Season hanging in the balance

The Florida baseball team left Gainesville on Wednesday for a road trip that will determine its postseason fate. The Gators will play a three-game series at Georgia before traveling straight to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament that begins next week. When they return to Gainesville, the picture will be clearly painted. The Gators have to remain over .500.

With a 28-25 record while heading to Georgia, there are a few ways Florida can make that happen. Winning on game in Athens would put the Gators at 29-27 while heading to the SEC Tournament for a single-elimination game on Tuesday during the tournament's first day.

As long as the Gators win at least one game in Athens, there's no way their record can be at or below .500 at the end of the SEC Tournament. A win in the opening game would put Florida at 30-27 while heading into the double elimination portion of the tournament. A loss in the first game would end Florida's time in Hoover with a 29-28 record heading into selection Monday.

That's not the place the team wants to be in, but as a worst-case scenario, the Gators know they'd still be over .500. They just don't want to settle for that.

"Everything is in front of us," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "If we play well, the outcome will be great. If we don't, it won't be. We're in position to control our own destiny."

But would a 29-28 record be enough to make the tournament? That's the tough question that Florida doesn't know an answer to and doesn't want to rely on.

The Gators currently rank No. 23 in the official NCAA RPI that was released this week. They also have the No. 1 strength of schedule in the country according to Warren Nolan's data. If there was a season the Gators could have schedule softly and padded the record, this is the one.

Instead, O'Sullivan elected to put together a tough schedule and challenge his young team, expecting the tournament committee to reward them in the tournament if the record wasn't as good as it could have been with a softer schedule.

The challenge is to take care of business in the next week and a half to make the decision easy for the committee. The chance to do that comes at the worst team in the SEC, with Georgia sporting a 5-19 record in conference play. The Bulldogs have already been eliminated from the SEC Tournament, with the bottom two teams not making the event, and their season will end after Saturday's series finale. There's also speculation that this could be the end for head coach Dave Perno after this weekend.

There isn't much for Georgia to play for besides pride and trying to ruin Florida's season, but that could be enough motivation. It's a rivalry that always brings out close games in recent years.

"I didn't know much about it until I came down here and went to the football game," Florida right-hander Johnny Magliozzi said. "It's a huge rivalry. I'm just excited to be a part of it."

The Gators will send Jonathon Crawford to the mound on Thursday and Bobby Poyner will get the start on Friday. The Saturday starter is still undecided. Magliozzi could start on Saturday if he doesn't close one of the first two games.

"We still have to figure out what we're going to do with Johnny Mags," O'Sullivan said. "If we need to close with him on Thursday, we'll use him in that role. If we get in a must-win situation and he hasn't thrown, we'll probably throw him then.

"I love his demeanor. The players love playing behind him. He's a bulldog. There's no question you know what you'll get out of him. It's great effort. He can pitch and throws multiple pitches for strikes."

First pitch is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday with the finale starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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