Gators Can Clinch SEC Title Against UK

This is the way it should be. The players and coaches all agree on that. Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt each control its own destiny with one SEC series remaining. With the three schools tied at 20-7 in conference, the No. 4 Gators will host Kentucky (24-28/7-20 SEC) with a second straight conference title on the line.

"We hope to be in this position every year, going into the last weekend controlling our own destiny with a chance to win a championship," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's been since 1981-1982 since Florida has won back-to-back SEC Championships, so they don't come around very often."

The flags on top of the McKethan Stadium press box are a reminder of just how long it has been since a Florida team was able to repeat as conference champions. The rings Florida received last year serve as a nice reminder to the players of what can be had by playing well this weekend. It's not just about winning a conference title. It's about the lure of back-to-back championships, which hasn't been done in the SEC since LSU in 1992-1993.

"It would be a great accomplishment," Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana said. "Anytime you have a chance to do it, it's awesome. That's been a goal all season long."

The Gators might have an advantage after being in this position before. Last season, Florida and South Carolina were tied atop the standings with one weekend remaining. The only difference came as Florida traveled to Columbia to settle it head-to-head.

A young Florida team won the first two games to clinch the championship in front of record crowds. They played on the biggest stage in the conference last season, and that is serving as confidence as the Gators play at home this weekend.

For the players in at least their third year on the team, they've also experienced it the other way. In 2009, the Gators needed to sweep Kentucky in the final series to tie LSU and force co-champions. Florida didn't do it, and LSU won the SEC by itself.

"We've experienced both failure and success," Florida right fielder Preston Tucker said. "We know how bad it can feel and how good it can feel to get the wins at the end. We know how important this is."

The series gets started on Thursday night, and both teams will make adjustments to their rotation for the first game. Kentucky will send sophomore left-hander Taylor Rogers (3-6, 5.01) to the mound against Florida sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson (7-3, 3.38). First pitch is set for 7 p.m.

Friday night will feature a showdown of two aces. Kentucky will start junior right-hander Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06), who is projected to be a first round pick in the June MLB Draft. The 6-9 righty throws a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s with a slider that is considered among the best in college baseball. Florida will counter with sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.14). First pitch is set for 7 p.m.

Saturday's series finale will happen at 4 p.m. South Carolina and Vanderbilt play at 1 and 2 p.m. respectively, so the Gators will have a good idea of what is at stake before taking the field.

Florida will send freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (6-0, 2.51) to the mound against a Kentucky pitcher yet to be determined.


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