The fifth-ranked Gator baseball team (35-14, 16-8) will look to hold on to its slim SEC East lead when they travel to Alabama (19-29, 5-19 SEC) this weekend. The series is the last road series of the regular season for Florida and is the last one before they host Kentucky next week for the season finale in a series that will likely determine the division.
While the Gators are coming off their most lopsided home defeat of the season after Tuesday’s 15-10 loss to USF, they aren’t letting that game impact how they’re approaching this series. Jonathan India, Blake Reese, and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan all talked about how the team had been playing so well in the SEC, that they would just move past the loss and not let it bring them down.
That’s for good reason too because the Gators have caught fire in recent SEC play, taking over the number one spot atop the East after starting off in last place. Florida is 12-2 in their past 14 conference games, and are 16-5 in the conference since getting swept by Auburn in the opening weekend of SEC play. That includes winning four straight SEC series and sweeping their past two against Georgia and Ole Miss. That run has given Florida a one-game lead over Kentucky in the division with only six conference games left to play.
The turnaround for Florida has been sparked by consistent pitching from the weekend starters and improved performances at the plate.
Alex Faedo, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar have all stood out on the mound for the Gators. Florida’s seven shutouts and 3.38 team ERA rank them in the top 20 in the country in both categories. Faedo and Singer both rank in the top ten in the SEC for in terms of ERA, while Kowar is tied for the SEC lead in wins at 8-0. In all, Florida’s starting pitchers are key to the team’s success, as when they go at least six innings, the team is 18-4 in those contests.
At the plate, the team has heated up as a whole since the beginning of April.
After struggling in the early part of the season and hitting just .235 in March (11-8 in the month), the team hit .279 in April and is hitting .320 in May, with a combined 17-5 record in those two months. J.J. Schwarz has come alive for the Gators, seemingly more confident at the plate since his game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the eighth in the rubber match of the South Carolina series. He leads the team with .424 average over the past ten games, including three home runs and 14 RBI. Also performing well is Jonathan India since his return from injury. He came back during the Ole Miss series and is batting .500 (6-for-12) since being re-inserted into the lineup.
The Crimson Tide sit in last place in the SEC, but they are more than capable of playing spoiler to Florida’s hopes of a regular season SEC title. After just two conference wins all season, Alabama is coming off a road sweep of the same Auburn team that swept the Gators back in March. The Tigers were ranked fourth at the time of the series, so the Tide have a little bit of momentum against ranked SEC teams. The Tide followed that series up with a run-rule 12-2 win over Grambling on Tuesday.
Sophomore outfielder Chandler Taylor led the charge for Alabama over the weekend. He hit .500 and blasted three home runs in the series en route to helping his team pull out the upset sweep of their in-state rivals. He leads the team and ranks third in the conference in the home run category with a whopping 15 on the season. The SEC named him the conference’s player of the week for his efforts.
Led @AlabamaBSB in every offensive category for the weekend sweep of fourth-ranked Auburn.#SECBSB POTW: @7aylor_Made pic.twitter.com/cUfTyrLSKB
— SEC (@SEC) May 8, 2017
On the season, the Tide are led by sophomore Kyle Kaufman and senior Cody Henry. Kaufman leads the team in batting average at .313, including a .272 average in SEC action. Meanwhile, Henry ranks second on the team in homers (eight) and tied for first in RBI (31).
On the mound, their weekend trio of starters consists of junior Jake Walters (Friday), sophomore Dylan Duarte (Saturday), and senior Nick Eicholtz (Sunday). Walters is the only one out of the three with a winning record at 5-4, and he leads the trio with 52 strikeouts and a 3.82 ERA.
The all-time series is tied at 57-57, while Florida holds a 16-5 edge under O’Sullivan’s tenure as head coach. The last meeting between the two took place at last year’s SEC Tournament, with the Gators coming from behind to win 5-4.
Friday- 7 p.m. ET
Florida: RHP Alex Faedo, Jr. (7-1, 2.42 ERA)
Alabama: RHP Jake Walters, Jr. (5-4, 3.82 ERA)
Saturday- 7 p.m. ET
Florida: RHP Brady Singer, So. (5-3, 2.23 ERA)
Alabama: LHP Dylan Duarte, So. (2-5, 5.22 ERA)
Sunday- 4 p.m. ET
Florida: RHP Jackson Kowar, So. (8-0, 3.79 ERA)
Alabama: RHP Nick Eicholtz, Sr. (1-2, 5.96 ERA)