Florida LSU vs Vandy 3-0 vs Tennessee 2-1 vs Auburn 3-0 vs Bama 2-1 vs Bama 2-1 vs Kentucky 2-1 vs Ole Miss 0-3 vs Vandy 2-1 vs Tennessee 1-2 at Ole Miss 2-1
A team in control of the Eastern division on May 13th , the Gators dropped five of their last six games and fell from a possible #1 tournament seed to #6. Most disturbing is the fact that Florida was in every one of these losses to the bitter end. Three of the losses were by two runs, while the other two losses were by a single run. In college baseball, a swing of the aluminum bat always provides an opportunity for success. Unfortunately, it didn't.
In the Ole Miss and Tennessee series, the Gators have either left men in scoring position or failed to hold leads, which have resulted in five losses. Coach Pat McMahon and a group of team leaders will try to iron those problems out before leaving for The Heart of Dixie Tuesday morning. Florida dropped from #13 to #21 in the Baseball America poll.
The Gators will probably face the team with the greatest fan support in the tourney in LSU. With Bama and Auburn both having pathetically weak seasons, the crowds in Birmingham figure to be sparse.
FLORIDA IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT
Florida played in the first game of the 2002 SEC Tournament with Jimmy Ramshaw and the Gators beating Georgia 7-2. The Gators lost their next contest to Alabama 7-4, but later shutout Mississippi State 5-0. They secured revenge against the Crimson Tide a day later with a 7-4 reversal. The rubber match against the Tide occurred in the semi-finals with Bama edging the Gators in an 11-9 slugfest that saw the two teams combine to pound out 27 hits and commit five errors.
Florida and LSU have bumped heads in Birmingham as well. The Gators were bombed in the first round of the 2001 SEC Tourney by the Tigers 10-0. Florida was bounced out two games later, while LSU lost in the finals to Mississippi State 4-1.
The Gators best opportunity to win a recent conference tournament crown came in 2000. Both Florida and LSU ran roughshod through the rest of the field, meeting in the championship game. The Tigers scored 35 runs in the first three games of the tourney, while the Gators scored an nearly impressive 27 runs. Florida cranked out 13 hits against the Tiger pitching staff, but failed miserably in the field, committing five errors in handing over the SEC Title in a 9-6 loss. LSU All-American Wally Pontiff tied an SEC Tournament Record with four RBI's in that contest.
LSU Offense vs Florida starter Justin Hoyman
The Tigers are the top hitting ball club in the Southeastern Conference with a .337 average. Only second baseman Ivan Naccarata (.284) is hitting below the .300 mark. He'd better step it up before Skip Bertman trades him to Kentucky for a point guard.
All-SEC outfielders John Zeringue and J.C. Holt lead the club in most of the critical hitting categories. Zeringue leads in average, slugging percentage, and sacrifices. Holt leads in total hits, on base percentage, and stolen bases. Last weekend's Ole Miss series was out of the ordinary for the pair who have maintained their consistent play throughout the season. Zeringue hit only .214, while Holt blasted the Rebel staff for 7 hits in his last 11 trips to the plate for a .636 average.
Left fielder Ryan Patterson hit .467 this past weekend to earn SEC Player of the Week honors. He went 4 for 6 with five RBI's in the Tigers 14-6 Sunday victory. Catcher Matt Luizza ripped the Rebel staff for a weekend .454 average, including going 3 for 4 on Friday. Third baseman Clay Harris also stepped up, touching the Rebs with a 3 for 4 performance, that saw him hit two doubles and a home run on Saturday.
They will probably face Florida ace Justin Hoyman (10-1) on Wednesday. The last pitcher the Tigers faced with stuff similar to Hoyman's was Ole Miss starter Mark Holliman. He picked up the win versus LSU on Friday night. Holliman went the distance giving up 12 hits and six earned runs, while striking out four.
Hoyman was just named as a semi-finalist for both the Roger Clemons Award and the Dick Howser Trophy. The Cocoa native has held opposing teams to a .210 average. The junior righthander threw a complete game beauty against Ole Miss ten days ago, but was saddled with the loss, as the Gators couldn't muster any offense versus Rebel starter Anthony Cupps. Hoyman only gave up two earned runs on six hits, while striking out five.
Hoyman last pitched on Sunday in Knoxville. He was not as sharp though, giving up 11 hits in and four earned runs, while walking four in 7.1 innings.
Last season Hoyman pitched in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Coral Gables against Florida Atlantic He took a 4-3 loss to the Owls, pitching a complete game. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits, while striking out six.
Florida Offense vs LSU starter Justin Meier
The Gators check in at the second spot in the SEC batting average race, behind the Tigers at .311. Florida is led by C. J. Smith and a surging Ben Harrison, who ripped two home runs in Knoxville for four RBI's. The senior took apart the Ole Miss staff the previous weekend going 6 for 13 (.462) and picking up a couple of RBI's.
Catcher Matt LaPorta is swinging the hot bat for the Gators. The freshman from Port Charlotte hit .500 in the Tennessee series and pounded three home runs and five RBI's. Over the past four games LaPorta has hit .583
Don't be surprised to see the Gators play a small ball against the Tigers. Florida has stolen 61 bases this season and Coach Pat McMahon knows that beating LSU means scoring whenever and however possible.
"We did not play LSU during the course of the regular season, but I will tell you this. They're as best prepared and a well- schooled club as anyone in the country. I have tremendous respect for their coaching staff and for Coach Laval. When you look at their offensive numbers and their pitching numbers, they're the elite in the country" said McMahon.
The early word is that Justin Meier will start for the Tigers. Meier (5-2, 4.01 ERA) hails from West Orange High School in Winter Garden. He was named to the prestigious 2003 Baseball America Freshman All-American Team after finishing with an 8-3 record and a team best 2.83 ERA.
Meier is a location pitcher who throws in the low 90's. He was recruited by the Gators. I spoke with his father, Ron Meier, who said, "Florida recruited him, but the offer from LSU was better. They gave him virtually a full ride. Florida really just didn't offer much of anything." The Gators best chance at Meier was word of mouth. "You know Justin Tordi, well, he and Justin (Meier) are really good friends. They hang out with each other. Tordi tried to get him to come to Florida. He told him how great it was there." Meier said.
Meier will work Wednesday hoping the Gators regret not putting a more substantial offer on the table. He enters the tournament with opponents batting .298 against him. He has struggled with mechanics a bit this season, but is back on track. In his last outing, Meier threw 67 pitches against Vanderbilt. He completed four innings, giving up nine hits and three earned runs, while striking out three.
One of his best outings was against hard hitting South Carolina in Columbia. Meier pitched 8.1 innings of seven hit baseball against the Gamecocks. He gave up three earned runs, while striking out eight in the Tigers 6-3 victory. Florida is hoping for a bit more of the pitcher that threw against Vanderbilt. They hope to take the axe Meier grinds right out of his hands.
Florida will face No. 3 seed LSU in the opening game of the 2004 SEC Tournament on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Birmingham, Ala.
The SEC Tournament will follow an eight-team double elimination tournament that is modeled after the College World Series. The tournament field includes the top two teams from the SEC's Eastern and Western Divisions plus four at-large bids based on conference winning percentage.