After a month and a half of sub-par play, the Florida baseball team is coming off its best series of the season, taking two of three games from Ole Miss last weekend.
While their 11-15 start before last weekend is a more telling sample, UF should be optimistic moving forward.
In its first two weekend series of Southeastern Conference play against No. 10 Kentucky and No. 2 Vanderbilt, Florida won the Friday opener. Then, the Gators dropped the final two games of each series thanks to poor pitching performances on Saturday from Jonathon Crawford and on Sunday from Eric Hanhold.
Against the Rebels, those issues were non-existent. Crawford looked like he did in the latter part of 2012, throwing a complete-game shutout against Ole Miss on Saturday.
Freshman lefty Danny Young followed Crawford with 5.1 shutout innings in the best Sunday start by a Gator this season. In last Tuesday’s loss to FSU in Jacksonville, Young gave up just one run in four innings and struck out five in relief of Tucker Simpson.
Young has earned the Sunday job. Together with Crawford and fellow freshman Jay Carmichael, coach Kevin O’Sullivan finally has a weekend rotation that inspires confidence.
The lineup is coming around as well. Florida scored four runs off Vanderbilt’s Friday starter, Kevin Ziomek, who is second in the league with a .157 batting average against. Catcher Taylor Gushue, who was homerless and hitting just .231 before UF’s 9-4 win against UNF on March 19, is hitting .400 in his last eight games with three home runs and has brought his average up to .277,
The promising weekend also came with two pinch-running appearances from freshman shortstop Richie Martin. Prior to the Ole Miss series, Martin hadn’t seen the field since breaking his finger in a 6-3 win against Miami on March 3. Martin was arguably Florida’s best player through the first 13 games, leading the team with 13 hits and ranking third on the squad with a .342 batting average.
Florida (13-16, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) hosts UCF (18-11, 4-2 Conference USA) — a team it beat 5-3 on Feb. 19 in Orlando — tonight at 7 at McKethan Stadium. If the Gators beat the Knights again, they’ll head into this weekend’s series at Mississippi State needing only a series win to reach .500.
Next Tuesday, UF has another date with FSU’s Luke Weaver, which isn’t likely to end well, just like the first two. But based on its performance against Ole Miss, Florida has a good chance of once again taking two of three — or at least stealing one game — against No. 13 South Carolina next weekend.
So after the series against the Gamecocks, the Gators could realistically be right at .500. From that point on, only three of their final 19 games are against top-25 teams. Fourteen of Florida’s games to this point and 21 of its first 37 are against ranked opponents. With a schedule that tough, UF won’t need to finish more than a handful of games over .500 to make the NCAA Tournament.
A trip to Omaha might not be a foregone conclusion as it has been in years past for this program. But for a team that lost numerous All-Americans during the offseason, being in the hunt is not such bad thing.
Contact Josh Jurnovoy at [email protected].