Tim Casey / UAA Communications

Gators take on LSU to start SEC Baseball Tournament

The Florida Gator baseball team will square off against an opponent they are quite familiar with to open up their SEC Baseball Tournament play on Wednesday. By virtue of their walk-off 5-4 win Tuesday night, the LSU Tigers (40-14, 19-11 SEC) will play Florida (44-11, 19-10 SEC) in a game scheduled for around 8 p.m. Wednesday that will be televised live on the SEC Network.

The Tigers took two –of-three from Florida just this past weekend in a series that helped settle the eventual SEC Champion. Florida went into the weekend with a half-game lead on everyone else in the conference, but losing two did them in and inevitably a five team race at the end finished with Mississippi State taking the regular season title by virtue of a sweep of their weekend series.

The Gators had some misfortune with weather on Thursday night as junior starter Logan Shore only went two innings before a rain delay cancelled the rest of the Thursday action and rendered him out for the rest of the game that resumed on Saturday. Junior starter A.J. Puk lasted a little more than two innings on Friday before he had to leave with a stomach virus.

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan says he is likely to go with Puk to start the tournament Wednesday.

“It’s been a challenging schedule, but obviously we’re looking forward to playing Wednesday night,” O’Sullivan said by teleconference on Monday. “LSU played well. Their hitters were very difficult to put away. They had very two-strike approaches. They certainly battle tested us. It was a difficult circumstance for us after we lost Logan Thursday night after two innings. Then the next night, A.J. tried to pitch through a stomach illness and we had to take him out after two innings.

“When you are playing as good a team as LSU on the road and only get 4 and a third innings out of your two starters, it makes it pretty difficult. But, we battled and hung in there and won the third game against an LSU team that is playing very well. There are always positives to take away whether you are totally successful or not.

“The plan is to probably throw A.J. Puk on Wednesday, then Logan Shore on Thursday and Alex (next). Get our guys some action this weekend before the regional.”

The Tigers may throw ace starter Alex Lange, but at this writing that had not been determined. If so, it should be a great matchup of two of the top pitchers in the country with the Tigers being one of the hottest hitting teams in the country right now.

O’Sullivan is more focused on his team and he believes they are ready.

“When you get to this point of the season it is more about how well your team is playing,” He said. “We had a talk (Monday) and all the things that were accomplished this year by this team and the personal accomplishments from an SEC standpoint, all those things are great. I think our guys are in a good place.

“It’s been a difficult month where we’ve been on the road four of the last five weeks. It hasn’t been easy, but I think we are a better team now than we were five weeks ago.”

Alonso and Kowar close to returning…

One of the things missing for the last few weeks from the Florida lineup has been their best hitter on the season. First baseman Peter Alonso broke his hand a few weekends ago and has been in recovery mode. He won’t likely play this week in Hoover, but O’Sullivan thinks he will be back for the start of NCAA Tournament play next week.

Freshman pitcher Jackson Kowar is also recovering from an issue he suffered in the South Carolina series a few weeks ago. After some minor surgery and weight loss, he is close to competing and he and Alonso will both travel to the SEC Tournament.

“Both of those guys are going to join us in Hoover,” O’Sullivan said. “It is simple. Jackson is going to come down to regaining his strength and his weight. He’s gained about 5-7 pounds this last week. We wouldn’t ask him to do anything competitively for us until he gets his strength back. I think he’s close to doing that. The longer we play the better the chance is he has an opportunity to pitch for us.

I spoke to Pete (Sunday) night. The swelling has gone down considerably and he feels great. I would anticipate without any hang ups that he would be available for the Regional. We’ll have to let the trainers do their job and make that decision, but from a players standpoint he feels very good about where he’s at. 

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