By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan decided to get creative this week when motivating his players for their top-10 home games this weekend against Mississippi State.
After the No. 5 Gators (14-5) blasted sixth-ranked Florida State 20-7 on Tuesday, O’Sullivan wanted to make sure the No. 6 Bulldogs had the full attention of his team.
So he told a joke.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” O’Sullivan said.
As the players stretched, he asked about MSU freshman pitcher J.T. Ginn — a first-round pick in the 2018 MLB draft — and if any of them had faced him in travel ball.
Florida’s Jud Fabian, who has a team-high five home runs, crossed paths with Ginn (4-0, 1.80 ERA) once.
“So I asked how he did,” O’Sullivan said. “Jud goes, ‘I struck out on three pitches.’ ”
Fellow freshman Kendrick Calilao then raised his hand, so O’Sullivan checked with him.
“I struck out on three pitches,” said Calilao, who is second on the team with three homers.
It was no laughing matter.
“That’s not good,” O’Sullivan replied. “Hopefully we’ll have some better at-bats Saturday night.”
That’s when the Gators face Ginn on the mound. Mississippi State’s Friday night starter is Ethan Small, who has a 1.50 ERA and presents a tougher test for Florida’s batters.
“Ethan Small is one of the veteran left-handers in our league,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got two walks on the year, 40 strikeouts in 24 innings. So his numbers are unbelievable.”
Florida pitcher Tommy Mace (4-0, 3.55 ERA) makes his second straight start on Friday following his fourth win of the season last week. O’Sullivan was pleased with his performance against Yale but didn’t like that Mace changed his pre-game routine once he got the nod over Tyler Dyson.
“He moved up one day from Saturday to Friday and all of sudden he’s starting to put more into it,” O’Sullivan said. “We talked about it. He’s just pitching 24 hours earlier.
“You’re getting moved to that spot because of what you’ve been able to do on the mound Saturday. Don’t change what you’re doing. Don’t try to put more emphasis on preparation.”
O’Sullivan added that Saturday starter Jack Leftwich (4-0, 2.05 ERA), who has been dealing with a blister on his throwing hand, is now 100 percent. Mace is looking forward to the matchup with the Bulldogs and their pitching staff.
“They’re a good ball club and it’s going to be a fun weekend,” Mace said. “Their strikeout numbers are pretty down this year. I think they’re really going to put bat on the ball, and they’re obviously going to play some defense. That’s what they did to get to Omaha last year, and most of their team is back.”
The 2018 Bulldogs hosted Florida for the final weekend of the regular season and swept the series. To make matters worse, the Gators lost JJ Schwarz (broken hand) and Brady Singer (hamstring) to injuries.
“We went there last year and got swept handedly,” O’Sullivan said. “It was an awful weekend for us. We got beat probably in every phase. We were not in a very good place.
“So I know how talented they are. Mississippi State is really good, so it’ll certainly be a huge challenge for us. But we’ll be up for it. We’ve got some competitive kids.”
Who: N0. 6 Mississippi State (16-1) vs. No. 5 Florida (14-5)
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: McKethan Stadium
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
- First-come, first-serve in O’Connell Center Garage
- James G. Pressly Stadium
- Law School
- Frat Row, along Fraternity Drive
- Please DO NOT park along any roads or in the grass and only use parking lots or garages.
Friday vs. Mississippi State
- Netflix and Grill – Students! Check out the exclusive seating area for the game which includes lounge style seating, TV’s and more! One lucky student in attendance will win free Netflix for a year.
- Popsocket Giveaway – The first 500 fans in attendance will receive a Florida Baseball popsocket upon entry.
- Food Truck Friday – Local food trucks Cilantro Tacos and Mayflower Cellars will be set up along the left field line by maintenance area.
- Pepsi Family Night – Families can purchase 4 GA tickets, 4 hotdogs and 4 sodas for only $24.
- Gator Booster Night – All Gator Booster members with valid ID receive 2-for-1 reserved bleacher.