Regional Notes: Tobias provides energy

The third base position has been a revolving door this year. Josh Tobias began the season as the starter but lost the job to freshman John Sternagel because of production. After Sternagel went into a slump near the end of the regular season, Tobias got a shot again and took advantage.

John Sternagel started the first game of the SEC Tournament at third base, but Josh Tobias pinch hit for him late in the game. After that, Tobias started the final four games of the tournament. And he didn't disappoint.

The junior finished his trip to Hoover 5-13 with one home run, four runs scored, three RBI and two walks.

"He's an incredible player," Florida center fielder Harrison Bader said of Tobias. "He adds a lot to our lineup -- contact, power. He's the kind of guy you expect to do something. Having him in the lineup is good for us."

Sternagel played well during his chances and had a number of big hits, including a game-winning home run against Georgia during the regular season. The Rockledge High School product has a bright future in Gainesville, but as he has done at other times during his career, Tobias just got hot weeks ago and has been swinging the bat well.

He always has the ability to make the jaw-dropping play at third base because of his athleticism, and that combination has made him an important part of the Florida team heading into the postseason.

"He always plays solid defense, but he has a great approach at the plate," Florida shortstop Richie Martin said about Tobias. "Everyone knows he has raw power. He's showing that he can really hit by taking the ball the other way and up the middle. I've always known Josh can hit, but he's had the time to shine."

BADER GETTING HOT: Bader is starting to catch fire, too. After he returned to the team following a 19-game suspension to start the season, he struggled to find consistency at the plate. In the last two weeks, Florida's center fielder has found it.

He went 10-19 at the SEC Tournament to join Tobias on the SEC All-Tournament Team.

"I'm seeing the ball good and trying to take my singles," Bader said. "I stay with the same approach, so hopefully I can carry that into the weekend."

His impact has come at the plate and in the field. Bader made multiple highlight catches in Hoover and continues to be a game changer in center field. His return to the team has added depth to the lineup and put a vocal leader back in the dugout, sparking the Gators to run away with the SEC.

"He has meant so much," Martin said. "The middle of the field is the most important. His bat and defense are so important to this team. He's a great leader, one of the vocal leaders on this team. It's real important to have him back."

PROGRAM BUILDING: Kevin O'Sullivan hasn't spent much time this season addressing what happened in 2013. The players remember the frustration of last year , but the program still made the NCAA Tournament, and this year's appearance pushed the school record to seven straight years in the NCAA Tournament. Even year since O'Sullivan took over at Florida, the Gators have made the postseason tournament.

Three College World Series appearances have been important, but the most important part to O'Sullivan has been developing the program and making it viewed as one of the best in the country.

"We're trying to build a program here," O'Sullivan said. "We want to be one of those elite teams, and we want to be in the postseason every year. This is our seventh straight year in the postseason, which is a new standard at Florida. I want this program to be recognized as one of the better programs in the country. In order to do that, you have to have consistency."

That's why making the NCAA Tournament was important last year. But this season's bounce back to the elite in the country has made even more rewarding for the man at the head of the Florida program.

"This has been an extremely gratifying season for me personally to bounce back from last year and have so many guys contribute, so many guys lend a hand in accomplishing the goal of winning the SEC," O'Sullivan said. "I feel good about this team. I feel as good about this team as any others we've had here."

ONE-RUN WINS: The Gators are 16-6 this season in one-run game, leading the country in one-run wins. It's a surprise statistic for a young team, but the strong pitching and defense has played a big role in accomplishing it. Those numbers plus a 7-2 record in extra innings games have O'Sullivan trusting his team in tight situations this year.

"You've got to clutch up, have some mental toughness," O'Sullivan said. "This doesn't happen by accident. You don't win 40 games with this schedule by accident. You don't win one-run games by accident. Those last six or three outs are sometimes the most difficult ones to get.

"You have to have some leadership, confidence and you have to have some moxy about you."

RHODES READY: Right-hander Aaron Rhodes, who was dealing with tendinitis, threw a bullpen on Tuesday and looked rusty. He will be available for the Gators this weekend, but O'Sullivan isn't sure what role he will be used in. The redshirt sophomore was Florida's second starter before he went down with the tendinitis three weeks ago.

He was a dominant reliever, especially against right-handed hitters because of his above average slider, and likely will return to that role this weekend.

"I don't know what his role will be this weekend," O'Sullivan said. "I think it'd be unfair to think we'd throw him out there for 100 pitches. He feels good and that's the most important thing."

ADMIRING SHORE: Karsten Whitson threw 97.1 innings during his freshman season in 2011 and posted a 2.40 ERA while earning National Freshman Pitcher of the Year honors. Even with his dominant freshman season, Whitson has been blown away watching Florida freshman Logan Shore this season.

Shore, the SEC Freshman of the Year, has thrown 90.2 innings and posted a 1.99 ERA while going 7-1 in league play, tying for the conference lead in wins of all SEC pitchers.

"It has been amazing to watch," Whitson said. "I've learned stuff from him. He's calm out there, controls the count and the game. He has great poise. I'm not surprised at the success he's had this year. From seeing him work in the fall and talking to him, he's got a good head on his shoulders and a great work ethic. It's no surprise to me."


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