Gators Hit the Road to Face MSU

The matchup on paper gives a clear advantage to Florida (24-6/7-2 SEC), but the Gators won't let that change their outlook. Playing in front of a hostile crowd at Mississippi State (20-9/4-5 SEC), especially on the weekend of the school's spring football game, is never easy for any opponent.

When No. 4 Florida comes to town, they'll carry a target on their back that will get the Bulldogs' best effort.

Mississippi State is coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of Georgia. In four of its nine conference games this season, Mississippi State has scored one or less run. The Bulldogs scored one run in two games against Georgia, and they were shutout twice at Vanderbilt to open conference play.

At the plate, Mississippi State has the eighth best batting average in the conference, hitting at a .294 clip. Florida comes into the weekend with the highest batting average in the conference at .311.

Leadoff hitter and left fielder Nick Vickerson makes the Bulldogs offense go. He is hitting .260 with a .394 on-base percentage because of his team-high 21 walks. Once he gets on the bases, Vickerson can take a toll on the opposing team. He is 19-for-21 in stolen bases, while the team has stolen 50 bases on the year. The Gators don't run as much, stealing on 26 bases as a team because there isn't much speed in the lineup.

Jarrod Parks is the most feared bat for the Bulldogs, hitting .388 with two home runs and 24 RBIs this season. The third baseman and three-hole hitter has a team-high eight doubles and three triples while being second with 23 runs scored.

Shortstop Jonathan Ogden is the lone power source for the Bulldogs. He is hitting .300 with 24 RBIs, but it's his four home runs that provide the power in the bottom part of the order. No other Bulldog has more than two home runs. There isn't much power on the roster, as Mississippi State only has 11 home runs as a team to come in tenth in the conference. The Gators are tied for third with 21 home runs this season, while Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker lead the way with five home runs apiece.

Cody Freeman (.333, 0, 18), Daryl Norris (.316, 0, 19) and CT Bradford (.294, 0, 21) are other key bats in the Bulldogs lineup.

On the mound, the statistics are just as different as at the plate. The Gators rank second in the conference with a 2.33 ERA, while the Bulldogs' 3.44 staff ERA comes in seventh.

The Friday night matchup will feature a pair of aces. The Gators will use Hudson Randall (5-0, 0.54 ERA) in his second Friday night start of the season. Randall's 0.54 ERA is the top of the SEC, while South Carolina's Michael Roth boasts a 1.25 ERA to come in second in the conference. Randall has still only walked one batter in 49.2 innings.

The Bulldogs will throw junior Devin Jones (2-4, 3.82) on Friday. The right-hander has thrown 37.2 innings this season, allowing 29 hits and nine walks while recording 29 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .216 against Jones. First pitch Friday night is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Saturday matchup pairs two sophomores in Florida left-hander Brian Johnson (4-1, 2.92) and Mississippi State right-hander Chris Stratton (4-2, 3.04). Johnson's 2.92 ERA ranks ninth out of Florida pitchers who have thrown at least 12 innings. Johnson has allowed 29 hits and struck out 36 hitters in 40 innings pitched.

Stratton has thrown a team-high 47.1 innings for the Bulldogs, allowing 39 hits and 17 walks. The right-hander has also recorded a team-high 47 strikeouts. Opposing batters are hitting .229 off Stratton. First pitch on Saturday will be at 1 p.m.

Sunday will feature Florida freshman Karsten Whitson (4-0, 2.06) against Mississippi State junior Nick Routt (0-1, 2.61). Whitson's 2.06 ERA ranks him seventh in the SEC.

Routt will be making his fourth start of the season. He has dealt with injuries throughout his career, and the Bulldogs coaching staff is choosing to bring him along slowly this year. His pitch count should be around 75-80 this weekend. In his 10.1 innings this season, Routt has allowed seven hits and recorded nine strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .200 off him. First pitch on Sunday will be at 1 p.m.

If the Bulldogs have a lead late in the game, closer Caleb Reed has been lights out this season. He has recorded four saves and posts a 1.35 ERA. In 20 innings, Reed has allowed 13 hits and struck out 26 hitters. Opponents are batting .194 off him.

Mississippi State has an advantage in the field, where the Bulldogs lead the conference with a .977 fielding percentage. The Gators are fourth in the conference with a .974 fielding percentage.

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