No. 1 Gators Host Georgia This Weekend

It's one of the best rivalries in the country on the gridiron. There aren't as many historic moments on the diamond, but the intensity is just as high for the players. The Florida-Georgia rivalry, taking place in Gainesville this weekend, is an important one for both sides and always seems to have a special meaning.

Last season, the important meeting took place at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs were in the tournament with a strong resume for the NCAA Tournament, but they need to have a .500 record or better to clinch their berth.

The opportunity to clinch that came on the second-to-last day of the tournament against the Gators. Georgia needed to beat Florida twice to play for the tournament championship and once to clinch a .500 record that would allow them into the NCAA Tournament.

With their teammate Johnathon Taylor, who was paralyzed while diving for a ball earlier in the season, in the dugout in his wheel chair for the game, Georgia pulled out a 4-3 win to secure their berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida won the second game 3-2 and advanced to the SEC Tournament championship game, which it would win over Vanderbilt to clinch the tournament title.

"It really got competitive," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "We really wanted to win that tournament, and they came out fighting for a regional berth. They were playing really well."

The preseason hype around Georgia was high coming into the 2012 season. The Bulldogs were No. 11 in the Baseball America preseason poll, but the season hasn't lived up to the expectations. Georgia comes to Gainesville this weekend with a 23-15 overall record and 7-8 in conference play.

The problems are across the board. Georgia is seventh in the SEC in hitting (.280) and tenth in the conference in pitching (3.77 ERA).

The starting pitching was expected to be good, and it hasn't been the main problem. Redshirt sophomore left-hander Alex Wood (5-1, 2.61) will take the ball on Friday night for the Bulldogs and be opposed by Florida sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (4-1, 4.05). Wood is a high draft prospect that has struck out 62 hitters in 58.2 innings. Wood has also added just ten walks and two home runs on the season.

"He's an outstanding prospect—great arm, left-handed pitcher," Florida right fielder Preston Tucker said. "He's going to be tough to beat."

Senior right-hander Michael Palazzone (1-5, 5.81) came into the season as the proven ace of the Georgia staff but hasn't been as successful this year. Palazzone, who will get the ball on Saturday and face Florida junior left-hander Brian Johnson (5-1, 3.88), has allowed 60 hits in 48 innings pitched this season while striking out 40.

Georgia hasn't announced a starting pitcher for Sunday's game, but the Gators will send junior right-hander Hudson Randall (3-1, 3.56) to the mound for the first time since March 30.

"If we do what we've been doing the last couple games scoring runs early and manufacturing runs, then hopefully our starting pitching will do a great job of getting us deep into the game and not giving up a lot of runs," Tucker said.

Despite not being in the listed weekend rotation, Florida sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson is still expected to pitch this weekend.

Third baseman Curt Powell leads the Bulldogs with a .336 batting average and .424 on-base percentage. Freshman center fielder Hunter Cole leads the team with six home runs and is second on the team with a .316 batting average. Brett DeLoach (.301) is the only other starter with a batting average above .300.

Cole and shortstop Kyle Farmer are the only Bulldogs with more than two home runs on the season.

"They're a bunch of scrappy hitters that can hit the ball all over the park," Zunino said. "We've got to come out ready to play."

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