Gators Get Past Mid-Week Struggles

The midweek problems were answered on Tuesday night. They haunted Florida in recent weeks, and it was the midweek games that kept them from building up the momentum of a winning streak. Tuesday's win over Bethune-Cookman moved the current winning streak to seven games, as the Gators put their midweek struggles behind them.

"We're just coming in with a lot more confidence and our bats are feeling really good," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "We just kept the focus from the past two weekends, and that carried over for us."

The discrepancy in record was tough to ignore. In midweek games before Tuesday night, the Gators were 5-6. Bringing their record to .500 in midweek games won't turn any heads, but Tuesday wasn't about making a statement. It was about the team maintaining focus against a lesser opponent and continuing to carry its newfound momentum into this weekend's series against Arkansas.

The weekends haven't been a problem.

After the three-game sweep of Ole Miss over the weekend, the Gators moved their record on weekends to 29-4. It was the midweek frustration that ended on Tuesday night.

"The most important thing in midweek games is to get off to a good starting pitching-wise and to get on the board," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "(Panteliodis) did that, and Mike's home run got us on the board first."

They didn't need a nail biter or a game that went into extra innings. It wasn't a game where Florida needed to get multiple relievers work, although the bullpen was well rested thanks to the dominant work of the weekend starters against Ole Miss. It was a game that Florida needed to cruise through, and Mike Zunino made sure that's the way it would happen.

"There was a lot more focus," Zunino said. "We brought the focus like the last two weekends. We played more relaxed and concentrated. It helped us to stay loose, but to still play good baseball tonight."

The issue in past midweek games was on the pitching and hitting, but the recipe that beat the Gators wasn't hard to figure out. They struggled against teams that mixed and matched multiple pitchers out of the bullpen, so the Florida lineup wasn't able to get multiple looks at one pitcher. UCF did it to record two wins over the Gators, one in Gainesville and one in Orlando.

The hitting didn't waste any time getting started. After trailing in multiple midweek games and waiting too long for the offense to get started, Zunino's two-run home run was important to get the weight off the shoulders of the offense.

"We always try to hop on a team first," Zunino said. "We have some great pitching, so if we get to them first, we trust our pitching to keep the score down, and then we'll score more to put the game out of reach."

Even more impressive was the Florida pitching. Six arms combined to allow zero runs in the game, but it was more about how they did it. They pounded the strike zone with 85 of the staff's 121 pitches.

The most important thing came in pitch count. Alex Panteliodis started the game and was pulled when he reached his pitch count of 65 to ensure he is available this weekend. None of the relievers threw more than 18 pitches and will all be available when the Gators open their series at Arkansas on Thursday night.

The bullpen allowed only five base runners and didn't walk a batter. Of the five hits the pitching staff allowed, all were singles.

The pitchers are so deep on this team that O'Sullivan has made a pitching change with two outs in the ninth inning during the last two games just to let Austin Maddox record the final out. It's the only way he can get all of his arms into the game.

"That's the only reason," O'Sullivan said. "I hate to do that with the way the score is, but we needed to. It's the only way for us to keep guys sharp. Even if it's just five or six pitches, our guys need that work."

With as impressive as the team looked in all facets of the game Tuesday, there's no doubt it was more important to get over the mental hump of the midweek game.

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