No. 1 Gators Begin SEC Play, Aim for Record

With history on the line Friday night, the Gators are doing their best not to focus on it. Florida tied the school record by beating Florida State on Tuesday night for its 14th straight win. This Gators team can hold the school record by themselves with a win over Vanderbilt (7-10) on Friday night to start SEC play.

"It would always be something great to say," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "We've just got to go out there and play good baseball. Hopefully we go out there and play well enough and it happens. We've got a great team coming in, and we know it's going to be a challenge."

The 14-game win streak has been done twice by other Florida teams, happening March 20-April 11, 2001 and February 21-March 17, 2004. Both times those winning streaks were started, they were ended in the try for the 15th with losses to Stetson and Army, respectively.

The challenge on Friday is a conference team that played in the College World Series last season. With that in mind, the Gators have their mind focused on what will happen at McKethan Stadium.

"We don't really hear much about it," Florida pitcher Hudson Randall said. "The more you think about continuing streaks, the harder it is to do. It's like going out there and trying to hit a home run—the harder you try, less likely you are to do it. We try to keep it loose and just have fun each game."

The winning streak started after the Gators lost the series finale against Cal State Fullerton the opening weekend of the season. Since then, the Gators have recorded wins over ranked teams such as Florida State, Miami and UCF.

"I wasn't really aware of it," Florida right fielder Preston Tucker said. "It's a win streak, so if we play well, we want to win ball games. If we don't do it—it's whatever. Our goal is to win the SEC. if we don't win (Friday) night but end up winning the series, we're happy. We just want to play well and try to win every series."

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan even went as far as to say he didn't even know what the winning streak was currently at. Since the first time college coaches were allowed to hit the road for recruiting in early March, there hasn't been a day where O'Sullivan hasn't been on the road watching high school games or coaching the Gators in their won game.

"I haven't really paid much attention to it because there are plenty of teams that have started out with really good records before conference play started and not ended up where they wanted at the end of the year," O'Sullivan said. "We're mature enough to know that we haven't really done anything yet."

The Commodores have had a strange season. They lost their entire weekend rotation and key bats from the middle of the order on last year's team. Vanderbilt has nine home runs as a team, with Mike Yastrzemski (3), Connor Harrell (2) and Vince Conde (2) as the only players with multiple home runs.

Tony Kemp (.309 average/.413 on-base) and Anthony Gomez (.394 average/.461 on-base) anchor the top of the lineup.

"It's an SEC lineup," Randall said. "When you face SEC lineups, it's always tough. You can never take it easy on a team like that. Even though they lost some guys, I'm sure they've got some talented freshmen coming in and filling in roles. You can't take it easy."

The Friday matchup will see Florida send Randall (2-0, 3.65) to the mound against Vanderbilt sophomore left-hander Kevin Ziomek (2-1, 2.09). Florida saw Ziomek last season, so the Gators know what to expect.

"He's a lefty that can bump it up there and throw it in the low-to-mid 90s," Zunino said. "He's got a curveball. It's something we're trying to stay with our approach and not being afraid to use the whole field."

The Saturday matchup will feature Florida junior left-hander Brian Johnson (2-0, 4.12) against Vanderbilt junior Drew VerHagen (2-1, 3.93). On Sunday, Florida sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (1-1, 5.71) will face Vanderbilt freshman right-hander Tyler Beede (0-2, 7.24).

Friday night's game will start at 7 p.m., while the two final games will begin at 1 p.m.

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