Gators host Vanderbilt in nationally televised game
Published: Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 8:58 p.m.
There certainly is more than one way to approach a pennant race coming down the stretch.
Who: No. 18 Vanderbilt (36-13, 14-10 SEC) at No. 4 Florida (33-16, 18-6)
When: 8:30 p.m.
TV: ESPNU. Radio: AM-850
Pitching matchup: Vandy junior right-hander Tyler Beede (7-5, 3.60 ERA) vs. UF freshman righty Logan Shore (6-2, 1.62 ERA).
Some teams choose to put on their blinders and slip into that stay-in-the-moment mode, where the focus is on one pitch, one out, one inning at a time — and no scoreboard watching allowed.
Others elect to talk openly and freely about their situation — about where they're at, what's left on the schedule, what they have to do to successfully close it out.
The Florida Gators seem to be taking the latter approach.
“We talk about it,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “Certainly, the players now are more aware than maybe in years past. They know what's in front of them. We talk about it. There is no sense in not talking about it. It's an exciting time of the year.
“Our main focus is trying to get better each and every game, and try to take it one game at a time like (the media) says. But the fact of the matter is a lot of the goals we set out before the start of the season are right there in front us.
“The players know what's at stake here.”
The Gators, who are riding a school-record 11-game SEC winning streak, certainly are aware of their situation. They own a three-game lead in the overall conference standings (and four in the Eastern Division) with six league games remaining, starting with three this weekend against Vanderbilt at McKethan Stadium.
The Gators hold a four-game lead over the Commodores. If Florida can sweep the series, the Gators may have a chance to clinch the SEC regular-season title.
“We don't talk about it a lot, but we know the situation and what we have to do,” junior second baseman Casey Turgeon said. “We're real excited. We've got a lead, we're playing at home and we're looking forward to it.
“Vanderbilt's got good arms, but we're going to come out and play our game. It doesn't matter who is on the mound. We have to do the little things right, play our game. Just play the game right.”
Except for those midweek lapses that have led to several losses (including to No. 24 Mercer on Tuesday night), the Gators have been playing the game right (good pitching; timely hitting), which has sparked their 11-game SEC winning streak and put UF on the verge of winning the SEC.
“Offensively, we've gotten better. Our approach at the plate has gotten better,” O'Sullivan said. “On the pitching side, we've had a lot of different guys contribute.
“I think our guys have finally figured out to identify who we are offensively and what we need to do to be successful.”
The Gators (33-16 overall and 18-6 in the SEC) certainly will be tested over the next three days. No. 18 Vanderbilt (36-13 and 14-10) is a dangerous team, one with strong pitching and lots of speed in the lineup, O'Sullivan said.
“Obviously, Vanderbilt has a very good team,” O'Sullivan said. “They've got a lot of good arms and an athletic lineup. It's going to be a tough weekend for us.
“We're going to have to be on our toes. We're going to have to play well, it's that simple. (The players) are excited about playing on national television (tonight). So, it should be a fun weekend.”
The Gators will start freshman right-hander Logan Shore (6-2, 1.62 ERA) tonight against Vandy ace Tyler Beede (7-5, 3.60). UF's Saturday starter will be right-hander Karsten Whitson (1-0, 3.30). O'Sullivan has not decided on his Friday night starter.
“Friday is still up in the air,” O'Sullivan said. “We've had a couple nagging injuries. Nothing major. I just want to give it another day before I make a decision.”