Gators Return Home to Face Alabama

There wasn't much excitement in the Florida dugout after Wednesday's loss to UCF, but there was one positive. The road trip was over. After eight games on the road saw the No. 5 Gators produce a 4-4 record, the team returns home this weekend to host Alabama. The road trip didn't go as planned, but Florida has a chance to get things right with a seven-game home stand that starts Friday.

"It feels like we haven't been here for like two weeks now," Florida starting pitcher Hudson Randall said. "It's a good feeling to be back here in our own apartments and houses in our own beds. We're going to be here for two weekends in a row, so hopefully we can get back on the right track."

The Gators have a 9-6 record away from Gainesville this season. At home, they've excelled, posting a 19-4 record. The players know they need this home stand. There's only so much of traveling and being on the road that the players can take.

"Coming back home is going to help a lot because we always play well here," starting pitcher Brian Johnson said. "Coming back to Gainesville should be a big help."

Some of the players haven't minded the road trip. Johnson is one of them, seeing his performance at the plate improve since leaving town. The sophomore saw his 10-game hitting streak come to an end with and 0-for-4 at UCF on Wednesday. During the ten games, Johnson was 15-for-34 (.441) with six RBIs, four runs and three doubles.

Austin Maddox also started to hit the ball better on the road, and now an Alabama pitching staff is coming to town that he hit hard last season. Maddox went 5-for-12 with two home runs and five RBIs against the Crimson Tide in the weekend series last season.

Now hitting the ball well after a road trip, Maddox didn't mind the eight-game stretch away from home.

"I like being on the road, but it gets tough when you're on the road for that long," Maddox said. "I'm excited to be back home here and play a series."

The trip wasn't even as bad as the 4-4 record may look. The Gators won both of the conference road series that were included in it, taking two-of-three at Mississippi State and Georgia. The team was able to take care of business in the weekend series, but it dropped midweek games at Florida State and UCF that made for the .500 record.

"We played well on the weekends, and I wish we played pretty in the midweek ones," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "The way we played (Wednesday) was discouraging. I wish we would've played with a little more passion and energy."

The first home series in three weeks won't be easy against Alabama (25-15/8-7 SEC), who leads the Western Division. It all starts on the mound for the Crimson Tide.

Friday night will feature a matchup of two right-handers who won't light up the radar gun, but they both locate their pitches to keep hitters off balance.

Florida sophomore Hudson Randall (6-1, 1.70) rebounded against Georgia last week after struggling at Mississippi State the week before. Randall has success at Alabama last year in his first career Friday start, tossing seven shutout innings on his way to picking up the win.

"I'm excited to get back out here," Randall said. "I had a good game against them last year. I just want to get things started on the right foot and get a win."

Nathan Kilcrease (5-2, 2.62) will start for the Crimson Tide. The senior is listed at a generous 5-6 on the team's roster, but he will stay in the strike zone with his pitches and challenge hitters. He throws deceptively hard from his small frame and locates his off-speed pitches consistently.

"Their Friday night guy is one of the top guys in the SEC," Florida first baseman Preston Tucker said. "He battles as well as anyone."

First pitch Friday is set for 7 p.m.

The Saturday matchup will start at 6 p.m. and feature two tall left-handers. The Gators will send Brian Johnson (5-1, 2.42) against Alabama junior Adam Morgan (4-3, 4.12). The Gators beat Morgan in Tuscaloosa last season, but he got his revenge at the SEC Tournament when he eliminated Florida from the tournament.

The series finale on Sunday will start at 1 p.m. The Gators will send freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (4-0, 2.38) against an Alabama pitcher to be announced.

Florida got some bad news this week that freshman third baseman Zack Powers will have surgery Friday to repair his MCL. O'Sullivan isn't sure of how long he will be out, saying, "it could be four weeks or five months for all I know."

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