Florida Opens Up SEC Season at LSU

It's tough the start conference play in a more difficult environment. The Gators travel to Baton Rouge this weekend, starting SEC play at Alex Box Stadium, one of the toughest environments in the country. No. 5 LSU (16-1) plays host to No. 1 Florida (15-2) in the most anticipated conference battle of the weekend.

"This is the real season," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "The second season starts. This is going to be a great challenge for us. It's a really tough place to play. For some of our players, it'll be eye opening for them. The fans are outstanding in Baton Rouge, and they're great baseball fans. It's a great atmosphere."

The Gators have won only one of their last ten series in Baton Rouge, coming in 2007. Florida won only one of the three games played at LSU in 2009.

Florida also has a streak of eight consecutive conference series wins dating back to last season. That streak includes a three-game sweep of the Tigers in Gainesville last season, the first time the Gators had swept LSU since 1996.

The Gators are also aiming to end a streak of alternating outcomes in the opening weekend of conference play, dating back to 2001. Florida opened conference play last season at home with a three-game sweep over Mississippi State.

The challenge comes in an environment the Gators haven't seen since they played at Alex Box Stadium two years ago, and many of the key players on this years team were still in high school then. It's an atmosphere that can't be duplicated in college baseball.

The Tigers averaged 10,598 at their stadium last season, almost 4,000 people more than second place Arkansas at 6,615.

The atmosphere wouldn't be tough if the Tigers didn't field a quality team almost every year. This season is no different. LSU is young on the mound, starting two freshmen this weekend, but that doesn't change anything.

"They've got some young pitchers, but they've had some success," O'Sullivan said. "They've got some good arms."

The Friday matchup pits Florida sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson (4-0, 1.12) against LSU freshman right-hander Kurt McCune (3-0, 1.11). Johnson started the Sunday game of the LSU series last year as a freshman, and he picked up the win on the mound while also hitting a grand slam. First pitch Friday is at 7 p.m.

Saturday the Gators will send sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (2-0, 1.08) against Tigers freshman right-hander Kevin Gausman (3-0, 3.28). Randall has a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts this year, and he allowed only one run in eight innings against LSU last year. First pitch Saturday is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Sunday matchup will feature Florida freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 2.21) against LSU senior Ben Alsup (3-1, 2.01). The series concludes Sunday at 1 p.m.

The quality arms don't end with LSU's weekend rotation. Closer Matty Ott has already recorded four saves and has ten strikeouts in nine innings pitched.

"They've got a guy at the end in (Matty) Ott who is really good and has been really reliable for them," O'Sullivan said.

The benefit for the Gators is to go into this weekend series coming off an extra innings win over instate rival No. 4 Florida State. The Gators got a walk off single from Daniel Pigott in the tenth inning to end the game and build some momentum going into the toughest road atmosphere of the season.

"I think it helps a lot," O'Sullivan said. "I don't know if it'll have any impact on how we play this season, but I feel a lot better. You get beat by your rival four games in a row, you start feeling like you've got to get one. You start breaking the trend."

Fightin Gators Top Stories