After 20-run outburst vs. Vanderbilt, is Florida baseball finally turning the corner?
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Seemingly every time this season that the Florida baseball team has faced a pivotal juncture or critical crossroads, it has responded strongly.
The lack of consistency and related issues may keep coach Kevin O’Sullivan up at night, but there remains plenty of potential in these Gators — just as was projected in the preseason.
They just seem to be selective in when they show it.
After being swept by Auburn last month and needing extra innings to escape Stetson, the Gators responded with a series win over LSU and 6 solid wins in the next 7 games overall. And then this past week …
Following the controversial cancellation of the Stetson rematch and losing 2 of 3 at home to a struggling Tennessee team, the Gators surged back yet again with their third win this season over in-state rival Florida State in Tallahassee and then took 2 of 3 on the road at Vanderbilt in a crucial SEC series.
The punctuation mark on that big week was a 20-8 demolition of the Commodores in the finale Saturday.
No. 12 Florida (24-12, 8-7 SEC) didn’t gain any ground on the SEC leaders, remaining 2 games behind Kentucky in the division and now 3 games behind Arkansas for the overall conference lead. But that’s why this past week was so significant as the Gators’ margin for error diminishes.
And if ever this team was to build some real momentum, dropping 20 runs in an afternoon against a quality conference foe certainly helps that cause.
“Did I see 20 runs (coming)? Of course not. Hopefully this is a step,” O’Sullivan said afterward. “We keep making progress. Hopefully this is the game that gets us over the hump offensively, but Tuesday’s another game. It’s a crazy game. Obviously pleased about getting a series win here.”
Inside the numbers
Florida’s 20 runs and 20 hits in that series finale Saturday were both season-highs, and it was the most runs Vanderbilt has allowed in 15 seasons under coach Tim Corbin. It’s also the most runs Florida has scored in any SEC game since dropping 24 on Auburn in 2009.
Every Florida starter had a hit, and all but one had multiple hits (and that guy still reached base 4 times).
Deacon Liput was 3 for 7 with 2 RBI and a run, Christian Hicks was 3 for 5 with 2 runs, Mark Kolozsvary was 3 for 6 with 4 RBI and 2 runs, Dalton Guthrie finished 2 for 4 with 3 walks, 2 RBI and 3 runs, Ryan Larson ended up 2 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs, Nelson Maldonado was 2 for 5 with 4 RBI and 2 runs, JJ Schwarz went 2 for 6 with 4 RBI and 2 runs, Keenan Bell finished 2 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs and Austin Langworthy was 1 for 4 with 3 walks, an RBI and 3 runs.
Guthrie clubbed his second and third home runs of the season, Maldonado hit his second and Schwarz delivered his fourth.
Naturally, that offensive showcase came a day after the Gators were limited to 3 hits in a shutout loss.
“[Friday] was just one of those days where we got beat by a really, really good pitcher. There was nothing you could do, we just got flat-out beat. I wanted these guys to keep their chins up. We still had a chance to win the series,” O’Sullivan said of the overnight turnaround.
Larson remains the Gators’ hottest hitter, bumping his season batting average to a team-best .367. Despite an 0 for 3 line Friday, he finished the week 9 for 16 with 7 runs scored and 3 RBI. Going back to the start of the Tennessee series, Larson is 17 for 30 with 10 runs and 5 RBI.
And the team’s offensive resurgence has also coincided with the return of Langworthy (broken bone in right hand) to the lineup. He finished the week 7 for 17 with 5 RBI and 5 runs.
Singer joins Team USA
Florida sophomore right-hander Brady Singer has accepted an invitation to join the 2017 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, becoming the 20th Gator all-time to be selected.
He’s been utterly dominant this season, compiling a 1.68 ERA and .219 opponents’ batting average in 64 1/3 innings pitched. Also notable, he’s yet to allow a home run in his collegiate career.
The week ahead
Florida returns to McKethan Stadium for 4 home games this week.
The Gators host North Florida (26-13) on Tuesday night (6:30 p.m. ET) before a key 3-game series with South Carolina (22-13, 8-7 SEC) from Thursday-Saturday.