Gators give chase to SEC title

Published: Friday, May 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 20, 2005 at 1:40 a.m.
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Gavin Dickey and the Gators are out to avoid a painful weekend in Nashville, Tenn.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
There's not much at stake this weekend in Southeastern Conference baseball.
Just everything.
  • The overall conference championship (any one of five teams could still win it).
  • The East and West divisional championships (two in the East and three in the West still have a shot).
  • The final five berths in next week's SEC Tournament (three are in, eight teams are vying for the other five spots) with the eight who get in virtually assuring themselves of advancing to the NCAA tournament.
    In a wild and wacky conference season where parity has reigned and no team has been dominant, the final regular-season series for every team (except Kentucky) is crucial.
    For Florida what happens in the rest of the league is on the back-burner. There's the simplest math - win three games at Vanderbilt and you win the first SEC championship for the school in seven years.
    "It's going to be tough, but it's in our hands," said Florida third baseman Brandon McArthur. "Going on the road, with everything on the line, we've got to be ready."
    Florida leads the East by a half game over Tennessee - which hosts Georgia this weekend - with West-leading LSU a full game behind the Gators. LSU was the coaches' pick to win the league in the preseason while Florida was picked to finish third in the East and Tennessee fifth.
    Everything will be settled - including seeding for the SEC Tournament - over the next three days, with Florida opening its series at Vanderbilt tonight.
    "It's going to be an exciting series," said senior outfielder Jeff Corsaletti. "It's a tough place to play and they have the best staff in the league. We're going to have to earn it."
    The Gators are hoping to use a come-from-behind win over Stetson on Wednesday night as a springboard to the weekend.
    "It gives us a little swagger back," Corsaletti said.
    Florida has now won three of its last four games and the team knows that a big weekend could also go a long way toward earning a host berth for the NCAA Regionals.
    But the only thing that matters this weekend is the chance to win an SEC title.
    "We're very excited about going to play," Florida coach Pat McMahon said. "It's the final series in the 30-game march. Vandy is a very good club. They know how to win. We know how to win. We're excited about where we stand."
    Thursday marked the beginning of a long road trip for the Gators. They flew to Nashville and will bus from Nashville to Birmingham, Ala., on Monday for the SEC Tournament.
    But this is what you play for and this weekend will be the start of playoff baseball.
    "There's a lot of pressure but I like it that way," said Florida's Matt LaPorta, the SEC home run leader with 21. "It makes you stronger. We go up there knowing what we have to do. Now we just have to go play."
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