Gators aim for fresh start at SEC Tournament


Florida's Johnny Magliozzi will start on the mound against Texas A&M in the Gators' tournament opener.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/FILE
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 7:56 p.m.

Coming down the stretch in May, the Florida baseball team expected to produce a strong finish that would generate momentum and lots of positive vibes entering postseason play.

Facts

SEC Tournament

Who: Eighth-seeded Florida (29-27) vs. Ninth-seeded Texas A&M (30-25)
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Hoover, Ala.
TV: CSS, Channels 259 and 1259 HD on the Cox Communications cable system in the Gainesville area.
Radio: 103.7-FM
Pitching matchup: UF sophomore right-hander Johnny Magliozzi (4-1, 2.14) vs. Texas A&M sophomore right-hander Daniel Mengden (7-3, 1.92).

That did not happen.

The Gators faded, instead, losing eight of their last 10 SEC games to finish with a losing conference record (14-16).

But UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan says it's time to forget about all that negative stuff. The fade. The disappointing record. The up-and-down season (29-27) that seemed to feature more down than up.

It's tournament time. Time for a fresh start, O'Sullivan said.

“We have not played as well as we wanted to the past couple of weeks,” O'Sullivan said Monday. “Since the game (a loss at Georgia) ended on Saturday, it's a new season. The position is you start 0-0. Everyone starts with a clean slate.

“There have been some bright moments during the season for us, and some moments that haven't been so bright. Right now, our focus is on starting with a clean slate.”

The SEC Tournament signals the start of a new season for the Gators. The big question now is, how long — or how short — is this second season going to be?

UF faces Texas A&M (30-25 overall and 13-16 in the SEC) today at 5:30 in one of four single-elimination games. A loss, and the Gators go back home, maybe for the rest of the postseason.

Even though many are projecting the Gators to make the NCAA Tournament field regardless of what happens in Hoover, Ala., there are no guarantees if Florida goes one-and-done today.

“In a one-game season like we've got, you lose and you go home,” O'Sullivan said. “Your mindset changes a little bit (when you're in a single-elimination situation). You've got to have a little bit more urgency. And, obviously, if we want to continue to play, we have to play well (today) or we're going to be packing up and going home.

“We'll do everything we can to win. The other teams will do the same. It would help the kids prepare mentally for what's ahead of them if we're fortunate enough to make the postseason, where there is little margin for error. It should act as a good tune-up for the teams moving on.”

The Gators are putting their chances of advancing in the hands of sophomore right-hander Johnny Magliozzi, who has saved 12 games as UF's closer this season. Magliozzi (4-1, 2.14 ERA) will be making only his third start of the year.

If UF does advance, No. 1 starter Jonathon Crawford (3-6, 4.03) would go against Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

“We're going to start Magliozzi,” O'Sullivan said. “He was very limited this weekend against Georgia. He's started a few games for us. We're going to get him out there and give him a chance to get us off on the right foot.

“If we're fortunate enough to win, we'll throw Crawford on Wednesday. But our whole focus is on (today's game).”

The Gators and Aggies did not face each other in the regular season. But A&M is a team that O'Sullivan said impressed him when he watched the Aggies on television and as he scouted them in preparation for today's game.

“Rob (Childress) and his staff do a really good job,” O'Sullivan said. “They're well coached. They're aggressive. I know they like to run the basepaths. Obviously, their starter (Daniel Mengden) has been their No. 1 guy for most of the season. He's got a power arm. He's going to attack.

“It's going to be another SEC game. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be one of those games where it's going to come down to who commands the ball and who makes plays defensively and who comes up with a timely hit.

“We are fully aware how good a team Texas A&M is. It's going to be one of those Friday night SEC-type atmospheres, I'm sure.”

Mengden is 7-3 with a 1.92 ERA, and has been overpowering at times.

“Great arm, great breaking ball, good change-up,” O'Sullivan said. “I know he's a two-way player. He's caught in the past.

“He's got some attitude on the mound, some aggressiveness about him. He'd sling it up there at 93, 94, 95 (miles per hour), and he's going to compete. He's got multiple pitches he can throw for strikes. He's got the personality to handle being No.1 (in the rotation). It goes back to a typical Friday night game in this league.”

Only this game comes with a lot more pressure than one of those Friday night SEC games. The loser goes home.

“Our only focus is doing our best against Florida,” Childress said. “They have a very talented team. We have to win (today). This is the most important game of the year for us. We've got to do whatever we've got to do to try and win this game.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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