GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan doesn’t want to call it a turning point, but his team certainly built some needed confidence and momentum over the last week and a half.
A win at Florida State, 2 wins in 3 games at Vanderbilt including a 20-run outburst and a tight win Tuesday night over North Florida behind a highly-encouraging bullpen performance springboards the No. 12 Gators into a key SEC series with No. 24 South Carolina.
The Gators (25-12, 8-7 SEC) and Gamecocks (23-13, 8-7) play Thursday through Saturday at McKethan Stadium while each looking to make a climb in the conference standings.
The series could have a significant impact on the direction of each team, but O’Sullivan just wants his guys continuing with a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“I don’t know. We’ve had a bunch of injuries, we’ve had a bunch of guys step up. I don’t know if there’s a turning point so to speak,” O’Sullivan said. “I think it’s more or less, I think we’re starting to play a little bit better. But it’s a long season. We’re only halfway through the SEC (schedule). … I just take it game by game. I’ve never lost confidence in our team. I know we have the personnel to be successful.”
South Carolina does not bring the same momentum into this showdown, having lost 2 of 3 games in 3 straight series (against Auburn, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State).
Just like he’s not scrutinizing his own team’s recent play, though, O’Sullivan’s opinion of the Gamecocks is not derived from that limited window of results.
“Obviously we respect them. We’ve had some really, really good games with them over the years,” he said. “I’m looking at their lineup and I think they’ve got a good lineup. Obviously their 3 starting pitchers are every bit as good as ours and everybody brags about how good our starting pitchers (are). … Personally I think they’re as good as anybody in our league, to be honest with you. Especially with those 3 guys on the weekend and the back end of the bullpen. I think their lineup is good.”
Both teams are 2 games back of Kentucky in the SEC East standings and 3 games behind Arkansas for the top SEC record overall.
Again, O’Sullivan emphasized, this is just the next step.
“Well, like I said, you take it game by game. We’re 3 games out, but you can’t really look at it that way. We’re only halfway through,” he said. “We’ve got 15 games left. There’s a lot that can happen one way or the other, so we’ll just take it one game at a time and see what happens. I know this will be a great weekend. We probably should have great crowds. We’re on ESPN, I think, twice and the (SEC) Network the second game, nationally televised. I think there’s a reason why the SEC Network and ESPN get together and try to pick out the marquee series, and this is obviously one of them and it should be a lot of fun.”
Schedule and pitching matchups
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: Florida RHP Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.84 ERA) vs. South Carolina RHP Clark Schmidt (4-1, 1.31)
Friday, 7 p.m.: Florida RHP Brady Singer (4-2, 1.68) vs. South Carolina RHP Wil Crowe (3-3, 3.49)
Saturday, 12 p.m.: Florida RHP Jackson Kowar (6-0, 3.51) vs. South Carolina RHP Adam Hill (2-3, 2.14)
TV schedule, how to watch online
The game Friday night will be on ESPNU with Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson and Chris Burke on the call. The game Saturday will be on SEC Network. And the finale will air on ESPN2.
All 3 can be streamed online via WatchESPN.
-South Carolina leads the all-time series 44-42, but Florida is 13-3 over the last 16 meetings and 23-13 against the Gamecocks in Gainesville.
-Ryan Larson is batting .450 with 7 runs and 3 RBIs over the last 5 games for Florida while Austin Langworthy is hitting .400 with 6 runs and 5 RBIs in that same span.
-Freshman reliever Garrett Milchin has strung together 6 straight scoreless outings to lower his ERA to 0.89.
-Florida and South Carolina enter the series with identical .977 fielding percentages and similar team ERAs (3.10 for Florida and 3.14 for South Carolina). The difference is in the offense, with the Gamecocks batting .271 and the Gators .254.
-South Carolina right fielder Jacob Olson has reached base in 25 straight games and is batting .306 with 5 home runs and 22 RBIs. Second baseman LT Tolbert is hitting .325 with 3 homers and a team-best 27 RBIs. And catcher Chris Cullen is hitting .300 with 4 homers and 15 RBIs while batting .325 in SEC play.