Gators Winning with Dynamic Offense

The Gators managed to win the SEC Tournament without much of an impact from Mike Zunino or Preston Tucker, and it was partly by design. Head coach Kevin O'Sullivan didn't want his team to become one-dimensional and struggle to score runs when the big bats weren't producing. Florida decided to get creative.

"We're just trying to develop another dynamic to our offense," O'Sullivan said. "We don't want to become one-dimensional. We want to be able to do multiple things, and that was a focus coming in (to the SEC Tournament)."

Zunino and Tucker went 6-for-37 in the tournament and combined to drive in three runs. Four of their hits came in the first game, a 6-3 win over Mississippi State, and they combined for only two hits in the final four games.

The change in offense came because the tournament takes place at Regions Park, which is 405-feet to center field and 340-feet down the lines. It is much bigger than the stadiums Florida will play in for the rest of the year.

However, they found a new tool for their arsenal.

The Gators can put runners in motion to create runs. O'Sullivan put on hit-and-runs, double steals and even straight steals to open up holes in the infield. Florida executed the hit-and-run multiple times, including once from Bryson Smith in the championship game, moving Nolan Fontana to third base where he would score on a sacrifice fly by Tucker.

"That gets us going," shortstop Nolan Fontana said. "When we get an early lead, the coaches like to do things like that. It carries momentum. They did that a lot this weekend, and it helped us out."

Florida didn't run much before the tournament, and it's hard to blame anyone for that. The lineup just doesn't have much speed. It still doesn't.

Daniel Pigott led the team with nine steals heading into the tournament, and the team only had 44. Pigott stole six bases on his own in Hoover, earning his way to being named SEC Tournament MVP. The Florida team stole 11 bases in five games at the tournament.

He brings speed on the bases, and the coaches have to be smart with sending the other players, but there are still opportunities to make it work.

"We had to resort to small ball," catcher Mike Zunino said. "It's a different stadium there. We wanted to fine tune everything and get ready for Regionals. We had some great situational hitting. We executed bunts and hit-and-runs when we needed to."

It adds another dynamic when the offense can't put runs on the board. As the NCAA Tournament begins Friday and the Gators start their run to a national championship, there will be plenty of ace pitchers in the way. When the hits aren't coming at a consistent pace, the Gators need to be able to manufacture runs to get on the board.

The home runs will still be there, evident by Brian Johnson's grand slam to help pull out a 7-5 win in Wednesday's opening win over Mississippi State. It's the new element to the offense that the Gators returned from Hoover with that could help the team's season end in success.


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