The Florida Gators (41-15) begin SEC tournament play against the LSU Tigers (34-23) Wednesday. This will be the first time the schools face off since last year’s College World Series championship. Historically, the Gators are 9-14 against the Tigers at neutral sites. However, during the Kevin O’Sullivan era, Florida is 20-14 against LSU.
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri will start freshman right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard (9-4, 3.53 ERA). Hilliard will be hoping to carry some momentum from his last start into Wednesday’s game. In a Friday night win against Auburn, he pitched 7.1 innings and surrendered two runs on seven hits.
Meanwhile, O’Sullivan will counter with a freshman of his own, Tommy Mace (3-0, 4.93 ERA). Like Hilliard, Mace was impressive his last time out. He threw 6.1 innings, gave up one run and was in line for a win upon exiting Thursday’s game against Mississippi State.
Scouting the Tigers
LSU is fresh off of an 8-5 win over Mississippi State and they are not a team that struggles at the plate. They have five players batting over .300 and the Tigers rank 34th nationally in hitting with a .292 team batting average. Leading the way is freshman Daniel Cabrera who has a team-high eight home runs, 47 RBIs and 33 walks.
Where LSU has struggled this year is on the mound. On average, the Tigers surrender 8.86 hits per game which ranks 105th nationally. Last season, they finished 10th nationally at 7.60 per game. Six of the nine pitchers on their staff with at least 25 innings of work have an ERA over 4.00.
Gators Key to Success
If Florida is to snap their season-long four-game losing streak, they’ll need their bullpen to return to form. Prior to the Mississippi State sweep, Gator relievers had a 2.89 ERA. After surrendering 16 earned runs during the three-game set, that number has now ballooned to 3.49.
Andrew Baker allowed six of those earned runs in one appearance. Additionally, the normally dominant duo of Jordan Butler and Michael Byrne allowed 10 earned runs over just four innings of work. The pair had not surrendered an earned run since the Kentucky series in mid-April.
Reports say the Gators will be without senior captain JJ Schwarz for the entirety of the SEC tournament. He broke his hand after being hit by a foul ball during Friday night’s game against Mississippi State.
You can watch tonight’s game on the SEC Network. First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.