#8 Florida Gators vs Georgia Bulldogs (3 games)
Athens, Georgia; Friday (7 p.m.) – Saturday (2 p.m.) Sunday (1 p.m.) April 28-30.
Broadcast: SEC NETWORK+ (online)
Florida: Friday - Jr. RHP Alex Faedo (6-1, 2.47 ERA); Saturday - So. RHP Brady Singer (4-3, 1.94 ERA); Sunday - So. RHP Jackson Kowar (6-0, 3.90 ERA)
Georgia: Friday - Sr. LHP Andrew Gist (2-3, 3.99 ERA); Saturday - Jr. RHP Chase Adkins (5-4, 3.43 ERA); Sunday - So. LHP Kevin Smith (2-4, 6.35 ERA)
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan would like to see a little bit more out of his team this season and is hoping that finishing the semester this week will have that effect on his guys.
“We’re just trying to get our guys through finals,” O’Sullivan said on Wednesday before his team left for Georgia to take on the Bulldogs. “Usually when they get done with school they tend to relax and play a little bit better; at least that’s been the tendency. Obviously playing on the road is not an easy task in this league and looking at Georgia’s roster, I know their record is not what they want it to be but I do think they’re talented.
The Bulldogs have struggled this season, but O’Sullivan knows they are a quality team that will show up in the big rivalry.
“They’re starting about four freshmen in the lineup. We recruited a few of those guys so I know how talented they are. They’ve got a collection of arms that have good velocity. I think they’ve used 16 arms in 18 league games, so they’re probably still trying to figure out roles. I know they’re throwing the lefty on Friday and Atkins is coming off a great performance last week against Vanderbilt throws from a couple different slots. It won’t be easy.
“Anytime you play on the road in this league it’s a bit challenging. We’re looking forward to getting over finals and looking forward to getting up there. It looks like there might be rain (Friday) night; we might be indoors for practice. Looking forward to another challenging weekend.”
The Gators are headed down the home stretch of the season and all of their goals are still in sight. Just two games out of the division lead, they still have a series against East leading Kentucky to end the regular season. Maybe things haven’t been smooth, but O’Sullivan thinks they are on the right path.
“Even I feel like we've been up and down this year,” he said. “Here we are. We're (ninth) in the RPI. People around the country think we're a top-10 team. We've had some injuries but we've hung in there. I just, I really believe if we stay consistent and just continue to improve and get guys back who are injured that in a regional or a super-regional if we're fortunate enough to get there, if we're fortunate enough to get to Omaha, that we've got as good of a chance as anybody. I truly believe that. It has been a little challenging because we haven't been swinging the bats as well as we'd like, but we can get hot here once finals are done, get hot in May. Who knows? Who knows what will happen?"
O’Sullivan has been jockeying the lineup a little bit lately for a couple of reasons. The first reason is trying to get the best hitters in the right place and a couple have stepped up. The other is due to injuries and just plugging guys in where he can.
"We haven't done a whole lot,” he said. “I don't even look at the numbers. I don't even know what we're hitting. I don't know how many games we won over the last amount of games we've played. I don't even look at it. I just look at the next game. But I do know that the offense seems, to me, by my eye, it looks like it's in a good place right now and no sense of really changing it right now. Now, with that said, we need Rivera back and we do need India back. And when they do come back, things will shuffle around a little bit that way.”
Maldonado stepping up…
Sophomore Nelson Maldonado has been hitting well as of late. Batting .355 with two home runs and six RBI in the last nine games, Maldonado is starting to live up to what O’Sullivan expected and starting to be a leader by example for his team.
"Well, he needs to hit,” O’Sullivan said. “He's very consistent. He's always hit. He stays in the middle of the field. He's got the ability to rise to the occasion just like Saturday. He hits a home run and ties the game up at 3. He plays with a ton of energy. He's been good for the last month. The last month, he's been swinging the bat really well. He's probably one of our more consistent hitters over the last month."
O’Sullivan is highly anticipating the return of sophomore third baseman Jonathan India and junior catcher Mike Rivera who are both out with injury. Both are key components for the gators and any kind of run they hope to have at the end of the year.
"Maybe (India will) swing this weekend,” he said. “That's obviously totally up to the trainers and doctors. I think he's one more week away, from what I'm being told, from playing third base. So hopefully he'll swing this weekend and hopefully play third by Ole Miss.
“Mikey, same thing, maybe a couple more weeks. He gets the stitches out Friday I believe. We'll give him a couple weeks and then the tricky part comes with him as far as swinging the bat and catching. Probably the plan at least going in is to let him hit for a week or two, come back, get some more strength in his hand back and then put him back behind the plate. That's probably the goal."