Florida baseball begins final week of regular season with rivalry game vs. Florida State
UF may have taken its fair share of knocks early in Southeastern Conference play, but the Florida baseball team has won nine of its previous 11 contests as the final week of the regular season arrives. And the Gators hope they aren’t finished when it comes to bolstering their postseason odds.
Florida (32-19, 13-14 SEC) concludes the regular season with four consecutive home games, starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. with a midweek matchup against an in-state rival, No. 21-ranked Florida State, and continuing with a weekend series against South Carolina (26-24, 12-15 SEC).
The Seminoles (32-18) secured a series-clinching win Sunday in the rubber match over No. 6 Miami. The ‘Noles seem all but guaranteed a spot in the field of 64 for the 44th consecutive season at the conclusion of the regular season and the ensuing ACC Tournament after reaching 15 conference wins.
Tuesday night's matchup (SEC Network, ESPN 98.1FM/850AM WRUF) will mark the third meeting between the Gators and the Seminoles this season.
After the initial matchup was postponed, UF got the best of FSU, claiming a 6-3 victory March 29 in Jacksonville. FSU didn't have to wait long for revenge, as the Seminoles blanked UF, 5-0, on their home field on April 12.
Another top-25 victory could be big boost for Gators
With the season series on the line, Florida could use a victory over another top-25 opponent to bolster its status heading into the postseason, and there’s reason to believe UF is clicking at the right time.
In their previous 11 contests, the Gators have scored a combined 87 runs while allowing just 34, and, led by Jud Fabian’s 19 home runs, UF sits ninth nationally in home runs with 88.
On the mound, UF has managed to secure three consecutive series-opening victories in SEC play despite losing ace Hunter Barco for the season — and possibly the rest of his UF career — to an elbow injury, which required Tommy John surgery.
Brandon Sproat, Florida’s starter on Saturdays for the early portion of the season, played the role of ace once again Friday in the Gators’ 13-1 win at Missouri, and Sproat allowed just one run on three hits while tossing a career-high 6 and ⅔ innings.
The Gators' offense made sure Sproat’s performance wasn’t for naught, as the 13 runs marked UF’s most against Missouri. The Tigers evened the series Saturday with a 5-3 win, and UF looked headed for a dismal result Sunday after falling in an early 2-0 hole.
However, after Kris Armstrong proceeded to hit a single up the middle, Josh Rivera tied the game in the fifth inning with a two-run home run, and UF took the lead for good in the sixth inning behind Armstrong’s two-run single with two outs to propel Florida to the series-clinching victory.
"At the plate, Josh had the big, two-run homer to tie the ballgame up and Kris had a good day. He had three hits,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It was a good team win. Missouri's played everybody tough this year. To get a series win, especially this late in the season, it's big for us."
O’Sullivan also singled out the performance of fourth-year starting pitcher Nick Pogue, who returned to the mound just two months prior from offseason Tommy John surgery. In similar fashion to his teammate Sproat, Pogue struck out eight Tigers across a career-high 6⅔ innings pitched.
With Florida State set to arrive in Gainesville, the Gators are hoping to maintain their recent streak of impressive performances down the stretch.
"We only had one walk, with one out in the bottom of the ninth,” O’Sullivan said. “So, all our pitchers threw strikes and we played really good defense."