Smith Adding Punch to Gator Lineup

The offensive improvement for the No. 4 Gators in recent weeks is a main reason the team currently rides a seven-game winning streak. It's not a coincidence that the offensive turnaround came with the return of Bryson Smith. Since the center fielder has returned to the team, his insertion to the top of the lineup has fueled an offensive awakening for Florida.

In the nine games since Smith has returned to the starting lineup, the Florida offense has averaged 8.1 runs per game. In the 36 games before that, the offense averaged 6.2 runs.

Of the first 36 games of the season, Smith did play in 14 of them. He was a fixture in the Florida lineup early in the season before he was suspended after being arrested for DUI March 13.

It served as a wakeup call. Smith was up hitting and working out on his own at 6 a.m. during his suspension, trying to stay in shape for when he was brought back to the team. That came on April 16 at Georgia, when Smith hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning. Pairing Smith with shortstop Nolan Fontana at the top of the order has given the middle of the lineup plenty of runners to drive in, too.

"Having him and Nolan at the top, they're two very good hitters who give us very good at bats all the time," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.

Smith was hitting for average before the suspension, but that was about it. He was hitting .345 at the time of the suspension with only one extra base hit, a double. The senior didn't have a stable spot in the order because his production wasn't consistent enough, but most of his work came at the bottom of the order.

Since his return, that has been different.

Smith has been a constant at the top of the batting order, hitting leadoff against left-handed starting pitchers and hitting second against right-handed starting pitchers. The center fielder has solidified a position that was a revolving door in his absence, and his offense has improved. He is hitting .333 (13-39) since coming back, and while that may have dropped his pre-suspension batting average by .007 points, the power numbers are up since Smith has come back.

In the ten games since his return, Smith has six extra base hits, coming through with five doubles and the one clutch home run.

"He's not your typical leadoff hitter because he doesn't see a lot of pitches," Florida right fielder/first baseman Preston Tucker said. "He's real aggressive and attacks. He's done a tremendous job of getting on base. He's also hitting for power with doubles and home runs. He really sets the table for us."

His defense is improved, too. Starting the year in center field, Smith didn't seem smooth. It was tough to blame him after transferring to Florida from Young Harris College for the 2010 season as a third baseman. He moved to the outfield before the start of 2011, and he looked to be learning on the fly at the beginning of the year.

He looks like a natural since coming back. Smith is a good athlete that has three stolen bases on the year, but he finally looks to be letting his athleticism play in the outfield instead of over thinking it.

The second spot at the top of the order was wide open before Smith locked it up after returning. His performance fueled the Florida offense when it needed the senior the most.

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