Gators Try to Avoid Fading in SEC Race

So far, not so good for the Gator baseball team in the stretch run of the SEC race. Florida has dropped back-top-back series to Tennessee and Arkansas and as a result Florida is looking up at the Vols in the SEC standings entering the final two weekends of the season.

Florida wasted strong pitching performances the first two days of the series in Fayetteville this past weekend. Friday night Brian Ball allowed just three runs in six-and-a-third innings but the Gators scored just once in a 4-1 setback. Saturday Alan Horne was dominant, striking out twelve and allowing just four hits in nine innings. But again, the Gators did little at the plate and ended up losing in ten innings three-to-two.

Sunday Was a Near Disaster

If you remember the football game against Arkansas in 2003, the baseball equivalent was played on Sunday afternoon. Florida scored a couple of runs in the first, and bunched several hits and walks for a five-run second and a seven-nothing lead. The Gators were well on their way in the middle of the sixth with a ten-one lead and Tommy Boss cruising on the mound. But just like the football team in Fayetteville in '03, the baseball team mentally headed to the airport a little early. Florida made it interesting, allowing five in the sixth and four more in the ninth to make it an 11-to-ten ballgame.

Enter Conner Falkenbach who allowed a double to put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run at the plate before the senior struck out Razorbacks' rookie Ben Tschepikow while the entire team let out a collective sigh of relief.

Blowing a nine-run lead would have been a disaster for the Gators on many of levels. First it would have left the Gators another game back of Tennessee in the SEC race. Second, it would have meant Florida had lost five of six, perhaps bringing into doubt the Gators' candidacy to host an NCAA regional. And third, it would have added a level of pressure to the remaining regular season schedule since Florida has suffered significant losing streaks in the final two weeks of the regular season each of the past two years.

Last Two Weeks Should Be Fun

By surviving on Sunday, Pat McMahon's club is in good position for the final two weeks of the regular season. The Gators (15-and-9) are just a half game back of Tennessee for the SEC East lead and conference title. Western co-leaders LSU and Alabama are both 14-and-10 in conference play.

Florida certainly has the better opportunity this weekend and must take advantage of it. The Gators will host Mississippi State (11-and-12) while the boys from Rocky Top head to Baton Rouge for three with LSU. Florida has to root for LSU, but more importantly the Gators have to take care of their own business. Florida has not won an SEC Title since 1998, and that year the Gators won seven of their last eight league games to seal the deal.

Looking ahead, the final weekend has Tennessee hosting Georgia and Florida visiting Vanderbilt. LSU travels to Mississippi State and Alabama (which hosts Arkansas this week) plays at Auburn.

All four SEC contenders should be set as far as hosting an NCAA Regional is concerned, but if any were to drop four or five in the final two weekends, that status could be jeopardized. That's why this weekend against the Bulldogs is arguably the biggest regular season series in Pat McMahon's four years in Gainesville.

Jevin Snead Looks Like a Great Get

The second commitment for Urban Meyer's second recruiting class certainly looks like he has everything Florida's offense calls for. Jevin Snead can run (525 yds, 14 TD) and throw (3,025 yds, 28 td) and has the smarts (4.0) you like to see in a quarterback. I spoke with Jevin and his coach Chad Morris last night and came away convinced the battle for the "quarterback of the future" between Snead and Josh Portis should be great stuff.

In talking to Snead about the best thing I got from him is that he has to be reminded to run with the ball. Snead told me that his instinct is to want to get the ball downfield and will wait as long as he can to try and make that happen. You gotta read Franz' excellent piece on Snead and the guy who helped knock his Stephenville, Texas team out of the playoffs last year, Gator recruit David Nelson.

Gator Staffers Face Crazy Week

There are a lot of weeks when the folks at "The Firm" have a nice relaxing go of it…. But this week won't be one of them. Florida will simultaneously be hosting the SEC Softball Tournament, both the men's and women's NCAA Tennis Regional and a three-game set with Mississippi State bound to draw about ten thousand or more.

Have fun guys!

Some Run for the Roses

Getting away from the Gator world for a moment, don't you wish you could turn back time and place a few strategic bets on the Kentucky Derby? A more than 50-to-one shot wins the race (Ciacomo) and a 72-to-one shot (Closing Argument) comes in second. Just getting those two in order paid almost $ Ten Thousand on a two dollar wager. Add in third (Afleet Alex) and fourth (Don't Get Mad) and an accurate prediction of the top four would have earned you $ One-point-seven million for a two-dollar bet.

Still waiting to hear how Rick Neuheisel did.

Haslem Enters Round Two

Former Gator great Udonis Haslem saw action Sunday in the Miami Heat second round playoff opener against Washington. The Heat coasted to a 105-86 win made interesting only by the last seven minutes of the first half when Washington went on a 25-10 run. The rest of the game, it was Miami by a 95-61 margin. It wasn't a great day for U-D, hampered by foul trouble, but he did manage eight points and seven rebounds.

It sure makes watching NBA playoff games more interesting.

Keep those emails coming!

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I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)

Have a great week.

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