Young team preparing for hostile environment

The Gators have played games in front of 8,500 fans at Mississippi State and 6,700 fans at sold out Dick Howser Stadium against Florida State. They've played in front of loud opposing crowds this year. But they haven't seen anything like what they'll find at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge this weekend. The Tigers drew 35,257 fans for their series against South Carolina last weekend.

For a veteran team, it might not be as much of a concern. The Gators went to Baton Rouge two years ago with a team dependent on many experienced sophomores and juniors, and Florida left with a series sweep. Multiple players, including Florida catcher Mike Zunino, told stories about the team heading for the buses after the Sunday win and leaving to a standing ovation from LSU fans.

It's a loud, passionate fan base, but there's also plenty of baseball knowledge. The group appreciates good baseball, evident by their appreciation for what Florida did two years ago in Baton Rouge.

This year, it won't be quite as easy.

The Gators return to Baton Rouge with just three players that made that trip two years ago -- first baseman Vickash Ramjit, shortstop Cody Dent and third baseman Zack Powers. There will be wide eyes as the Gators take the field on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in front of a large crowd at Alex Box Stadium.

"I've heard some stories," Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. "I've heard that it gets pretty wild in there and pretty loud. I've heard that also they're just fans of baseball, so it kind of goes both ways, but I've heard that it's a crazy environment."

The difference in the crowd at LSU compared to others is consistency. At Mississippi State earlier this year and other series this year, the Gators will get a tough crowd to play in front of during the first two games of the series. The third game is usually smaller.

That's not how things work in Baton Rouge. The Tigers hosted 10,835 fans in the third game of their series against South Carolina last week. They consistently pack the stadium and are easy to hear.

"We've heard their fans are intense," Florida freshman shortstop Richie Martin said. "Some of the older players like Zack Powers talked about what it's going to be like and the intensity. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. It should be nice."

The youth has been an issue for Florida this season, even as it takes a streak of 11 wins in its last 13 games into this weekend. Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan has seen his team play in front of tough crowds this year, but he knows this weekend is different.

The group's experience this year can help this weekend, but until they take the field at Alex Box Stadium, O'Sullivan admitted there's still some uncertainty with how the team will handle the environment.

"There's still some uncertainly," O'Sullivan said. "The atmosphere is one thing, but then your opponent kind of adds to that. I think we'll probably get a little bit of both this weekend. We're playing a really, really good team, arguably one of the top two or three teams in the country -- and great environment to play in. It will be a learning experience for us. It is one we'll learn from and go from. Bottom line, we just have to play well."

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