 SEC) are starting to look like a team capable of a rather surprising finish. At this moment, UF is not looking like an NCAA regional host, but there are still eight games to go including an SEC road trip to Missouri next weekend and a regular season ending set with South Carolina so things could change if the Gators can maintain this hot streak.
A break-even SEC record seemed next to impossible after losing three straight to Tennessee, but now that UF is 11-13 a 15-15 mark is very do-able and a 16-14 league record isn’t out of the question. Throw in the possibility of a pair of non-conference wins over Bethune-Cookman (Tuesday) and Florida State (next Tuesday in Gainesville) an 35-37 wins in the regular season doesn’t seem far-fetched.
The key to Florida’s sudden upturn is young pitchers finally starting to grow up and throw strikes. This is one of the younger pitching staffs in the entire country so it has taken awhile for the kids to figure things out. We tend to forget how few freshmen make the jump from high school to the SEC without a few speed bumps along the way. Since Hunter Barco went down with an elbow that will require Tommy John surgery, Kevin O’Sullivan has found his Friday and Saturday starters in redshirt sophomore Brandon Sproat (6-4, 4.96 ERA) and freshman Brandon Neely (2-0, 3.45 ERA). Both have been impressive in their last two starts. O’Sullivan may have found his third weekend starter in the familiar face of redshirt freshman Nick Pogue (2-2, 4.96 ERA), who missed last year because of Tommy John surgery. Pogue got the win against South Florida earlier in the week and that earned the start Sunday against Mississippi State. He gave the Gators five innings of 1-run baseball, finishing the week with nine innings, nine hits allowed and only two earned runs.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Slater (3-3, 5.10 ERA, 3 saves) picked up a save Friday night, then got the win in relief Saturday. Sunday, freshman Fisher Jameson (1-0, 2.70 ERA) went four innings for the win in relief of Pogue. Phil Abner (1-1, 8.35 ERA), got a critical strikeout Friday night and pitched the Gators out of a jam Saturday night.
The pitching is starting to come around and the Florida bats came through with 24 runs in Starkville. Wyatt Langford, moved to leadoff, came through with a 7-14 weekend with a home run and three RBI; Sterlin Thompson, moved to second base from right field, went 4-8 with a homer and three RBI; BT Riopelle went 6-11 with two homers and three RBI; freshman Ty Evans, given a start in right field Saturday and Sunday, went 3-9 with a homer and three RBI.
There are still eight games to play and it’s possible the Gators lay an egg, but don’t count on it. If they can keep up this newfound mojo, they might be that team nobody will want to play in the month of May.
Twelve of the SEC’s 14 teams make the tournament in Hoover. Here is what SEC baseball looks like with two weekends remaining in the regular season.
Tennessee (42-6, 20-4 SEC): The Vols have clinched the SEC East and need three wins to win the regular season SEC title outright. They host Georgia this weekend and finish up at Mississippi State.
Georgia (32-16, 13-11 SEC): The Bulldogs are just one game ahead of third place Vanderbilt and two ahead of the Gators. They travel to Tennessee this weekend and finish against Missouri.
Vanderbilt (31-15, 12-12 SEC): The Commodores have the toughest finishing stretch of any team in the conference. They’re at Arkansas this weekend and they finish with LSU.
FLORIDA (29-18, 11-13): The Gators travel to Missouri this weekend and finish the regular season at home with South Carolina.
South Carolina (24-22, 10-14 SEC): The Gamecocks could assure themselves of making the SEC Tournament if they can sweep Kentucky this weekend. They travel to Florida to finish up.
Kentucky (26-21, 9-15 SEC): The Wildcats stunned Tennessee by winning the series. Now they have to travel to South Carolina and finish up against Auburn. They need to get to 13 wins somehow to assure that they’ll make the SEC Tournament.
Missouri (25-20, 7-17 SEC): Can the Tigers go 6-0 in their final two series at home against UF this weekend and at Georgia to close it out? That’s what it’s going to take to make the SEC Tournament.
Arkansas (36-12, 16-8 SEC): The Hogs have a two-game lead over LSU and A&M with six SEC games to play. Four wins should secure the SEC West title and the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.
LSU (32-15, 14-10 SEC): The Tigers get Ole Miss this weekend and then finish up at Vanderbilt. They need 18-19 SEC wins to secure second place in the division.
Texas A&M (30-16, 14-10 SEC): The Aggies will make the SEC Tournament. They probably need to go 5-1 against Mississippi State and Ole Miss to secure second in the SEC West.
Auburn (32-16, 13-11 SEC): The Tigers could blow by LSU and the Aggies for second place if they could close out 6-0 at home against Alabama then closing out at Kentucky.
Ole Miss (27-19, 10-14 SEC): The Rebels were once ranked No. 1 in the nation. Now they’re fighting just to make the SEC Tournament. They need to win three out of six at LSU and then at home against the Aggies.
Alabama (26-22, 10-14 SEC): The Tide has lost seven of their last nine against SEC teams. They finish at Auburn this weekend before closing out with Arkansas. They need at least three wins to stay ahead of Mississippi State to make the tournament.
Mississippi State (25-23, 9-15 SEC): The Bulldogs are at Texas A&M and then finish out at home with Tennessee. Anything less than a 4-2 finish and there’s no chance they make the SEC Tournament.
UF SOFTBALL: GATORS GET A NO. 5 SEED FOR THE SEC TOURNAMENT
Florida’s 41-15 record (13-11 SEC) may be good enough for the Gators to host an NCAA regional, but to host a super regional as well will take some work at this week’s SEC Softball Tournament which will begin Tuesday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The 5th-seeded Gators will play their first game Wednesday at 5 p.m. against the winner