Gators look for respect


"We all have our mind set on winning the SEC tournament," says senior reliever Connor Falkenbach.

DAVID MASSEY/Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
The Florida Gators know how important winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown last weekend was. Now comes a new challenge - putting that excitement behind them and refocusing on this week's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
"It's good to win the regular season title," senior reliever Connor Falkenbach said. "But we all have our mind set on the winning the SEC Tournament."
That quest begins tonight when the surging Gators (38-18, 20-10 SEC), who have won four in a row and six of seven, will throw freshman left-hander Stephen Locke against slumping Arkansas (37-18, 13-17) at 6 p.m. in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
Gators coach Pat McMahon said Tuesday afternoon he chose Locke in order to give his top three starters an extra day of rest.
"We think it's important at this point in the season to give those guys time," he said.
But history doesn't bode well for Florida this weekend. The SEC's regular-season champion hasn't won an SEC Tournament in the same season since Alabama did so in 1996. Also, the Gators haven't won the SEC Tournament since 1991.
But there is another force driving the Gators this week, second baseman Adam Davis said.
Respect. Davis believes that even though the Gators won the SEC title, teams still don't believe they are a force.
"I look at it as we're still trying to prove something," Davis said. "We still feel like we have something to prove.
"Some people are probably saying we're not that good. But we won 20 games (in the SEC). We did our job."
But how important the SEC Tournament is to the Gators in the big picture is debatable.
Florida already appears to be a cinch to be hosting an NCAA regional on June 3. But the Gators, whose RPI is No. 12, could use a few wins this week to help earn a national seed and the right to host a Super Regional should they advance that far.
Nonetheless, every team in Birmingham this week has something bigger to play for than a tournament title.
"I think a lot of teams in this tournament are playing for a regional (bid)," Falkenbach said. "We're already most likely in a regional. It's just another good time and great competition to get us ready for the postseason."
The Gators are coming off an emotional three-game sweep at Vanderbilt over the weekend that clinched the school's first conference title since 1998. Florida worked out at Vanderbilt on Monday before busing to the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where the team worked out Tuesday evening.
Arkansas, meanwhile, barely made it into the tournament after losing four of its last five conference games, including a three-game sweep against Ole Miss last weekend.
The Razorbacks, though, did take two of three from the Gators three weeks ago in Fayetteville, Ark.
"We've had an up-and-down season, especially the last few months," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "We've come off some bad weekends and bounced back before, so I'm sure our kids can do it again."
The Razorbacks will start freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt, who struck out seven in a complete-game, 4-1 Razorbacks victory over the Gators on May 6.
This will be the first meeting between Arkansas and Florida at the SEC Tournament.
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.
SEC TOURNAMENT WHO: No. 8 Arkansas (37-18, 13-17) vs. No. 1 Florida (37-18, 13-17)
WHEN: Tonight, 6 WHERE: Hoover, Ala. PROBABLES: UA: LHP Nick Schmidt (7-2, 2.90), UF: LHP Stephen Locke (5-1, 3.42)
A LOOK AT WHAT'S AT STAKE TEAM SEC OVERALL RPI NCAA FATE No. 1 Florida 20-10 38-18 12 Florida is in and appears a good bet to host a regional. No. 2 LSU 18-12 38-18 14 The SEC West champs are right there with Florida. No. 3 Tennessee 18-11 39-17 28 The hot-hitting Vols can bolster their chances to host with a few wins this week. No. 4 Ole Miss 18-12 40-16 3 The Rebels are in, and their strong RPI could keep them home next weekend. No. 5 Alabama 17-13 37-19 26 The Tide are playing to host a regional, but will need a big week to strengthen their cause. No. 6 South Carolina 16-14 37-19 25 The disappointing Gamecocks should be in, but may have to hit the road this year. No. 7 Mississippi St. 13-16 36-20 33 The Bulldogs are in danger of not making the NCAAs should they go two-and-out. No. 8 Arkansas 13-17 37-18 19 The Razorbacks' resume is strong, but not solid.

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