A new weapon

Florida's two-week road trip produced exactly what Kevin O'Sullivan wanted. His team clinched the Southeastern Conference title in Knoxville to finish the regular season. The Gators played clean games and got encouraging pitching performances from multiple arms heading into the NCAA Tournament. After the pitching staff was settled, Karsten Whitson surprised everyone.

There's no question who Florida's ace is. Logan Shore will be on the mound Friday against College of Charleston, but as usual, O'Sullivan will have to piece the rest of the rotation together after that. There are plenty of options -- Eric Hanhold, Bobby Poyner, A.J. Puk, Justin Shafer, and Danny Young.

The Florida coaches prepared for the SEC Tournament final against LSU and wanted to piece it together with the remaining fresh arms. They felt confident about the starting options for the NCAA Tournament, but all of those were supposed to rest and prepare for a possible start in Regionals.

Then Karsten Whitson made a statement on Sunday.

The redshirt junior tossed six shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out one batter. LSU came into the game averaging over 12 runs in the previous seven games, and Whitson was dominant. His fastball was 91-94 mph consistently and his slider was the best it has been all season.

"When I was catching him in the pen, it was just one of those days where he was on and clicking," Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. "It was exciting to put my glove up and have him hit it the whole day. You're going to see a lot more of that."

But in role will we see it this weekend? That's the big question, and there's no set answer. After Shore throws on Friday night, O'Sullivan has decisions to make about who Florida will start on Saturday, depending on the matchup against either Long Beach State or North Carolina.

It's unlikely that Whitson starts game two or game three, but he could come out of the bullpen. If Florida goes to a fourth game this weekend, Whitson could be the one to get the ball during that game. While his role is still undetermined, he remains an important part of the Florida pitching staff.

"I've always had confidence in Karsten. That's why I keep running him out there. It's in there," O'Sullivan said. "I know the Vanderbilt start (0.1 IP, 5 R) wasn't great, but I've said this all along -- if we're going to get to where we need to get to, he has to be a part of it. I was really pleased with how he threw. He stepped up. That was the Karsten that we've all come to expect. It was a huge emotional lift for us and him."

Playing in their fifth game in as many days, O'Sullivan could tell Florida was playing with heavy legs on Sunday in the title game, but Whitson's performance energized the team. The team took Monday off to rest its legs and get energy back before hitting the practice field again on Tuesday.

With a depleted pitching staff, Whitson's performance gave the team something to rally around while heading into the NCAA Tournament.

"That's the thing about this team," Gushue said. "Everybody on this team wants to see everybody do well. It's not like there's anybody stepping in the way getting jealous. Whit went out and had an awesome start, and everybody was happy for him. We're one of those teams that needs everybody. It's not just one guy or a couple guys. It's a collective effort.

"But with his fastball and slider, he's pretty hard to beat."

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