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Friday, April 23, 2021

After a rough start, Florida is starting to look the part of unanimous No. 1

Now riding a five-game win streak, Florida’s bats are staying hot and starting pitching is beginning to catch up

The Gators are off to a near-historic start at the plate. The team batting average stands at  .316, with 99 hits in just eight games. UF-UM game Feb. 21. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.
The Gators are off to a near-historic start at the plate. The team batting average stands at .316, with 99 hits in just eight games. UF-UM game Feb. 21. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.

Florida’s dugout swarmed Jacob Young while he ran down the basepath following his walk-off single Sunday versus Samford as a refreshing energy swept through Florida Ballpark’s air. 

North Florida and Samford won’t be mistaken for top competition, but the Gators played like the team pundits expected.

The Gators are off to a near-historic start at the plate. The team batting average stands at  .316, with 99 hits in just eight games. The team has an on-base percentage of .397.

The Gators haven’t batted over .300 in a decade, and the highest on-base percentage recorded since 2007 is .393 (2009).

Young, a third-year left fielder, demonstrates just how historic Florida’s bats can be. He extended his hitting streak to 26 games Sunday. His .395 batting average leads the team, and he averages just under two hits a game (1.875).

“He’s just a really good baseball player,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after Sunday’s game. “There’s a reason we led him off [in the batting order], flipped him and Jud. He’s certainly off to a great start.”

Jud Fabian carried his momentum into the weekend series. After an abysmal start to the year, Fabian batted .375 (6-16) the past four games with four home runs and 11 RBIs. 

Fabian felt the pressure to perform early in the season but worked hard with his coaches to settle into the season, O’Sullivan said.

“It just takes a little bit of time, but he’s certainly seeing the ball a lot better than he did early on,” O’Sullivan said.

The offense excelled against Miami, though. Florida needed more than that. The pitching needed to come alive and quickly.

The starters did exactly that against Samford.

Tommy Mace continued his excellent form Friday and struck out a career-high 11 in six innings. He allowed only three hits and didn’t let a single run cross the plate as he now holds a 2-0 record with a 0.82 ERA in his two starts this year.

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The third weekend starter, second-year southpaw Hunter Barco, drew the most ire and concern after Miami. The 3.1 inning, eight-run debut raised a few eyebrows, especially when Barco had just a 1.40 ERA a year ago.

Barco retired 12 consecutive batters between the first and fifth innings. He set a career-high in strikeouts (10) and surrendered just four hits and a walk in five innings.

Florida’s weekend rotation combined for 27 strikeouts against just nine hits in their 16.2 innings on the mound.

The Gators failed to answer every question over the weekend. The bullpen continued to struggle. The Bulldogs scored at least four runs in the final four innings twice. Junior pitcher Franco Aleman had another tough outing that included more walks than outs Sunday.

However, the offense appears here to stay. If the pitchers continue to scratch the surface of their potential, Florida will look more like the alpha dog it was advertised to be.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley



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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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