What we learned about the Gators: AU series

Florida won its final regular season series but still has a lot to play for at the SEC Tournament.

THE GOOD:

NATIONAL SEED RAMIFICATIONS: Three SEC teams -- Florida, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- are battling for one or two national seed spots. The good news for the Gators is they have the best resume of the three right now. That could change quickly in Hoover this week because it’s a slim cushion.

Florida will open the SEC Tournament on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s Arkansas-Tennessee matchup. There’s a lot that will be determined at conference tournaments this week.

It feels like Dallas Baptist, Illinois Louisville, LSU, TCU and UCLA are safe bets to be national seeds. That leaves two spots open. Clemson swept Florida State in Tallahassee and the Seminoles likely played themselves out of a national seed. Miami got hot recently and is playing well down the stretch, putting them in the mix with the trio of SEC teams.

Heading into the final week before the NCAA Tournament, it looks like Florida, Miami, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are the four teams fighting for two national seeds. Here’s why this is good news for the Gators -- Florida won the regular season series over Miami and Vanderbilt, and going into last week’s series, most experts liked the Gators’ resume more than the Aggies. It’s a small edge as the teams head into the final week, and Florida needs success in Hoover to earn a national seed.

PITCHING: The Gators allowed eight runs on the weekend. In 27 innings on defense, Florida pitching allowed a run in just four of them, and one of those came when two runs scored after Ryan Larson and Buddy Reed collided in right-center field. Logan Shore has put together back-to-back really good starts and looks to be coming around at the right time for Florida. The bad news was A.J. Puk coming back down to earth and dominating Georgia and Vanderbilt the last two weeks.

The staff has been up and down this year, but everyone other than Puk had a good weekend. Florida will start Dane Dunning on Wednesday against Arkansas or Tennessee, and Kevin O’Sullivan said his team will need Dunning as a fourth starter during the postseason so they want to get him prepared for that.

SENIORS: Josh Tobias hit the go-ahead home run on Sunday to give the Gators the win. Bobby Poyner came in to get the final out to clinch the series. Aaron Rhodes was great in relief of Puk on Saturday to slow the game down and give the offense a chance to retake the lead. It was a perfect ending to the regular season for Florida’s trio of seniors.

THE BAD:

OFFENSE: Eight runs in three games isn’t the Florida offense we’ve seen in recent weeks. O’Sullivan credited the Auburn pitchers and said they were comfortable throwing curveballs and sliders in 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1 counts, usually times the Florida hitters sit on a fastball and hit it hard. It’s exactly what the Tigers did, and the Gators can expect to see a lot more of that once other teams see the video from this weekend.

BADER: Harrison Bader is in a funk at the plate right now. He moved down to seventh in the order on Saturday because of it. On the weekend, Bader went 1-10 and has just one hit in his last 18 at-bats. After flirting with a .400 batting average in the first half of the season, the junior is now down to .295.

The Gators need to get their left fielder going, and there was one sign of him coming out of the slump. In his final at-bat on Saturday, Bader hit a long fly ball to right-center field that was caught at the fence. It was the best Bader hit a ball since his home run at Vanderbilt last Friday. Florida needs him to get hot in Hoover this week.


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