Gators Hope to Rejuvenate Offense

Kevin O'Sullivan didn't sleep much on Tuesday night. After his team dropped a game 5-3 to USF, the head coach spent hours pouring over statistics and box scores, desperately searching for the fix to Florida's offense. What he found was inconsistency. Despite leading the country in home runs, the Gators were becoming too dependent on the long ball.

"I felt like we've been playing for the three run homer in the beginning, which is obviously important with our offense," O'Sullivan said. "We lead the nation in home runs and we only have 54. These bats have changed things."

When those home runs didn't come, the Florida offense went through inconsistent patches. The consistent scoring and pressuring the opponent wasn't there. Since the beginning of March, the Florida offense had scored a run in five or more innings just twice.

The Gators had scored a run in three innings or less in 22 of the 41 games played this season before Wednesday night's game.

"That's just not going to get it done," O'Sullivan said.

With that in mind, O'Sullivan brought his team together for their normal pre-game meeting before hosting Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday. He showed them the numbers. He talked about the inconsistencies.

Most importantly for the Gators, he talked about what would change.

Florida showed some of the new-look offense on Wednesday. The Gators were more active on the bases, stealing a season-high five bases. There were multiple hit-and-runs that were put on, and a few sacrifice bunts, even power hitter Austin Maddox.

In a conference or postseason game, Maddox might not be squaring to bunt. However, O'Sullivan wanted to make it clear to his team that they all need to be prepared to make sacrifices to improve the offense.

"I think we've been just sitting back and waiting for home runs," O'Sullivan said. "Those things are going to still be there, but we've got to manufacture runs more ways."

The new-look offense produced Florida's first ten-run game since the Gators did it against Vanderbilt on March 16. There were still home runs, as Florida blasted two of them, but the hitters put pressure on Bethune-Cookman every inning and put a run on the scoreboard in seven of the eight innings at the plate.

"You've got to apply pressure every inning," O'Sullivan said. "There has got to be more focus. We do have a great offense, but we've got some other guys that need to contribute.

"We need to focus, get leadoff men on and do a better job of driving in men from third with less than two outs."

The activity on the base paths is something Florida wanted to do more season with some added speed on the roster. Freshman third baseman Josh Tobias is the fastest player on the team, but he hasn't played since March 23 at South Carolina after suffering a fractured hamate bone.

Another change to the lineup came in the second spot of the batting order. The Gators have gone through multiple options this season without finding a perfect fit. Instead of forcing it, O'Sullivan pushed the batting order up.

Preston Tucker hit second with Mike Zunino third and Brian Johnson hitting cleanup. Daniel Pigott, who has spent a majority of his career hitting second, is spending time in the fifth spot where O'Sullivan likes the protection he provides Johnson.

Tucker isn't the typical second hitter in an order, but O'Sullivan likes the unconventional look.

"Is he the prototypical in the two-hole? No, but if that gets him an extra at-bat a game or two-to-three at-bats a week, I think it's worth it there," the head coach said.

Austin Maddox also saw time as the designated hitter on Wednesday and went 1-2 with an RBI and run scored. He will likely see more time in the lineup going forward. Senior Jeff Moyer started at third base and showed he could handle the position defensively while going 1-3 with an RBI and a walk at the plate.

He could earn more starts at third base until Tobias is ready to return.

The focus for Florida going forward is building momentum for the postseason and trying to find a lineup that maximizes the team's capabilities. O'Sullivan just doesn't want his team to get lost while waiting for the home runs to come.

"When you face numbers ones in this league, they're not all going to be six or seven-run games," O'Sullivan said. "You're going to have to manufacture some runs, especially with these bats. They've changed the college game.

"We have a great lineup with some guys in the middle that can drive the ball out, but as a whole, we need to do a better job."

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