No. 1 UF clinches 15th SEC title

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The Florida Gators celebrate winning the SEC regular-season title Saturday after beating the Georgia Bulldogs at McKethan Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent] 2018

It was a bit subdued and understated, a jog out to left-center field for a picture where a “2018” sticker had already been plastered on the padding where SEC titles are acknowledged.

But it was definitely a celebration.

No. 1 Florida won its 15th SEC baseball title on a steamy Saturday, clinching it with four games remaining in the conference season.

“I think it speaks for itself,” said captain JJ Schwarz.

Loudly.

Florida won its 15th straight SEC series over two seasons, using the long ball and Jackson Kowar to blast Georgia 9-3. Only minutes after the final out, members of the University Athletic Association operations staff hustled out to the fence to add a year of dominance.

“Last year was kind of a tough year on and off the field,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “I didn’t really get to appreciate it until the season was over. Not this year. I’ve enjoyed every day. They’ve just been consistent.”

 The Gators blasted four home runs, one of them a grand slam by second baseman Blake Reese, to clinch the league title outright.

“It usually comes down to the last series and last year the last game,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s not easy to win this conference. We’ve been to Omaha six times and won the conference five times.

“We’ve been ranked No. 1 before and had teams that had a hard time dealing with that. It takes a special group. The focus of this team has been on the team.”

Florida is now 41-11 and 20-6 in the SEC. This is the 10th time Florida has won at least 20 SEC games in a season and the Gators have a shot at eclipsing their all-time record of 22 wins set in 2010 and 2011.

“We won’t have a hard time keeping our edge,” said Kowar. “We’re out of school and just playing baseball.”

Florida trailed 1-0 in the game Saturday thanks in part to a ball lost in the high sky by center fielder Nick Horvath, but Schwarz tied it in the fourth with his 12th homer of the year after earlier missing one foul with a mammoth shot in the second.

“It started out 30 feet fair and ended up 30 feet foul,” he said.

Schwarz also had a pair of singles in the game and is now 21-for-43 in his last 12 games and has raised his batting average 54 points in the last month.

“This time of year I’m usually pretty locked in,” Schwarz said. “I’m seeing the ball really well.”

Nelson Maldonado gave Florida a 3-1 lead with a line-drive homer in the fifth, his seventh, to score two runs.

In the sixth, which has been UF’s most productive inning this season, the Gators scored six times on Reese’s slam and a two-run shot just inside the fair pole by Jonathan India.

Reese had only one hit in his previous 11 at-bats with seven strikeouts before the no-doubter to right.

“Sometimes the best mindset is not to be thinking about anything,” Reese said. “At the end of the day you have to trust your abilities.

“Baseball can rip your heart out. It’s a roller coaster. The reason you fall in love with it and hate it is that it’s a game of contrasts.”

After making a fielding error earlier in the game, Reese received words of encouragement from both Kowar and O’Sullivan.

“I was able to relax a little bit after that,” Reese said.

Meanwhile, Kowar (9-2) had his second straight strong outing, allowing six hits in seven innings and striking out six straight Georgia batters at one point after struggling with his slider early.

“It was a terrible breaking ball the first two innings,” he said. “To get that working early in the third (inning) was really big.

“I knew if I put up enough zeroes, the boys would get it rolling.”

Georgia drops to 34-16 and 15-11 in the SEC. The two teams play again at 1 p.m. Sunday. It is UF’s Senior Day.

NOTES: Florida pitcher Tyler Dyson received a cortisone shot in his pitching arm after pitching Tuesday and will be out until the SEC Tournament. “It’s good, though, because now we know why he was struggling so much,” O’Sullivan said … O’Sullivan now ranks third all-time in the SEC for regular season championships with five, tied with former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk … Florida has scored 71 runs in the sixth inning this year, 13 more than any other inning.

13 COMMENTS

  1. So many people focus only on Gator football or basketball and I love them, too. But our overall sports program is unmatched in the SEC. Man, it’s GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR!!!

  2. Pat–what caused JJ to say, “It speaks for itself?” Did he, unprovoked, just up and say it to thin air? What did he mean? When did he say it? Like, for instance, while he was rounding the bases on his home run? Did he say it to the ump–while he was catching? while he was at bat? Did he say it when the terrorized Bulldog pitcher clunked him in the arm with a fastball in the only way he could find to tame JJ’s torrid bat?

    There’s a sense in which everything speaks for itself i.e., in the same way that everything is what it is, as sports stars were recently wont to say when they got a chance. But, even so, he might have had something else in mind What could it be? Did you ask him? Is JJ studying linguistics? Was Captain JJ being a smart aleck? That would be unlikely since he appears to be a paragon of a leader, a paragon of a fightin’ gator.

    There’s so much more the sports world needs to know about JJ’s mysterious comment, and it’s on you, an award-winning sports journalist, to do your duty, to find out.

    In my opinion.

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