Florida Gators baseball focused on strong finish heading into series with Kentucky

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

It’s been an undesirable start to conference play for the Florida baseball team, and an atypical one given the expectations. 

Ranked in the preseason top 10, the Gators have six wins through 18 SEC contests, including just one victory in their previous six league games.  

But Florida’s season is far from finished, as Kentucky, another middle-of-the-pack SEC program, comes to town Friday for a weekend series with the Gators (23-17, 6-12 SEC), with the first game at 6:30 p.m.

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Time to regroup after Tennessee

Florida infielder Josh Rivera (24) celebrates after a home run against Stetson, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Gainesville.

“This is the SEC. Every team out here is good, we know that,” UF shortstop Josh Rivera said. “We just know that we had a rough stretch with two teams that are highly ranked right now, very hot and very talented, but we’ve got to come into these next couple weekends, no matter who we play, and just play together and come out on top. We’ve got to grind it out for the rest of the season, and we’re prepared.”

With no midweek contest on the schedule, the Gators took Monday off in the buildup to the series with the Wildcats (23-18, 6-12 SEC), giving the team a much-needed break after Sunday’s ninth-inning comeback by the No. 1 Volunteers.

A contingent of the team spent Monday night at the Florida Letterman Awards ceremony, which honored UF’s student-athletes for their respective accomplishments throughout the previous year.

“We had to prepare for that, it was a special event for the university to have and it was wonderful to be a part of it, so that played a big role in decompressing from everything over the weekend,” Rivera said. “It just gave guys a lot of time to sit back and think, and just reflect on how we’ve been over the season. It gave us enough time to come back on Tuesday, have a little team meeting and discuss what we need to do these final 12 SEC games, 15 games in general, to finish strong and make a postseason run.”

The Gators are at a critical juncture in the season, and it wouldn’t be off-base to think the desperation could result in a change in approach from the team.

But the Gators aren’t hitting the panic button, said Rivera, nor are they allowing unenviable results to alter the team’s mentality. 

“It was business as usual. In the game of baseball, you’ve always got to take it day by day and try to get better as each day goes by,” he said. “We know the amount of talent we have on the team, and we know the importance of playing each game hard from here on out in order to make that postseason run, so we’re confident in our team and our abilities when we come together.”

It’s a similar sentiment to the one expressed by his head coach, Kevin O'Sullivan.

Having witnessed his team squander a ninth-inning advantage for the second consecutive Sunday, O’Sullivan made it known he doesn’t believe there’s a talent disparity between Florida and Tennessee, let alone the rest of the conference.

He pointed to the lofty goals that come with playing for the Gators — a topic the team isn’t afraid to discuss. 

“We always talk about the high expectations that we have, especially being a prestigious university, the University of Florida, and the rep that we’ve had for the past 10 years,” Rivera said. “We know the guys before us put in the work and effort, and came out and won, and we know that takes a lot of grit and integrity to come out here.”

The Gators may be conscious of the past, but they’re not allowing recent success to weigh on the shoulders of the team as they attempt to push through a rough stretch.

Given the parity in the game, there’s plenty of reason to believe things can turn in Florida’s favor if they maintain their proven approach to the season. 

“We always mention the high expectations we have, but we also emphasize a lot on enjoying the moment. Don’t get caught up in the results a lot, because that can cause you to have more stress than you already have to play this game,” Rivera said. “Be where your feet are, be in the moment, and focus on the amount of effort that you’re putting in. If you start getting caught up in results, if you fail, it’s going to linger in the back of your mind, and that can cause more failure to happen. 

“Even when you have success, if you think about that success for too long, when you fail it’s going to hit you harder.”

Florida baseball schedule: How to watch series vs. Kentucky 

The first two games of the three-game series will stream on SEC Network+ — Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. Sunday's finale airs on SEC Network at noon.