Gators enter tough SEC series with No. 8 LSU

LSU ace Aaron Nola will be a tough matchup for Florida baseball in Friday's series opener at McKethan Stadium. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:25 p.m.

After clinching the season series with its second win in a row over top-ranked Florida State, the Florida baseball team hopes to carry the momentum into this weekend's big SEC series against No. 8 LSU at McKethan Stadium that gets underway tonight at 7:30.


UF baseball

Who: No. 8 LSU (20-5-1, 3-2-1 SEC) at Florida (16-9, 3-3)
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
TV: CSS/Cox Sports
Radio: 103.7-FM
Pitching matchup: LSU's Aaron Nola, Jr., RHP (5-0, 0.22) vs. UF's Eric Hanhold, So., RHP (3-1, 3.18)

UF (16-9, 3-3) dropped its first conference road series last weekend at Texas A&M, losing a pair of hard-fought, one-run decisions to the Aggies after taking the series opener, 5-3, in 11 innings.

But after knocking off the Seminoles in Jacksonville on Tuesday night, 4-1, in an emotional win that came exactly one week after UF dumped FSU, 3-1, in Gainesville, the Gators are ready to jump back into conference action against the Tigers (20-5-1, 3-2-1).

LSU swept UF last season in Baton Rouge and took two of three from the Gators on the Tigers' last visit here in 2012.

“They're a great opponent and they swept us last year, so we're really looking forward to the series,” junior pitcher Bobby Poyner said.

The SEC grind is already evident. Through just two weekends of conference play, every team already has at least two league losses.

Florida is one of five teams tied atop the SEC East standings, just one game out of the overall league top spot shared by SEC West leaders Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

“Another tough series and another great pitcher on Friday night in Aaron Nola, so we've certainly got our hands full,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “But every weekend is like that in this league. We're looking forward to it, and it's another challenge for our team.”

Nola, a junior right-hander, was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2013 in addition to being the SEC Pitcher of the Year and is projected to be a high pick in June's Major League Baseball Draft.

He enters tonight's contest sporting a 5-0 mark with a miniscule 0.22 ERA, allowing only 19 hits in 40 1/3 innings of work and striking out an SEC-leading 56 batters while holding opponents to a .141 batting mark.

“He spots his fastball, and he makes pitches when he needs to,” said junior second baseman Casey Turgeon. “A guy who can do that is usually pretty successful in college.”

Freshman right-hander Logan Shore (1-1, 1.15 ERA), who has been the opening-game starter in each of UF's first two SEC series, has been moved to Saturday's second game, with sophomore right-hander Eric Hanhold (3-1, 3.18 ERA) getting the nod tonight.

“He (Shore) has thrown two games back-to-back with a hundred pitches, and Eric only threw 65 pitches or so last Saturday,” O'Sullivan said. “I thought it would be smart to give Logan one more day.”

With the change, Saturday's 1 p.m. game will feature two of the league's top freshmen, as LSU will send left-hander Jared Poche (5-1, 1.91 ERA) to the mound to oppose Shore.

Neither team is sure of their starter for Sunday's 1 p.m. finale, but both teams know there is a lot at stake this weekend.

“That's what you sign up for when you come to Florida,” sophomore shortstop Richie Martin said. “You know you're going to have a tough schedule, but you want to play teams like LSU and South Carolina. That's what you live for, so there are no complaints here.”

Note: UF first baseman Zack Powers and Florida State outfielder D.J. Stewart were suspended an automatic four games by the NCAA for their involvement in a shoving match at Tuesday night's game.

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