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<p class="cutlineGeneral">Nelson Maldonado prepares to swing during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.</p>

Nelson Maldonado prepares to swing during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.

As JJ Schwarz rumbled over to first base and recorded the final out of Florida’s regular season finale, the players in UF’s dugout couldn’t help but erupt with emotion.

It had just become official. The Gators were SEC champions.

Facing Kentucky on Saturday afternoon with the conference regular-season title on the line, Florida’s offense came up huge in the moments that mattered most.

Led by four RBIs from sophomore outfielder Nelson Maldonado, the Gators scored six unanswered runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning combined, blowing the lead wide open in an eventual 6-4 win against the Wildcats.

The victory over Kentucky secured UF’s fourth SEC championship over the last 10 years and led coach Kevin O’Sullivan to praise his team after the contest.

“There are so many things behind the scenes that have to go right to win any type of championship, let alone an SEC Championship,” O’Sullivan said in a release. “Our guys just continued to battle and fight through some adversity. It’s very enjoyable. I’m happy for the players.”

But now, after a successful regular season, the No. 4 Gators (40-15, 21-9 SEC) have officially hit postseason play.

Florida will open the SEC Tournament on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of a contest between Auburn and Ole Miss.

The Tigers (34-22, 16-14 SEC) swept UF in the only regular season series played between the two teams this spring, while the Rebels (32-24, 14-16 SEC) lost all three games they played against the Gators earlier this month.

The key for Florida this postseason – a team entering the SEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed of the bracket – will be its depth on the mound.

The Gators have a trio of reliable starters in Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, as well as a closer in Michael Byrne who led the SEC East in saves this season with 13.

However, O’Sullivan hasn’t gotten much out of the rest of his young pitching staff.

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Byrne and freshman setup man Garrett Milchin are the only two pitchers in Florida’s bullpen with an ERA below 3.80.

UF also has yet to find a reliable fourth starter, frequently going with a committee of relievers to pitch during midweek games in the regular season.

O’Sullivan acknowledges his team’s lack of depth on the mound has been an issue, but is confident Faedo, Singer and Kowar can shoulder the load in the SEC Tournament.

“Our three starters are as good anybody in the country, and that’s been the recipe for our success,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s how we’re winning… We are who we are with our young pitchers right now.”

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

Nelson Maldonado prepares to swing during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.

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