Little for Gators to gain in SEC tournament
Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.
Florida already has what every other baseball team is seeking this week at the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Who: Ninth-seeded Kentucky (32-22) vs. top-seeded Florida (37-19)
When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.
TV: CSS (Channels 259 and 1259 HD in Gainesville)
The No. 7 Gators have a conference title in their pocket, a championship trophy on the way, and all kinds of momentum heading into NCAA regional play next week.
And that's not going to change — regardless of what happens to the Gators over the next few days in Hoover.
To do what they did during the SEC's regular season, the Gators do not need to validate it by winning the conference tournament. The league's other coaches seem in agreement on that point.
“What they've already done is an incredible feat in itself,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said.
What the young Gators have done is win the regular-season title in the strongest baseball conference in the nation. They did it by winning 21 of 30 conference games, by winning a school-record 12 consecutive SEC games at one point, by winning seven of 10 conference series.
Whether they win the conference title or not, it's been a special season that has put UF in a strong position heading into postseason play.
“When you win this conference in a 30-game (league) schedule, that's harder to do than win a national championship, in my mind,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “To win this conference outright like they did, it's a great accomplishment.
“You have to be very consistent. I really respect what (UF coach) Kevin O'Sullivan has done with his team. I really like the way his players play, the respect they have for the game and their program. I commend them for the year they've had in this league.”
There is little (or no) debate that the SEC is America's toughest baseball conference. Seven league teams are ranked in the Baseball America Top 25, and this is a conference where there are few (if any) easy wins.
“Playing a 30-game SEC schedule is the ultimate challenge in our sport,” Childress said. “You celebrate every win. It's the best of the best. If you make it through a 30-game schedule on top, you've accomplished something.
“(O'Sullivan) did an amazing job managing a young pitching staff. They played a lot of tight games. To finish on top in this incredible 30-game grind, that's incredible.”
In the preseason, Florida was picked to finish third in the Eastern Division. With so many new faces, and some question marks, the Gators were projected to be in a rebuilding year in 2014.
But this has turned out to be a championship season.
“What Sully did with those kids is impressive,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “It's very difficult in this league to stay consistent over the course of the season, but they did it with a lot of different parts, a lot of pitchers that weren't necessarily in the same role (throughout the year).
“They've had a great, great year.”
The No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament, the Gators certainly would like to win it. But, they've already won the regular-season championship, and they're also aware that bigger games lie ahead next week when NCAA regional play begins.
“As far as winning it, there's a long way to go for that,” O'Sullivan said. “We've been really consistent throughout the year after a shaky start. I just want us to play well and build some momentum (going into next week).”
With an eye also on regional play, O'Sullivan is keeping his pitching options open heading into play in Hoover, including holding off on naming a starting pitcher for today's game.
“Maybe we'll look at Bobby Poyner. We've got some options,” O'Sullivan said. “We've kind of mixed and matched all year long.”
Notes: Florida claimed the SEC championship with a 21-9 (.700) record, its third league title in the last five years (2010-11-14). … It's the program's 13th SEC title, and finished on top of the East for the league-best 22nd divisional crown.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.