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The Gators baseball team beat Florida State 9-5 in Tallahassee, FL. (Photo from @GatorsBB on Twitter)

Florida Baseball Travels to Oxford to Face Defending National Champion Ole Miss

After knocking off rival Florida State 9-5 Tuesday in Tallahassee, the Gators will return to the baseball diamond Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi, to open a three-game series against the defending national champion Ole Miss Rebels.

No. 3 Florida will face its first top-15 opponent as the Rebels enter the series ranked No. 13 in the nation.

Florida enters its first SEC road series with a 19-4 overall record and a 3-0 road record. The Gators won their first conference series last weekend at home against Alabama.

Following a 14-2 start to the season, Ole Miss has lost four of its past five games. The Rebels are hungry for their first conference win after they suffered a series sweep against Vanderbilt last weekend in Nashville, Tennessee.

Gator Standouts

Florida shortstop Josh Rivera earned Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week honors Monday after he went 7-12 with two home runs and four RBIs against Alabama. Rivera continued his hot streak Tuesday against FSU as the junior went 2-5 with a pair of RBIs. Through 23 games, Rivera boasts a .417 batting average and leads the Gators with 37 RBIs.

On the hill, Florida right-hander Brandon Sproat won SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week in addition to Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week accolades Monday. In his previous outing, Sproat struck out 11 Alabama batters en route to a one-hit, complete-game shutout. The junior Pace, Florida, native is 4-0 and will make his sixth start this season in Friday’s series opener. Only one pitcher in the SEC and seven pitchers in the nation have more wins than Sproat this year.

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Sophomore southpaw and first baseman Jac Caglianone leads Florida with 13 home runs and 83 total bases. Through five appearances on the mound, Caglianone boasts a 3-0 record with a 3.20 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. The Tampa native went 4-5 Tuesday against Florida State with a double and three RBIs.

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Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco praised Florida’s hot start at the plate and called the Gator pitching staff “super impressive.”

“Offensively, they’ve gotten off to a great start and have hit a ton of home runs,” Bianco said. “The three starters — Sproat, [Hurston] Waldrep and Caglianone — have just been tremendous. It’s tough. They just don’t give up runs, they don’t give up hits, they all [have] super velocity.”

Modified Rebel Lineup

After winning the 2022 College World Series title, Ole Miss returned only five of its nine starters from last season’s lineup. Bianco discussed how the returning Rebels in addition to a handful of transfers have stepped up to the plate.

“The four [starters] we lost were four pretty big pieces from last year’s lineup,” Bianco said. “But the five [returning starters] not only have played well but [have] even gotten better and have done some really good things offensively.”

On the bump, the Rebels are working through some growing pains as their ace — sophomore southpaw Hunter Elliot — is injured and right-hander Josh Mallitz — who Bianco called a “key bullpen piece” — is out for the season after the Tampa native underwent Tommy John surgery last fall. Bianco called the process a “learning curve” for his young pitching staff.

“We’ve probably gotten off to a slower start on the mound than we we would like,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young faces — probably 50% of our innings have been thrown by freshman — so it’s kind of been a learning curve for them.”

Rule Changes

With the recent attempts by the MLB and the NCAA to speed up the pace of baseball games, Bianco explains the benefits of the rule changes while also pointing out some of the flaws.

“There’s no doubt that the game is played a lot faster,” he said. “The thing that’s been frustrating for me is there has been a benefit maybe from the pitching side of it to where the pitchers can kind of dictate the tempo of the game a lot more than they could before.”

Bianco believes the rule changes will endure the test of time barring a few minor adjustments.

“The tempo and the rhythm of the game is different than it was, and I think after four or five weeks now, we’re starting to get used to it,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s here to stay. Will there be some tweaks to it? Probably.”

Look to History

In 107 meetings, Florida owns a one-game advantage in its all-time series against Ole Miss. The teams split their previous 10 matchups, but the Gators haven’t won a series in Oxford since 2008.

Due to the threat of inclement weather Friday, Saturday will feature a doubleheader at Swayze Field beginning at 2:30 p.m. Sunday’s series finale is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

About Griffin Foll

Hi, my name is Griffin Foll and I am currently a senior at UF studying journalism with a focus on sports and media and an outside concentration in political science. In addition to covering the 2023 UF men's and women's golf beats, I contribute weekly web and radio content for WRUF ESPN Gainesville. Be sure to check out some of my recent articles!

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