Florida hoping to continue momentum in Hoover

When the Gators begin play in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament in Hoover on Wednesday, teams around them will be fighting to boost their NCAA Tournament résumé. Florida is in a different position. Its NCAA résumé is among the best in the country, locking up a national seed before taking the field at the SEC Tournament.

But that hasn't changed the fact that Florida wants to win it.

The Gators start play at the SEC Tournament at 5:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, facing the winner of Tuesday's matchup between Alabama and Kentucky. Florida swept Alabama in Tuscaloosa while dropping two of three games at Kentucky this season.

The NCAA released its official RPI rankings on Monday, and Florida moved up to No. 2. The Gators have 22 top-50 RPI wins, four more than any other team in the country. Add in the No. 1 strength of schedule, and even if the Gators went two-and-out at the SEC Tournament, it would be a massive upset if Florida didn't earn one of the top eight seeds to stay at home in the NCAA Tournament before a potential trip to the College World Series.

Before Florida finds out its NCAA Tournament setup, the Gators want to build momentum.

"We're excited to be a part of the tournament again," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's a tremendous show, and we're anxious to get started. We're fortunate to be here again and awfully excited. We certainly want to play well and build some momentum going into Regionals. We've been fairly consistent throughout the year after a little bit of a shaky start. I just want us to play well and build that momentum."

After completing their weekend series at Tennessee on Saturday, the Gators stayed the night in Knoxville. Instead of returning to Gainesville, the team bussed to Hoover on Sunday to stay for the tournament and continuing practicing.

O'Sullivan said he hadn't decided on a starting pitcher for Wednesday's game. He wanted to get through the team's practice on Monday and see how pitchers' arms felt before making the decision.

"We've got a lot of moving parts," O'Sullivan said. "Logan Shore is somebody we'll look at starting on Wednesday, and maybe even look at Bobby Poyner starting. We've got options. We've mixed and matched all year long."

Shore has been the ace of the pitching staff all season, but after throwing 98 pitches on Thursday, its possible that O'Sullivan might want to wait until Thursday to pitch him.

If the Gators were to make a third game, it's likely that A.J. Puk would get the start. He allowed one run in five innings at Tennessee on Friday and looks like Florida's number two starter until Aaron Rhodes returns from arm fatigue.

"We feel good about Shore obviously as one of our starting pitchers, but A.J. Puk is coming off a really good start on Friday," O'Sullivan said. "We need to figure out who are best options are that are left-handed, if we run into a heavy left-handed lineup in a Regional."


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