UF looks to regain focus

The Florida bench looks on early in the 4th inning as the Gators top Mississippi State on March 21, 2010 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville.

Brad McClenny
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 11:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 11:39 p.m.

Change is under way for Florida's baseball team.

Following a 7-2 loss to rival Florida State on Tuesday night, sophomore Tyler Thompson said the team realized something: There is still more work left.

“We've struggled a little bit ... and didn't come out and compete like we would have (liked),” Thompson said.

“We've got to keep our heads on straight, right now.”

The eighth-ranked Gators (18-6, 4-2 SEC) have lost three of their last four games and Thompson described Tuesday as a “slap in the face,” but it made the Gators aware of their overconfidence.

Junior infielder Josh Adams said he's seen less emotional play and a lack of charisma in the dugout.

With a series at home against No. 17 Vanderbilt (23-4, 4-2 SEC) on deck, Adams expects a more focused Gator unit.

“It's going to be a different team. Trust me,” Adams said.

“You're going to see everybody working harder.”

One area where he expects improvement is hitting. The Gators batted .246 in their last four games and left 34 runners on base. Adams said situational hitting drills this week should help in games with runners on base.

But practice couldn't improve attitudes. That's where coach Kevin O'Sullivan came in by calling out veteran players, urging them to take hold of this team. Senior center fielder Matt den Dekker heard the message and admits the Gators have been lackadaisical lately.

“We've got to have the team always up at all times and pull for each other at all times,” den Dekker said. “We came out (Wednesday) after that game and it got to us. We've got to focus in. It's getting to that point in the season — we're almost halfway done. We've got to buckle down.”

As a Gator team that rose as high as No. 2 in the country this season looks to rejuvenate, Vandy, which has the most wins of any SEC school, enters on an eight-game winning streak.

The Commodores have outscored opponents 68-28 during their streak and are second in the SEC, batting .340 and have a league-high 318 hits and 69 doubles.

“They're going to be well-coached,” O'Sullivan said. “They've got a veteran lineup. They've been around the league two or three times.”

The Gators will look to quell Vandy's hot bats with a solid rotation this weekend. Tonight, sophomore lefty Alex Panteliodis (5-1, 2.03) faces Vandy sophomore right-hander Sonny Gray (4-2, 2.25). Panteliodis leads the Gators in wins and strikeouts (28). Hitters are batting just .189 against Panteliodis, which is third among SEC pitchers.

Gray, fresh off earning SEC Pitcher of the Week honors, has pitched 40 innings, striking out 39 batters.

“We know we have our hands full with Sonny Gray,” O'Sullivan said. “He's got a really, really good arm.

“He's real competitive, but that's what you get in this league. Last weekend it was (Ole Miss starter) (Drew) Pomeranz. This week it's Sonny Gray. Every weekend is a challenge.”

Freshman left-hander Brian Johnson (2-1, 3.42) will face Commodore junior Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.55) on Saturday. In two SEC starts, Johnson is 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA. The series concludes with righties as freshman Hudson Randall (2-2, 5.00) opposes Vandy sophomore Jack Armstrong (3-0, 4.70).

While the Gators have hit a rough patch, O'Sullivan said the reflection his team has had encourages him. The next step is translating that emotion onto the field.

“I like our team. We have a good team,” he said. “We have just not played well three of the last four games.

“I like the frame of mind we're in now and I liked our practice (Wednesday).

“We challenged our team. We challenged our young players. The bottom line is we have to get better.”

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