Camaraderie. Togetherness. Team.
All words UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan used to describe his baseball team’s trip to Starkville, Mississippi.
No tears dropped, but a soft, bittersweet smile found its way onto senior JJ Schwarz’s face.…
The No. 1 Florida Gators (41-12, 20-7 SEC) have been a force this year and look to finish the regular season strong with a series against the Mississippi State Bulldogs beginning tonight.
Although Mississippi State (28-24, 12-15 SEC) hasn’t had an incredible season and the series doesn’t really matter to the SEC champions, O’Sullivan seemed excited that his team had a chance to bond over the trip and close out the year in a positive fashion.
Led by center fielder Jake Mangum and pitcher Ethan Small, MSU has had its share of success in 2018.
Mangum, a junior, is tied for the conference lead in total hits (79) and doubles (19) on the year. He's also tied for fifth in steals with 14.
Mississippi State will start pitcher Konnor Pilkington in the first game of the series. Pilkington has mustered a 2-6 record and a 4.35 ERA.
The Bulldogs have an ace in Zach Neff, who carries a 2.72 ERA, but won’t play him for at least the first two games of the three-game series, likely due to him pitching 1.2 innings in relief last Sunday and it being the last series of the season.
Small will start Game 2. He is 5-3 on the year with a 2.75 ERA, the sixth-best ERA in the SEC. He also sits at second in the league with 93 total strikeouts.
Out of the bullpen, the Bulldogs will likely turn to relief pitcher Blake Smith. His 18.2 innings are the most for any pitcher not starting for MSU, and he carries an ERA of 2.41.
For the Gators, consensus first-round pick Brady Singer will take the mound in Game 1. The lanky right-hander is 10-1 on the season and sports an ERA of 2.25.
In Game 2, Jackson Kowar will take the rock with a 9-2 record and a 2.56 ERA.
Closing the series for Florida will be freshman righty Jack Leftwich. Leftwich’s season has been marred by inconsistency, but he has shown flashes of bright spots. He heads into the weekend with a 4.26 ERA and a 4-3 record.
Third baseman Jonathan India and catcher/first baseman JJ Schwarz anchor UF's offense. India is second in the SEC with a .383 batting average and leads the league in slugging and on-base percentage, with .772 and .524, respectively.
Schwarz has been a constant presence in Florida’s lineup, playing in every single game in his college career and starting in all of them.
The Gators have already clinched a regular-season SEC title, so the series won’t affect their final placement.
However, they'll put their regular-season series win streak on the line. Having won 19 in a row, Florida hasn’t lost more than a game in every series it has played dating back to last season.