Frank Rubio will be the first to admit that things looked bleak for Florida after its opening weekend of SEC play back in March.
Facing Auburn on the road in a three-game series, UF was embarrassed and humbled at the hands of the Tigers, losing the trio of contests by a combined score of 22-9.
The sweep put the Gators conference record at 0-3 for the first time in eight years and dropped them to the cellar of the SEC standings.
However, after winning 18 of its past 21 games, No. 5 Florida (38-14, 19-8 SEC) has climbed all the way back into first place in the conference and is in prime position to win the regular-season SEC title, leaving Rubio astonished at UF’s turnaround from its rough start.
“I don’t think anybody coming out of that weekend thought this was a possibility,” the reliever said. “That just goes to show you the type of team we have this year.”
The Gators have one series left in the regular season, a three-game slate against Kentucky that begins tonight at 7 p.m.
While Florida has been been difficult to stop at the plate lately, scoring at least six runs in eight of its past nine games, strong performances from its pitching staff will be key against the Wildcats.
Kentucky (37-16, 18-9 SEC) is just one game behind UF in the conference standings and possesses a lineup full of talented offensive players. The Wildcats lead the SEC in batting average (.322), runs scored (411), on base percentage (.425) and slugging percentage (.506).
Seven players on Kentucky’s roster are hitting above .300, including junior first baseman Evan White, who’s third in the conference at .381. Junior infielder Riley Mahan leads the team in home runs with 13 and RBIs with 55.
Junior Alex Faedo will be getting the starting nod on the mound tonight for UF, while sophomores Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are tabbed for Friday night and Saturday afternoon, respectively.
Faedo, sporting a 7-1 record and 2.33 ERA in 2017, was quick to note that the Gators haven’t won a series against the Wildcats in six years and said he was relishing the opportunity to compete for an SEC title.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Faedo said. “Kentucky plays us really hard, so hopefully we can come out with a series win this year.”
Contact Dylan Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
Alex Faedo celebrates during UF's 1-0 win against LSU on March 24, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.