Gators Heating Up as Season End Nears

The last two regular seasons have ended with the Gators playing their best baseball of the year. It's the goal for every team, to head into the postseason playing at a high level, but it has become a reality for Florida the last two seasons. It doesn't look like that trend will stop this year.

After slumping through the middle part of the season, the Gators look to be putting it together at the end of the season yet again

"We play better later in the season for some reason," senior second baseman Josh Adams said after Friday night's 7-0 win over Alabama

The statistics back up what Adams said, too In 2009, after the Gators played their 18th conference game, they closed with a 12-4 record, including an eight-game winning streak

However, it was the end to the 2010 season that boosted Florida to the College World Series

After the midway point of the conference schedule last season, the Gators ended the regular season winning 14 of the final 17 games on the schedule One of those losses came in the final regular season game of the season, when Florida threw out a lineup with multiple backups against South Carolina since the Gators clinched the conference championship the day before

There are a few factors that play into the improve play late in the season First, the players don't have to worry about school They can spend extra time at the field working and focusing on their play This week is finals week, and the Gators didn't play a midweek game because of it, so it allowed players to finish off the academic semester and rest

"Some guys needed rest," Adams said "Everybody finished their finals and relaxed to get back on their feet and fresh for this weekend "

With a three-way tie between Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt at the top of the conference standings with 12 games left, the Gators are optimistic because all aspects of the team look to be coming together on the heels of a sweep of Alabama The pitching allowed three runs while the offense put up 18 runs

The Gators look to continue that momentum this weekend at home against Ole Miss, starting Friday night at 7 p m

"As of late, we've been playing well together," shortstop Nolan Fontana said "Early in the season, we had hitting and not pitching Then it was pitching and not hitting We're starting to mesh it together In order to be where we want to be at the end of the year, that's what we have to do "

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan thinks the end of the school year signals to his team that the end of the season is also near That fuels some of the improved play The team has talked since being eliminated from the College World Series last year about wanting to make a return trip, and the time to make that happen is coming soon

"They smell the finish line a little bit," O'Sullivan said "That's your goal as a coach You hope your team is playing their best at the end It doesn't do you good to play great in the beginning or middle and then lay an egg at the end "

IGNORING SCOREBOARD WATCHING: With the three-way tie in the SEC, it looks like the conference championship will come down to the final weekend That doesn't make it any easier for the players to avoid the excitement of knowing what the other teams are doing over the weekend

"We know the kids on the other team, so we just text them to see what they're doing," Adams said "It's just one of those things where we're good friends with everybody "

The players remain confident that if they continue to play well, they will be in the race until the end

"We've just got to take care of ourselves, regardless of what they're doing," Fontana said "If we play well, we feel like we'll be at the top It's in our hands to do that "

WHITSON EMERGING: Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson have been consistent all season during the first two games of the weekend, but it's freshman Karsten Whitson that has joined them recently

"He has matured a lot since he got here," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said "The more outings he has and the deeper he goes into ball games helps us a lot

"He has learned to pitch more to mix it up and keep hitters off balance He's got a great fastball, but now he's starting to locate his breaking ball Once he can locate everything, he'll be even better "

The improvement has come from his off-speed pitches The mid-90s fastball was never a problem after Whitson started to locate the pitch early in his college career In recent weeks, he started to locate the slider and the changeup

His changeup has come the farthest of any of his pitches since he made it to campus

"It's in there as a good third pitch for lefties," Zunino said "He continues to work on it "

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