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Gators to face No. 1 Vols without Hunter Barco? Report says UF starter out indefinitely

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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Florida baseball faces its toughest test of the regular season when the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers arrive in Gainesville for a weekend series, with Friday’s first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.

The Volunteers (34-3, 14-1 SEC) will compete the first two games without head coach Tony Vitello, who is serving a four-game suspension for making contact with an umpire in the rubber match of Tennessee’s series with Alabama. 

Tennessee pitching coach Frank Anderson was also ejected in the Saturday contest with the Crimson Tide, though he returned Tuesday for the Vols’ 9-3 win over Bellarmine. 

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How long will starter Hunter Barco be out? 

Florida's Hunter Barco (12) is the starting pitcher for the Gators against Liberty University, February 18, 2022, at Florida Ballpark in Gainesville.

While the visitors may be without their head coach to start the weekend, the Gators (23-14, 6-9 SEC) will be without their Friday starter on the mound, Hunter Barco.

Barco will be shut down indefinitely due to elbow discomfort, according to a report from Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com.

UF’s ace pitched just two innings in Nashville, his shortest outing of the season, allowing two runs across four hits, though Barco did strike out four Commodores before exiting. 

In a postgame interview, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan initially attributed Barco’s brief stint to a recent illness, which would have indicated an imminent return was likely. 

At the conclusion of Tuesday's contest with Stetson, O’Sullivan didn't divulge much when it came to Barco’s status for Friday night’s series opener. 

“I don’t know. We’re going to get together with the medical staff (Wednesday) and evaluate it,” O’Sullivan, speaking at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s 10-8 win over Stetson, said. “We’ll just kind of hear what they have to say.”

If  Barco is out for the foreseeable future, Florida's season has suddenly taken a big hit.

UF rallies to win last two games

Freshman Deric Fabian’s home run in the 10th inning Sunday prevented UF from getting swept in SEC play for the second time in the previous three weekends, and the Gators had to rally once again Tuesday night to stave off Stetson at Florida Ballpark. 

The Hatters jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Florida mounted its comeback behind the bats of Wyatt Langford, Sterlin Thompson and Jud Fabian. Jud Fabian passed former Gator Mike Zunino for fifth in career home runs with his two-run shot in the eighth-inning.

After Stetson got one back in the ninth inning, Fabian’s home run proved to be the difference maker for the Gators, and it wasn’t difficult for O’Sullivan to have an optimistic outlook on the rally. 

“I think it’s a really positive thing for our team to be able to play from behind. Midweek games really kind of get away from you, and you kind of overlook them, so I was really pleased how we battled back,” he said. “I don’t think they went into (Tuesday) thinking about this weekend. I think coming back from a four-run deficit shows they were into the game.”

Against the Vols, the Gators will need to be more than just into the game. Tennessee has been dominant this season, dispatching one conference opponent after another. Two of Tennessee’s three losses this season have come within the previous 10 days, though that’s more in tune with the parity of the sport rather than an indictment of the Volunteers. 

“They’re well-rounded. They’ve got three really good starters,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re an older lineup. They can run, they’ve got power, they play good defense. They’ve got a lineup that can run.”

In highlighting the upcoming opposition’s strengths, O’Sullivan isn’t attempting to make excuses for his team. Regardless of their underdog status for this weekend, the Gators have proven capable of taking down the SEC’s best, and the expectation doesn’t change simply because the visitors are sporting an impressive record and a No. 1 ranking. 

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O’Sullivan, the only full-time head coach available for Friday and Saturday, expects Florida to be up to the task of facing highly touted Tennessee. 

“It’ll be a challenge, but like I said, we played Arkansas here, we went on the road and played Vanderbilt and we were very competitive, so, I mean, my message to the team is this weekend is no different than any other,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re in the position where we need to win games, whether it be Tennessee or Kentucky or Missouri or Mississippi State or South Carolina, they’re all important. I don’t want to put any more emphasis on this weekend than any other, but we put ourselves in a position that we need to start winning some games in the league, that’s for sure.”

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