Gators confident heading to Vanderbilt

This was the series circled on the college baseball calendar coming into the season.

Florida and Vanderbilt opened the 2015 season ranked as the top two teams in some college baseball polls. The Commodores were coming off a national title last season while the Gators returned most pieces from a team that earned the No. 2 overall seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

While both teams have had their ups and downs this season, the hype is still there surrounding this weekend’s series in Nashville.

The Commodores (35-4, 17-7 SEC) lead the Southeastern Conference going into the final two weekends of league play.

Florida (36-13, 15-9 SEC) has been inconsistent against SEC opponents, but they’re riding a three-game winning streak that gives the team confidence heading into this weekend. The Gators completed their non-conference schedule on Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over South Florida, which is actually a quality win since the Bulls have the No. 29 RPI in the country.

“Everybody feels good about themselves, but I don’t know if that will have any bearing on the outcome of Thursday’s game,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We know what’s at stake and how good Vanderbilt is, but I do think we’re in a good place. I feel good about this weekend.

“I don’t want our guys to put more stock into this weekend than any other because they’re all important, but things get magnified on national TV with national seed, the SEC race and all but they’re all important. I don’t want them to try to do more than they think they need to do to be successful. The bottom line is we’re playing a good opponent, so we’ll go up there and have a real good practice (Wednesday night) and try to play our best baseball this weekend.”

The national seed race is the biggest part of this weekend. The Commodores have a two-game lead on Florida in the SEC standings, and with Vanderbilt facing a struggling Alabama team next weekend while the Gators host surging Auburn, it would be unlikely for Florida to win the overall conference title since LSU and Texas A&M are also ahead of the Gators.

A series win for Florida would provide a big RPI boost that could put the Gators back in the national seed conversation. The team has talked about what this weekend means, but they don’t want to put too much pressure on the outcome.

“You always want momentum going into a series like this,” Florida shortstop Richie Martin said. “We try not to make it bigger than it is, but it’s very important. It’s good to have that momentum because we need to play well this weekend. It’s urgent but we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. We know it’s important.”

The Gators will throw sophomore Logan Shore (6-4, 3.01) against Vanderbilt ace Carson Fulmer (9-1, 1.74) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The Friday game will set Gators left-hander A.J. Puk (6-3, 5.08) against Commodores left-hander Phillip Pfeifer (3-3, 3.88). The Saturday finale will see Florida freshman Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.27) against Vanderbilt junior Walker Buehler (3-1, 2.86).

“They’re always known for their pitching,” Martin said. “That’s always a plus for them.”

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