Momentum changing for Florida

The mood in the third base dugout at McKethan Stadium is starting to change. Playing good baseball tends to do that. Even more important -- wins can do that. The Gators have fired off a streak with seven wins in their last nine games, with six of those seven coming against ranked teams. Florida got back to .500 with a win on Friday night, and the mood in the dugout is different.

The energy is different. The postgame scene is nothing like it was early in the season. After games early in the season, even some of them wins, there were long postgame meetings with plenty of address. When the Gators clinched the series win on Friday night at McKethan Stadium, the young team in the third base dugout celebrated.

They met together when the game was over like always, but this meeting was different. There were multiple points when the team broke out in cheers, applauding efforts of different players -- but especially applauding their second series second in conference play.

"There's a certain life in the dugout," Florida freshman outfielder Harrison Bader said.

The early parts haven't been pretty, and the players and coaches know it. But what's happening now is starting to change the momentum of the team.

"The puzzle is coming together," Florida sophomore second baseman Casey Turgeon said. "We're not going to go down without a fight. We're just going to try to continue it."

That fight was shown again on Friday. South Carolina reliever Adam Westmoreland was dominating the Gators, and with two runners on base and two outs in the eighth inning, Bader lined a single to left field to give the Gators the lead.

It has been a big part of the recent run that has included seven wins in the last nine games. For a team that isn't deep in talent, the Gators have to show that fight. And they're learning to do it. At the end of last weekend's series at Mississippi State, the Gators were 1-7 in one-run games. Since then, they've won three straight -- Tuesday's win at Florida State and the first two wins over South Carolina to take the series.

"I didn't know if we were 1-7, 0-7 or 2-8," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I know we lost some tough games. If you stay the course, it'll come back to you. We've been on the right side of things. We've learned from it, playing a difficult schedule.

"We're showing more grit and handling these later, tight situations in games better than we handled them earlier in the year."

Getting back to .500 was important for Florida. Despite the less than ideal record, the Gators still hold the No. 15 RPI in the country and have a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament if they can close the season well, but they have to stay above .500 to make it happen.

The schedule gets much easier in the second half of Southeastern Conference play. LSU is the only tough series in the middle of Missouri, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia to close conference play. Getting to .500 is the goal, but the Gators made that happen on Friday by making the record 18-18.

Now they want to keep stretching their record out in the future.

"Everybody in our locker room knows what our record is," O'Sullivan said. "But I'm pleased with how we're playing and competing. If we continue to play well and improve, at the end of the year, we'll be where we need to be."


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