Who: No. 15 Florida State (10-5) vs. No. 1 Florida (16-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. today
Where: McKethan Stadium
Online: Will stream on SEC Network+, via the ESPN app.
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Pitching matchup: FSU lefty Antonio Velez (0-0, 0.79 ERA) vs. UF right-hander Nick Pogue (1-0, 6.14 ERA)
Florida is looking like its old self through the first four weeks of the season. Maybe even better.
The top-ranked Gators are off to a program-record 16-0 start and the only unbeaten team in Division I baseball. That’s quite a rebound from last season, when they struggled on the mound, won their fewest games since 2013 and didn’t make the College World Series for the first time since 2014. They are now aiming for the school-record 18-game winning streak set by the 2012 team.
The highlight of the first month was the three-game sweep at nationally ranked Miami. But this will be the Gators’ toughest week so far, with No. 15 Florida State (10-5) visiting tonight and Southeastern Conference play opening Friday at home against No. 3 Georgia (14-2).
Florida is averaging 7.7 runs per game and has hit 21 homers with an everyday lineup that includes six freshmen or sophomores. Leadoff man Jud Fabian has five homers and six doubles, Jacob Young is batting .448 and freshman catcher Nathan Hickey has hit four home runs in the last four games.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s pitching staff is performing closer to the norm than it did last season, when their 5.37 ERA was the program’s highest since 2001. The weekend rotation of Tommy Mace (3-0, 1.67), Jack Leftwich (2-0, 4.15) and Hunter Barco (2-0, 1.40) has combined for 75 strikeouts against 19 walks in 68 innings, and first-year closer Ben Specht (2-0, 0.82) has three saves and allowed one earned run in 11 innings.
Florida is the consensus No. 1 team in the major polls. D1Baseball.com ranks Louisville (11-4) and Georgia Nos. 2 and 3. Baseball America has Texas Tech (16-1) No. 2 followed by Georgia. Collegiate Baseball newspaper has Texas Tech and UCLA (13-2) next in line behind the Gators.
The Gators have defeated the Seminoles 11 consecutive games, won 16 of the last 17 meetings and swept the last four regular-season series.
“Florida State, they are as good as always, the rivalry has always been there,” Hickey said. “For each player that either goes to FSU or Florida, they always look forward to the two or three games they play during the season. It’s going to be a dogfight.”
Hickey broke out of a slump with a monster week, earning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors.
Hickey entered last week’s games 7-for-29 (.241 average) on the season, but went 7-for-13 (.538) with four home runs, six RBIs, five runs, and three walks in four starts. His .538 batting average led all SEC freshmen and ranked ninth in the league last week. Hickey also led the SEC in home runs (four) and slugging percentage (1.462) last week.
He is also the first Gators hitter since Wil Dalton to homer in four straight games. Dalton hit five home runs during a four-game streak in 2018, beginning with a pair of homers against South Carolina (March 17) and ending with a homerless outing in the second game of a series against Arkansas (March 24).
Hickey’s fourth home run of the week came Sunday, in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Gators and South Florida tied, 1-1. The Jacksonville native delivered a shot off the right scoreboard pillar for the game-winning RBI.
Parking: While baseball fans can park in the O’Connell Center lot and garage on a first come, first served basis, fans may also park in in Garage 14 off Gale Lemerand Dr. and utilize the free shuttle services being provided tonight. The shuttle’s drop-off location will be at the Lemerand Center entrance on Stadium Road.