Florida slumped into its weekend series with LSU not looking anything like an SEC contender with its recent play.
The No. 11 Gators had needed extra innings to slip past Stetson on Tuesday night after being swept in their opening conference series at Auburn last weekend.
But the last two days, they reminded everybody why it’s far too soon to count them out, taking a 1-0 win over No. 5 LSU on Friday and an 8-1 win Saturday to clinch the series heading into the Sunday finale at McKethan Stadium.
“I’ve said it all along, obviously it’s been a little bit frustrating, but the guys that needed to hit have had really good weekends so far,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Deacon’s had a great weekend, especially today against (Jared) Poche, left on left. JJ’s swinging the bat really good, Nelly’s had a good weekend so far, Mike Rivera’s had a really good weekend. If we can just get a couple more guys going, I’ve said all along, I do like our offense.”
That offense has been the issue all season. Florida’s stacked weekend rotation will keep the Gators (16-8, 2-3 SEC) in most games, but the runs simply haven’t been there.
On Friday, they got a gem from Alex Faedo (4-1), who scattered 7 hits over 7 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts. The lone run in that game came in the bottom of the sixth when Deacon Liput led off with a double to right, took third on a sac bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by JJ Schwarz.
On Saturday, the Gators got another sterling performance on the mound with Brady Singer (3-1) allowing only 6 hits and 1 run over 9 innings with 4 strikeouts. This time, though, the bats provided plenty of support.
Mike Rivera finished 3-for-3 with 2 RBIs, Schwarz went 2-for-5 with an RBI and 3 runs scored and Nelson Maldonado was 2-for-2 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs as Florida collected 10 hits in all against LSU (17-7, 3-2) and the usually stingy Poche.
Poche (5-1), who had allowed only one run in 36 innings before Saturday, lost for the first time and saw his ERA rise to 0.90 while Singer clearly won the marquee mound matchup.
He now has a team-best 1.58 ERA through six starts.
“He’s got an explosive fastball. It sinks. He can throw it to both sides of the plate. He’s got a good slider. He threw a couple quality changeups today,” O’Sullivan said of Singer. “It’s a fastball maybe similar to Tanner Houck’s, at Missouri. It’s just different. You talk about spin rate, those types of things. It’s just a fastball that’s different. They’re hard to find. A guy’s got a good fastball when the hitter knows it’s coming and they can’t do much damage with it. That’s a real fastball. He was a second rounder for a reason out of high school. He pitched really good today.”
And this time at least, the Gators hit really well, too. They have a lot more work to do to raise their .245 team batting average from its current depth, but it’s a step in the right direction and already a very positive weekend for a team that really needed it.