Florida’s last game in the 2020 season was a stain that is impossible to remove.
The top ranked Gator baseball team hosted No. 19 FSU on March 10. Florida was untouchable, riding a 16-game winning streak. As of late in the series, it owned the Seminoles, taking 11-straight matchups.
But everything went awry that night for the Gators. They only mustered three hits, and FSU rode stellar pitching to a 2-0 shutout-victory.
This game wasn’t just hard to remove. It was also a large blemish because it became the last game at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium as the NCAA announced on March 31, 2020, that all winter and spring championships were canceled.
Florida begins its 2021 campaign Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. versus number 21 Miami and can be seen on SEC Network and heard on ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF. It’s also the grand opening of the Florida Ballpark. Aaron Fitt, of D1Baseball.com, joined Sportscene with Steve Russell to preview the Gators’ upcoming season.
Looking back at 2020
Fitt believed Florida was the most complete team in baseball last season after it swept then number one Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, at the beginning of the season.
He also said that’s still the case because the Gators returned every major contributor from last year’s squad except for outfielder Austin Langworthy.
Another year, another dominant Florida pitching staff
Florida was also lucky to get back pitchers Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich because of the special circumstances of 2020.
“Ordinarily in a normal year, there’s no way you get you get those two guys back as fourth-year players,” he said.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan was fortunate to get back his top two hurlers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLB shortened its typical 40-round draft to five. When the draft occurred in June, Mace and Leftwich didn’t hear their names called.
Then Florida’s third weekend starter, Hunter Barco, added another year to his belt. Fitt said that when he becomes draft eligible he’ll most likely be a top-10 pick.
However, this didn’t stop O’Sullivan from adding another weapon to his loaded pitching arsenal, Timmy Manning, a stellar recruit who is just beginning his freshman season.
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) February 13, 2021
Fabian leads a dominant batting lineup
It’s also easy to overlook Florida’s packed lineup because of the Gators’ pitching prowess, but their dominance extends to the plate, Fitt said.
“My God, I think they have the best offense in the country, too,” he said.
He feels they have all the pieces like power, depth, athleticism and versatility.
Outfielder Jud Fabian is the obvious answer to who is the most fearsome hitter in Florida’s lineup because he was named to the Preseason All-America First Team by D1Baseball and Baseball America.
He hit five home runs and with 13 RBIs with a .294 batting average last season. Infielder Josh Rivera is another Gator to look out for; he was listed as an All-SEC Second Team pick.
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) February 11, 2021
SEC is crammed with NCAA Tournament teams
Fitt thinks the SEC is the most dominant Power Five conference in college baseball. It was hard for him to label a bottom dweller in the league because he said all of them will be competitive.
Nine teams in the SEC made D1Baseball’s top-25 ranking with Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas cracking the top 10.
It's finally here: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐃𝟏𝐁𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐛𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐨𝐧 𝐓𝐨𝐩 𝟐𝟓https://t.co/OR95pMPdb6
— D1Baseball (@d1baseball) January 18, 2021
Therefore, the road to Omaha and the SEC Championship could be a difficult one for Florida.