GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No matter what happens this week, the Florida baseball team has a co-SEC regular-season championship to look back on as a mark of its accomplishments in the conference.
And no matter what happens during the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., the Gators are positioned for a top-8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament as they look to make another run to the College World Series.
But certainly, they’ll try to keep their momentum going in the meanwhile.
By earning the No. 1 seed on the SEC bracket — after winning 12 of their final 13 conference games — the Gators (40-15, 21-9 SEC) have earned one of the four first-round byes and won’t play until Wednesday.
Here’s a look at their path through the bracket, which is double elimination from the second round through the quarterfinals:
Florida will open play at 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday (on SEC Network) against either No. 8-seed Auburn (34-22, 16-14) or No. 9 Ole Miss (32-24, 14-16). Those teams play at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Tigers would make for a fitting start to the bracket for the Gators, who were swept in a three-game series in Auburn, Ala., to open SEC play. That inauspicious beginning has often been referenced in putting into perspective the team’s surge to the regular-season title.
Auburn took two out of three games from Ole Miss at home last weekend, but prior to that, the Tigers had lost seven straight games, including being swept by Alabama and LSU. They rank last in the SEC with just 27 home runs and 11th on the mound with a 4.20 ERA.
If it’s Ole Miss, the Gators would look to stay perfect against the Rebels after sweeping the teams’ series in Gainesville earlier this month with wins of 11-2, 7-4 and 6-4.
Ole Miss closed the regular season on a 3-7 swoon and ranks last in the SEC with a collective .253 batting average and next to last in scoring at 4.79 runs per game.
The rest of the Gators’ half of the bracket includes No. 4 Arkansas (39-15, 18-11), which will open Wednesday night against either No. 12 Georgia (25-31, 11-19) or No. 5 Mississippi State (34-22, 17-13).
The Gators did not play Arkansas or Mississippi State during the regular season, while they swept Georgia on the road in late April.
The Razorbacks swept both Georgia and Mississippi State in the regular season. They rank third in the SEC with a .285 batting average, second in slugging percentage (.448), fourth in total runs scored (356) and first in homers (70). On the mound, Arkansas ranks just ninth in the league in ERA (3.80).
Despite the regular-season struggles against Arkansas, Mississippi State is a team to keep an eye on here. The Bulldogs are led by SEC Player of the Year candidate Brent Rooker, who is batting .415 with 20 homers, 28 doubles, 3 triples and 73 RBI, along with 18 stolen bases in 23 attempts. He leads the league in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, home runs, total bases, RBI and is tied for the lead in steals.
No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Kentucky are the top seeds on the other side of the bracket.
- Florida has won seven SEC tournament titles, with the last coming in 2015.
- Shortstop Dalton Guthrie injured his right ankle Saturday and will not play in the SEC Tournament, but the Gators expect him back for the NCAA postseason. Versatile junior Christian Hicks, who has played all four infield positions this season and filled in for Guthrie at shortstop earlier in the spring, likely will assume the position this week. That opens up first base, Hicks’ primary position, which likely will be manned by junior JJ Schwarz.
- Catcher Mike Rivera was expected to return to the lineup last weekend after missing more than a month with a broken hamate bone in his right hand, but he did not see any at-bats as Mark Kolozsvary and Schwarz handled the catching/DH duties. The Gators want to ease him back before throwing him behind the plate, but the shuffling in the infield could open up DH at-bats for Rivera this week.