The No. 5 ranked Gator baseball team will start their quest for an SEC regular season title this weekend when they travel to Auburn for a three-game series.
Florida (13-5) is coming off of a big 1-0 mid-week win over top ranked Florida State at home on Tuesday. The Gators had been struggling in the mid-week, going 1-4 in such games before shutting out their in-state rivals. Florida rode freshman arms to the victory as Nate Brown, who got the start, tossed five scoreless innings. Fellow newbies Kirby McMullen, Andrew Baker, and Tyler Dyson combined to allow no runs and only one hit over the remaining four innings to seal the deal with McMullen getting the win and Dyson earning the save.
HIGHLIGHTS ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ha8uMRwHxf
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) March 15, 2017
That’s an encouraging performance for Florida as they’ve had up-and-down pitching performances from their non-weekend starters. If that can get going and stay consistent for the Gators, that will provide excellent support to the trio of Alex Faedo, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar as they enter the conference portion of their schedule. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he can see that the “young guys are starting to come around.”
While the pitching is showing signs of improvement, what Florida will be looking to wake up are the bats. They’ve scored four runs or less in 10 of their 18 games so far this season, posting a 5-5 record in such games. Out of players with at least 30 at-bats, only Dalton Guthrie and Keenan Bell are batting over .300. In addition, half of the those players have batting averages under .250. That includes top to middle of the lineup guys like J.J. Schwarz (.221), Deacon Liput (.197), and Mike Rivera (.193).
There are some bright spots for Florida though that could be indicative of improved performances at the plate going forward. Schwarz tallied four hits in the series against Seton Hall this past weekend, including two in the rubber match that Florida won 4-3. Jonathan India’s bat has also warmed up, as he also posted four hits in that series while tacking on two more in the win over FSU.
While he knows that his team doesn’t need to score 5 or 6 runs every night to win because of the development of the pitching staff, O’Sullivan said he feels confident that the Gators will find their rhythm at the plate and that his team will be tough to stop when they do.
The Tigers enter the series with a 14-5 record, having played every game at home so far, and are coming off a 10-1 win over Jacksonville State on Wednesday.
Auburn boasts a lineup capable of hanging a lot of runs up on the scoreboard. They’ve scored seven runs or more in 10 of their 19 games this season, including scoring in double digits on three different occasions so far.
That lineup includes six different batters hitting over .300, led by junior outfielder Jonah Todd (.343) and senior Daniel Robert (.342). Robert also leads the team in home runs with two on the season.
Auburn’s not just about hitting though, as they also have a solid rotation that leads the NCAA in shutouts with 7.
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 14, 2017
Their pitching staff is led by the duo of Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize, their Friday and Saturday starters. Thompson is 3-0 on the young season with 0.64 ERA whilie Mize is 2-0 with a 0.40 ERA. Together the duo has combined for 53 strikeouts over 51 innings of action.
Friday: Keegan Thompson (3-0) vs. Alex Faedo (3-0)
Saturday: Casey Mize (2-0) vs. Brady Singer (2-0)
Sunday: Davis Daniel (1-0) vs. Jackson Kowar (2-0)