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Gators Set to Host No. 1 Tennessee in Weekend Series

The No. 1 ranked Tennessee Volunteers (33-3, 14-1 SEC) are set to come to Gainesville for a weekend series against the Gators (23-14, 6-9 SEC) starting Friday. Coming off a weekday victory over Stetson, but a series loss against Vanderbilt last weekend, the Gators will hope to upset the Volunteers for another ranked series win. Though, they’ll be up against their toughest opponent so far this season, as the Vols only suffered their first SEC loss last weekend against Alabama.

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Barco Questionable for Friday

Gators ace Hunter Barco exited his last start after just two innings pitched Friday. According to head coach Kevin O’ Sullivan, Barco was coming off an illness that left him weaker than usual on the mound. His status is still up in the air for Friday’s matchup against the best team in the country.

Barco hasn’t posted the best numbers in his last three starts. Against Georgia and Arkansas, he gave up three earned runs in each of those two games while pitching five innings. Despite the recent struggles, Barco still holds a 2.50 ERA and has 69 strikeouts on the season. Having Barco would play a huge role for the Gators Friday, as the team has struggled to find consistent pitching throughout the season.

Tennessee Threats

At one point, Tennessee was undefeated in SEC play before heading into last weekend against Alabama. It was handed its first SEC loss of the season Friday at the hands of the Tide, but bounced back and defeated Bama Saturday and Sunday to win the series.

Additionally, the Vols’ strength of schedule hasn’t been easy. The team has swept both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt on the road when both teams were ranked in the top five at the time.

Tennessee has six players with a batting average over .300. Jared Dickey leads the team batting .384 in 32 games played while Drew Gilbert trails him with a .370 batting average in 37 games played. On the mound, Drew Beam has been phenomenal for the Vols. In 54.1 innings pitched, he has a 1.50 ERA, eight wins and 46 strikeouts. Also, Chase Burns and Chase Dollander have more strikeouts than Beam in less innings pitched. Burns has sat down 61 opponents, while Dollander has sent 72 batters back to the dugout on K’s.

Gators’ Biggest Questions

There’s no doubt that the Gators offense can strike at anytime. With Jud Fabian leading the SEC in home runs hit and Wyatt Langford batting an impressive .348, the team’s offense can put runs on the board when it needs to. The team has competed in every SEC series, but have had games slip away in the late innings.

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Therefore, the pitching is the biggest question. Can the staff hold the Volunteers to limited damage when it needs to? In all three games against the Commodores last weekend, the Gators had a multi-run lead during the game. But Vanderbilt was able to tie or take the lead in every game, handing the Gators another SEC series loss on the season. Tennessee will definitely be their toughest test so far this season, but with the home crowd behind them, the Gators hope to repeat the success they had against Arkansas.

Game Times

Friday’s first pitch will be at 6:30 p.m. along with Saturday’s and the series finale will begin Sunday at noon.

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