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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

To Florida baseball fans: R-E-L-A-X

Florida has won all of its last five games

 Florida’s current opponents don’t meet Miami’s caliber, but the team has yet to lose since the Miami series. Photo from UF-Miami game Feb. 19. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.
Florida’s current opponents don’t meet Miami’s caliber, but the team has yet to lose since the Miami series. Photo from UF-Miami game Feb. 19. Courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.

The No. 1 preseason rankings came to the Gators in droves. When every publication made their decisions, they came to an agreement — UF had no equal. 

Once everyone already expects the world from you, so what happens if you can’t deliver? Anything but perfection disappoints.

That’s exactly the feeling that the Florida baseball team endured last week.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad powered to a staggering 16-1 record before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the sports world. With virtually no roster turnover, the Gators boasted a unanimous choice for the No. 1 team.  

Naturally, the Gators dealt with a mountain of expectations before their debut series against the Miami Hurricanes.

For a game — and the new Florida Ballpark’s opening night — it seemed UF would perch atop that mountain. Fans and critics raised eyebrows after the 7-5 win, in part because Florida gave up a quintet of runs and a rough ninth inning. But a win was a win — until Miami curbed Florida’s plans for the rest of the series.

In a sequence of pitching nightmares, the Gators dropped the second game 10-9 in extra innings and 8-6 the following day. As Florida’s southern foes emerged victorious, a seven-year series win streak vanished. 

Immediately, some UF fans slammed the panic button after the then-No. 1 Gators broke in their brand-new ballpark with a series loss against the No. 11 team. 

But I’m here to tell you what quarterback Aaron Rodgers famously told reporters when the Green Bay Packers also started the 2014 season 1-2:  R-E-L-A-X.

Florida’s current opponents don’t meet Miami’s caliber, but the team has yet to lose since the Miami series. 

It swept UNF in two games and Samford in three and only scored fewer than seven runs in just one game of the eight it played. The team’s offense thrives, with players like Jud Fabian hitting four home runs in as many games while Jacob Young carried on his 26-game hit streak.

The team’s pitching told another story against Miami. But Tommy Mace broke his strikeouts record after he threw 11 against Samford Friday. The three starters this weekend combined for 27 strikeouts in 16.2 innings, which shined a spotlight on the Gators search for a stride that makes them play like the team the polls thought they would be and the team they hope to amount to when SEC play rolls around in late March.

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Florida may not enthrall the baseball world with a spectacular streak like last year’s. But there’s no reason to discount the Gators’ future SEC play. And when it does, it will put any post-Miami doubters to shame.

Contact River Wells at rwells@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells



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