Florida baseball was mercy-ruled by Texas A&M on Thursday and there were few at that point who would have predicted a Gators run to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but that’s precisely where Kevin O'Sullivan and Co. find themselves on Sunday staring down No. 1 Tennessee in Hoover, Alabama.
The Gators were swept by the Volunteers at home in late April and the Tennessee players celebrated with some of the football team’s gear. That rubbed Gator Nation the wrong way and had many questioning whether the baseball team wrote a check the football team couldn’t cash come the fall. Before Billy Napier’s group gets a chance at revenge, the baseball team will get another shot at the Vols and it comes while UF is playing its best ball of the season.
In a split-double header against Alabama and No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday, Florida outscored its opponents 20-6, including a 9-0 revenge shutout of the Aggies. There’s no guarantee that things carry over from day to day, but the entire lineup is hitting well and, perhaps even more shockingly, the pitching has held up like a College World Series caliber staff would.
Evan Russell and the No. 1 Vols leave Gainesville with a series sweep. pic.twitter.com/YLE3tdJMjd
— Dan Harralson (@danharralson) April 24, 2022
The problem is Florida has run deep into its well of pitchers and we’re approaching short-rest territory with plenty of relievers and maybe even a starter. Regionals begin on June 3, so running Brandon Sproat out there on four-days rest is a bit iffy considering he’ll have to go again so soon. That said, who is left? Garrett Milchin? Tyler Nesbitt? Against Tennessee, you want Hunter Barco or Sproat, and the former is shut down for the year.
Whoever it is, they’ll need some run support against the best offense in the country. Jud Fabian seems to be back to his normal hitting self and Wyatt Langford continues to make the SEC coaches pay for not naming him to the conference’s First Team. The bottom of the order is also hitting well. Jac Caglianone is the hottest No. 6 hitter in the country right now, and even Mac Guscette is out there blasting home runs in multi-hit games.
Everything is rolling for the Gators right now. They just need to finish it off.
“We’re here,” Timmy Manning said. “We might as well win.”
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) May 29, 2022
Projected Starting Lineup
NOTES: Brandon Sproat going on short rest is extremely unlikely, according to Nick de la Torre of Gators Online. Sproat threw 110 pitches against South Carolina on May 24. Tyler Nesbitt and Garrett Milchin are options to get the ball, but expect it to be a heavy bullpen day.
Getting a lot of questions about this …
You reading this are more likely to pitch on Sunday than Brandon Sproat is.
Winning the SEC Tournament means nothing if you end up getting your ace hurt the week before the NCAA Tournament.
You'll see Sproat Game 1 of Regionals.
— Nick de la Torre (@delatorre) May 29, 2022
Camden Sewell and Ben Joyce are two options for the Vols. Gators Wire will provide more updates as they become available.
NOTES: Forget the long-term history with Tennessee. The only thing that matters is the last two years because the Vols have been on another planet since then. They are simply the best team in college baseball and play as such. Tennessee has taken four in a row from Florida, including a win in last year’s SEC Tournament, 4-0. The Gators did take them to 11 innings in April in game three of the series, so there’s hope the Volunteers are just as tired this late into the tournament.
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It feels wrong to pick against Tennessee, but Florida is so hot right now it feels like there’s a 50-50 chance to take this tournament. If Sproat somehow ends up starting, those chances go up, but we’ll operate under the assumption that both teams have regionals in mind and will protect their aces.
That said, Florida’s lineup is as hot as ever. Pulling off the upset isn’t so crazy and it should be a fun game either way. Let’s see if the Gators can claim their first conference title since 2015.
Florida wins, 6-4
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