Florida opens SEC tournament with Texas A&M

The Gators will see unfamiliar faces in the other dugout to open the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Tuesday afternoon. Florida will take on Texas A&M for the first time since 2007 after scheduling challenges kept the teams from playing during the regular season. The Aggies will throw their ace to open the tournament against one of Florida's most consistent pitchers.

Daniel Mengden has been the star on the mound for the Aggies. The sophomore right-hander is 7-3 with a 1.92 ERA, allowing 67 hits and 20 walks in 98.1 innings while striking out 80 hitters. Opposing batters are hitting .196 against Mengden in his 14 starts this season.

He has the attention of the Florida coaching staff and players. Since the Gators haven't seen him during the regular season, they're depending on film study and scouting reports to prepare for Tuesday.

"He has been their No. 1 for most of the season," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He has a power arm and is going to attack. Great arm and breaking ball with a feel for a changeup. I know he's a two-way player that has caught in the past, so he has some aggressiveness to him.

"He'll run it up there 93, 94, 95 (mph) and compete with multiple pitches for strikes."

The Gators will start sophomore right-hander Johnny Magliozzi, who has served as the team's closer and a starting pitcher at different times this year. At the plate, the Aggies are second to last in runs scored (247) and in the middle of pack in other statistics like batting average (7th - .276) and slugging percentage (7th - .376). Texas A&M is 12th in the conference with 22 home runs, but those low numbers shouldn't be a problem for the Aggies in the large confines of Regions Park.

The offensive game the Aggies will try to implement is clear through the statistics. It's based on small ball. They're third in the conference with 76 stolen bases and lead the SEC with 58 sacrifice bunts, which are 11 more than the second place teams. The Gators have played multiple small ball teams this season and will try to be sharp on their bunt defenses for Tuesday.

"We haven't had a chance to play them, so all I know is from watching them on TV and on tape," O'Sullivan said. Rob (Childress) and his staff do a great job. They're very well coached. They're aggressive. I know they like to run on the base paths. We're fully aware of how good Texas A&M is. It'll be one of those Friday night atmospheres, I'm sure."

The challenge for Florida will be to erase the negative momentum that came with the series loss at Georgia and try to build some positive news with a win on Tuesday before the NCAA Tournament field is announced on May 27.

"There have been some bright moments during the season for us and some moments that haven't been so bright," O'Sullivan said. "Right now, our focus is on trying to have that clean slate."

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