Gators continue blistering home-run pace

UF's JJ Schwarz hits a homer in the bottom of the 5th inning against North Jacksonville on Feb. 28 at McKethan Stadium. The Gators won 8-2. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

By Gary Smits, GateHouse Media Services

The Florida Gators baseball team entered their March 13 game in Gainesville against Florida State coming off a stretch of four of six games in which they failed to hit a home run.

But junior third baseman Jonathan India belted two that night in a 12-6 victory over the Seminoles, kicking off a power surge that has UF on target to hit the most home runs since the NCAA banned aluminum bats after the 2010 season.

Entering Tuesday’s annual game against the fifth-ranked Seminoles (20-5) at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (6 p.m.), the No. 2 Gators (21-5) have hit 41 home runs, 17 in the last seven games since last meeting FSU, with at least one in each game and a high of four against South Carolina.

UF is third in the SEC and fifth in the nation in home runs. Sophomore JUCO transfer Wil Dalton leads the Gators with 10 (tied for second in the SEC and tied for sixth in the nation), India has nine and senior JJ Schwarz, the team’s home run leader in two of the last three seasons, has seven.

At 1.57 homers per game, UF can match the 75 home runs it hit in 2012, the most in one season since exit velocity and barrel size for bats were reduced for the 2011 season, by its 48th game at the current pace.

Florida had 53 homers in each of the last two seasons.

Once the Gators get into the teeth of their SEC season and begin facing better pitching game-in and game-out, it might be difficult to continue their current pace. Certainly, the school record of 132 homers in 1998 seems safe.

But the Gators have pounded more than double the number of home runs through 26 games as they did last season (18) and could have several players eventually top Schwarz’ team-leading 12 of 2017.

Florida hit six homers in last weekend’s series against Arkansas in which it won two of three games. In the previous week’s SEC series at South Carolina, the Gators belted seven and in between, they hit three in a 10-3 victory over Jacksonville.

Florida State isn’t doing too shabby in the offense department either. Since losing to the Gators, FSU has gone 6-2 and won their first two ACC series two games to one against both North Carolina and Notre Dame. The Seminoles also beat UCF twice, by combined scores of 19-7 — a Knights team that handed Florida its first two losses of the season earlier this month.

The Seminoles got back-to-back home runs from Ryan Derr and Jackson Lueck in the eighth inning to spark a 9-4 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday. Although FSU is not slamming balls out of the park at the rate that UF is, the Seminoles did get three homers in the previous game against the Gators, with Ryan Applin of Fleming Island hitting two.

Sunshine showdown

Who: No. 7 Florida State (20-5) vs. No. 2 Florida (21-5)

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville

Radio: 103.7-FM

TV: SEC Network