The Vanderbilt series was different than other recent series for Florida. It was the first series loss in over a month and the first time the Gators needed a decisive game three at home during an SEC series this season. After a 1-0 win behind 7.1 shutout innings from freshman Logan Shore, Friday's 3-0 loss snapped Florida's school record 12-game SEC winning streak.
After dropping the final two games to lose the series, Kevin O'Sullivan wanted to keep his team upbeat. That was the message after the game and one that carried into the trip to Knoxville. Two losses to Vanderbilt shouldn't eliminate the team's confidence after winning 12 straight conference games before that.
"We played poorly (against Vanderbilt). We didn't play well," O'Sullivan said on Saturday. "That's what good teams do to you. They take advantage of your mistakes. But in the grand scheme of things, you play 56 games. It's a season. We've had a heck of a season up to this point. I don't want the guys jumping off a cliff and acting like the season is coming to an end. We've got to learn from our mistakes."
Youth can go a long way in determining the team's confidence level, and O'Sullivan wanted to make sure things didn't change with two losses. That's why Tuesday's win was important. Even though midweek games haven't made much of an impact on the team's weekend performance earlier this season, O'Sullivan wanted his team to regain its confidence on Tuesday.
The hope now is that it carries into the weekend.
Florida has all of its goals remaining as it heads into the final SEC weekend. With one Florida win or one Ole Miss loss, the Gators clinch a share of the SEC title. If Florida wins and Ole Miss losses this weekend combine to be two or more, the Gators clinch the outright SEC title. The Rebels play at Texas A&M, who is fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid, this weekend.
The Gators are also continuing their pursuit of a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Florida's RPI currently sits at No. 2 based on projections by WarrenNolan.com. Most postseason projections have the Gators securely as a national seed, but a series win in Knoxville would likely clinch it.
It won't be easy. The Volunteers need a resume-building win over a highly ranked opponent to give them a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. A series win over Florida would provide that.
Tennessee ranks in the middle portion of SEC teams in most offensive categories but leads the league with 16 triples. Even though Florida offense's hasn't hit for power this season, the Gators' 22 home run are four more than Tennessee has.
The Volunteers will challenge Florida on the base paths. Tennessee leads the conference with 81 stolen bases. Florida has only 45.
The Tennessee pitching staff is also in the middle of the lead in most statistics. However, it has allowed the third most walks in the conference at 180, meaning the Florida hitters will need to be patient.