"The bottom line is we have to stay positive and move this thing in the right direction," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's our job as coaches to get them going. We've got to make better adjustments. We're chasing out of the zone and our approach is not changing quick enough during the course of a game."
The Gators have struggled with situational hitting all season, but it was even more evident this weekend. Florida put a runner on third with less than two outs eight times this weekend. Of those eight, only two scored. The six times the runner was stranded, it was a junior that didn't get the job done.
That's the most frustrating part for O'Sullivan. The Gators were led by their sophomore class at the plate during the 2013 season, but now in their junior year, the class isn't getting it done.
"It's frustrating," O'Sullivan said. "You get runners on third with less than two outs, you've got to drive them in. It's little things. We're not giving ourselves a chance. We're in a rut right now where we're not scoring many runs."
Florida juniors Taylor Gushue and Braden Mattson are hitting .300 (24-80) this season with one home run, 15 runs scored and 17 RBI. Other junior contributors Zack Powers, Justin Shafer, Josh Tobias and Casey Turgeon are hitting .198 (24-121) with no home runs, seven runs scored and 10 RBI.
"It's one of those things where guys start pressing. That's what is happening and what's going on. When you've done this as long as I have, these things happen. You don't see it coming and then it catches you off guard. It's our job to stay positive. We'll come out of it. It doesn't last forever, but right now, it's difficult."
Florida left-hander A.J. Puk made the first start of his career, lasting 3.1 innings and giving up two runs while striking out three hitters. Puk showed a 92-94 mph fastball consistently while touching 95 mph once. Puk loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning, and Illinois second baseman Reid Roper singled to left field to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Puk cruised through his first two innings with two strikeouts before running into trouble in the third and fourth innings.
"It's going to take some time for his delivery to get in sync," O'Sullivan said. "Things kind of get out of sorts in a hurry. You saw what we've seen -- he looks dynamite for two innings, and then all of a sudden, he scatters four balls. It's coordination. But when he puts it all together, he's going to be really, really good."
With no margin for error behind a slumping offense, the Florida pitching staff held its own until it came crashing down in the eighth inning. After a leadoff double, the Illini strung together four straight singles plus a fielder's choice to score three runs and take a 5-0 lead. That was all they would need.
Florida returns to action on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Southern Miss in Pensacola.