Ryan Young / SEC Country
The Florida baseball team held off a late rally to defeat Auburn 5-4 in the SEC Tournament.

Florida baseball’s win over Auburn symbolic of team’s turnaround

Welcome to another installment of Good Morning, Gators, SEC Country’s daily morning column covering Florida athletics with Florida beat writer Jordan McPherson. Today, we look back at Florida baseball’s late-night win over Auburn, glance at highlights around the rest of the Florida athletic program and more.

The Florida baseball team didn’t need its 5-4 win over Auburn that began late Wednesday and trickled into the early hours of Thursday morning to boost its standings or secure a spot as a national seed. The Gators more than likely had all of that locked up before it came to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament.

But the win, in one sense, was a symbolic one for the turnaround the Gators pulled off late this season.

Remember back 10 weeks ago to the start of SEC play. Florida traveled to Auburn and was swept. Ace Alex Faedo was tagged for 6 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in arguably one of the worst starts of his career. The Gators lost that game 14-3 and dropped the other two games in the series 2-1 and 6-5.

Florida was up and down the next three weekends before clinching six consecutive weekend series to win a share of the conference crown.

And now, 10 weeks after dropping 3 straight to Auburn to open conference play, Florida returned the favor to Auburn, the team that started it all.

The Gators jumped up to a 4-0 lead early behind a 3-run fourth inning and six strong innings from Alex Faedo. Auburn took advantage of Florida’s bullpen in the seventh to tie the game at 4-4 before the Gators scored on a go-ahead bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth to clinch it.

Florida will next play at noon ET against the winner of Thursday’s Arkansas-Mississippi State matchup.

Saving the day

Florida baseball-Michael Byrne-closer
Florida’s Michael Byrne earned his school-record 14th save this season against Auburn in the SEC Tournament (Ryan Young/SEC Country)

The highlight performance for Florida in that Auburn win had to Michael Byrne throwing a perfect ninth inning for his school-record 14th save.

Byrne had been sitting at 13 in the saves column for close to 3 weeks now, but the sophomore was poised when he came to the mound in the final inning, including a game-closer to David Ingram to secure the win and take sole possession of first place in the single-season save mark and move up to fifth nationally on the season.

Next up for Byrne is the school’s career saves mark of 25 set by John Pricher from 1988-1992.

Byrne, however, isn’t the only Florida player making moves in the record books. Faedo also moved up to a tie for No. 3 all-time in Florida’s career strikeout category with 305. The school record is 392 set by Rob Bonanno from 1991-1994.

Barnhill a Player of the Year finalist

In an announcement that was more or less unsurprising to the collegiate softball world, Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill was named one of three finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. Barnhill, a sophomore, has a 22-3 record and leads the nation in both ERA (0.35) and strikeouts per 7 inning game (13.4). The other finalists are Tennessee’s Meghan Gregg and James Madison pitcher Megan Good.

Around UF athletics

  • The Florida track and field teams begin action at the NCAA East preliminary meet today looking to qualify players for the NCAA Outdoor championships. UF has 52 entries among its men’s and women’s teams.
  • Sophomore Alfredo Perez advanced out of his first round match in the NCAA men’s tennis individual singles championships on Wednesday, defeating Illinois’ Aron Hiltzik 6-4, 6-1. Perez advances to the Round of 32 where he will play TCU’s Alex Rybakov. Perez also begins action in the doubles championship with teammate Johannes Ingildsen on Thursday.
  • On the women’s tennis courts, three Florida players — senior Belinda Woolcock and juniors Anna Danilina and Josie Kuhlman — advanced to the second round of NCAA singles action. Senior Kourtney Keegan and freshman Ingrid Neel both fell in straight sets in their first-round matches.
  • Former Florida volleyball player Alex Holston signed with KPS Chemik Police, the top Polish indoor volleyball team, earlier this month.

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