Gators hope series win over Commodores is sign of things to come

The Associated Press
Florida won two of three games against Vanderbilt over the weekend, and coach Kevin O'Sullivan hopes it's a sign that the Gators are ready to make a strong run into the postseason.

Florida entered the college baseball season as the consensus No. 1 team and promptly lost its season-opening home series against Miami.

The Gators have been up and down since, but winning two of three from Vanderbilt over the weekend could be a sign they're getting closer to being the team they thought they could be all along.

“We’ve all been waiting for this team to kind of have a weekend like this, and now hopefully they know what it feels like and what it’s supposed to look like when you’re playing these types of teams,” coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “Hopefully this is a start of us playing our best baseball at the right time.”

The Gators brought back seven position players and 16 of 18 pitchers, including all three weekend starters, from the team that was 16-1 when the 2020 season was shut down because of the pandemic.

The season-opening series loss was Florida's first to Miami in Gainesville since 2009, and the Gators were out of the top 10 after getting swept at South Carolina in late March.

Franco Aleman has replaced Tommy Mace as the No. 1 starter for three straight SEC series. Mace has moved to No. 2 and Hunter Barco has remained No. 3. Leftwich, who began the season as the No. 2, moved to the bullpen.

Florida spotted Kumar Rocker and Vandy a 7-0 lead on Friday and lost 11-7. The Gators bounced back against Jack Leiter on Saturday and won 11-8, and they scored all their runs in the first four innings of a 5-3 win Sunday.

Kris Armstrong was 5 for 13 with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs in the series. Jud Fabian hit his 15th and 16th homers and Mace gave the Gators eight strong innings Saturday. Leftwich earned two saves.

The Gators had been looking forward to the series since getting outscored 34-6 in three losses at Vanderbilt in 2019. There were no SEC games in 2020.

“That series was not fun for us," Armstrong said. “We were just trying to go at them with everything we had.”

The Gators (30-13, 13-8) were ranked as high as No. 7 Monday and are one game behind Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the SEC East. They play two of their last three conference series on the road, including at No. 1 Arkansas to end the regular season.

“We're trending in the right direction for sure,” Leftwich said.

The Gators, who jumped up four spots to No. 10 in the D1Baseball Top 25 rankings after having won nine of their last 11 games, look to continue their hot streak at home with a 6 p.m. game today against Stetson (23-17). The game will air on SEC Network+ and will be available on radio via WRUF 850-AM/98.1-FM in Gainesville and on any mobile device via the TuneIn app.