BASEBALL: Mark McLeod's UF Baseball Report

The seventh ranked Florida Gators travel to Tallahassee Wednesday evening to face arch-rival Florida State in a non-conference baseball game. The Gators face the Seminoles on the heels of a much needed 2-1 series win over SEC and Eastern Conference favorite South Carolina. It was Florida's first series win over Carolina since 1999. If this keeps up they'll start talking football in Columbia.

Seriously, this makes for a terrific early (conference) season starting point. It marked the back-to-back losing series for the Gamecocks.

Carolina is a strong program. You don't visit Omaha three consecutive years and win four of the past six SEC titles on potential. Despite their present 2-4 conference mark, with series remaining against Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee, and Kentucky the Gamecocks will be back in contention in the end.

The Florida win, coupled with losses by Vanderbilt and Tennessee put the Gators atop the SEC Eastern Division with the schools from the coonskin cap state. The Gators have a tremendous opportunity to take the division lead this weekend against SEC doormat Kentucky (0-5). If they're able to capitalize, it sets up another opportunity for them take care of business without having to look back.

On the plus side

FLORIDA PITCHING: Connor Falkenbach should have no problem reeling in the SEC hardware after his performance this past weekend. The senior didn't allow a run in 8.1 innings, working all three games. If silencing the Gamecocks bats (.161 OBA) and a 0.00 ERA aren't enough to take the SEC Pitcher of the Week Award, then maybe they should consider giving an award per division.

Junior Bryan Ball (5-1) was saddled with Friday night's loss but he certainly didn't pitch like a loser. Ball was outstanding. He gave up a pair of earned runs in 6.2 innings where another costly error provided an opportunity for the opponent, and helped Ball to his first loss of the season. Ball has a 1.70 ERA and opponents are batting just .219 against him.

Closer Darren'O Day (4-2, 0.78 ERA) has been tremendous. Opponents are hitting just .178 against O'Day. Most of them probably utter O'Crap (or something of that sort) as they see him depart the pen and jog toward the mound.

CORSO: Senior Jeff Corsaletti is now hitting in the leadoff spot and he continues to hold down the second spot in the conference batting average (.460) statistics. He also made a phenomenal catch, robbing Michael Campbell of a home run in Florida's 7-3 win Saturday night. Corso is the team catalyst in so many ways.

BATS NEED TO HEAT UP: The Gators are currently seventh in the SEC in batting. So how can this be a positive? On the opening weekend, Florida faced Ole Miss' ace Matt Maloney, who is second in the conference in pitching. They also faced Stephen Head, who is also a terrific pitcher. This past weekend the Gators faced three solid senior starters in Carolina's Aaron Rawl, Zac McCamie, and Jason Fletcher.

While you certainly would have liked for the offensive numbers to be better (.247) it marks the second consecutive weekend that Florida has faced outstanding pitching. Miami and Villanova also had some incredible pitching. Facing this caliber of talent should help in the very near future.

I once heard a college coach say, rather tongue in cheek, that there are no excuses after April Fool's Day. He said that in a typical schedule April 1st should be enough games to sort out the Wants from the Wanna Be's. Following this trend, this should help in future at bats.

THE SAMURAI: Catcher Brian Jeroloman has cut down nine consecutive base runners. Last Tuesday, The Samurai took a Central Florida club that had stolen 83 bases out of their comfort zone by gunning down three would be thieves early in the game. South Carolina is not known for their running, and for good reason. When they tried, Jeroloman cut them down.

Most improved

AD: Let's declare second baseman Adam Davis back from MIA status. Davis started the season in a deep funk. The sophomore was hitting far below his potential, near extinction. He also committed too many errors, including three against FAMU. Davis began getting back in the groove a few weeks ago against Michigan State and has only gotten better. In the past seven games Davis has gone 5-12 (.416) against Ole Miss, 3-5 (.600) against UCF, and 5-13 (.384) against South Carolina. That is .433 over the stretch with 12 RBI's, a marked improvement.

His play in the field has been outstanding as well. Davis has one of the best pivots on the double play that I've seen in college baseball. He fields the ball and gets it out of his glove while making the turn in milliseconds. His recent play is in line with his Freshman All-American abilities.

G-MAN: Left fielder Gavin Dickey provided the spark Florida needed in the Saturday and Sunday contests. He led off the third (Saturday) and second (Sunday) innings with doubles. The Gators scored for the first time in both of those games. Dickey is now hitting .377, second among starters. His on base percentage (.477) is second only to Corsaletti. His defense is also improving. He came to the aid of Alan Horne and Connor Falkenbach on Sunday by taking runs away from the Gamecocks.

Dickey ran down Steve Pearce's deep fly to the wall in the top of the first. Two men were on for Carolina. In the sixth, Dickey pulled a certain home run by Michael Campbell back into The Mac.

If only…

…Alan Horne can capture some measure of consistency, the Gators could take off. It's definitely frustrating for Horne, who has major league talent, but can only do what the arm will allow him to do rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He has regained velocity. He has the snap back in his breaking ball. He has regained the psychological make-up needed by pitchers after a career threatening injury. Unfortunately, none of it consistently…and it's not even his fault.

…Florida received more production from the lower half of the order. That could very well be on the verge of happening. Stephen Barton (now hitting second), Jeroloman, and Brandon McArthur hit the ball hard on Sunday. Justin Tordi has been in a slump. Kentucky should provide an excellent opportunity to build some confidence.

…starter Tommy Boss (4-1) threw a few more pitches to his liking. The Boss Man is just a few pitches away from regaining his 2004 season ending form that had him among the best in the conference. He pitched 5.1 innings on Saturday, allowing eight hits and only one earned run. Still, you can see that Boss misses on an occasional pitch, which allows a hit. He has lowered his ERA to 3.93, and appears to be on the verge of becoming an even more effective pitcher.

The Ugly

LEFT ON BASE: While a few of the Gators appear to be on the rise offensively, the Gators averaged 9.6 runners left on base during the three game series against Carolina. I thought they had broken through that trend in Sunday's game. However, after cruising along with only two men left on through five, the proverbial wheels fell off. The Gators then proceeded to leave eight men in on the remaining three innings.

THIRD BASE: Every time a ball is hit to third, I cringe. Reinstated starter Brandon McArthur is battling but just not playing with confidence. A hard hit ball that went between his legs this past weekend should have at least been knocked down. He did knock down a ball late Sunday, picked it up and threw the runner out. A fine play, but the ball just wasn't hit that hard, which tells me that he's thinking. Natural instinct has to take over. McArthur appears to be getting a little more confident at the plate, let's hope he incorporates this into all aspects of his game.

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Tennessee (18-7, 3-3 SEC) dropped two out three to Ole Miss this past weekend. Two weeks ago, the toothless wonders took two of three from Auburn on the road. This weekend they'll face the Monsters of the Magnolia State (part I), Mississippi State. Look for the Dogs to take this series.

Vanderbilt (17-6, 3-3) took two of three from Alabama in Nashville. Two weeks ago, the 'Dores lost two of three in Starkville to Mississippi State. Yes, the same Mississippi State team that just whipped Arkansas. This weekend the Commodores take on the Monsters of the Magnolia State II, Ole Miss. This will be the best series in the conference this weekend. Following a very close second will be the LSU/Alabama series in Tuscaloosa.

Georgia (13-9, 2-3) beat Kentucky (12-9, 0-5) in Lexington twice this past weekend. The third game was rained out. The 'Cats had the Bulldogs at the end of the leash Saturday (11-10) until an unbelievable error by Wildcat shortstop Ryan Wilkes allowed for the tie. Georgia scored three more runs in the inning to win 14-11. The Bulldogs were swept by LSU two weeks ago. Georgia will get mauled by the 'Cocks this weekend.

South Carolina (19-5, 2-4) has dropped their first two series of the 2005 season. The Gamecocks lost a pair of games to Arkansas last weekend at home and two to the Gators this past weekend in Gainesville. Look for Carolina to get back on track this weekend.

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