Florida-Vandy Preview

After winning just 10 SEC games during all of last season, the Florida Gators have already matched that win total with 12 conference games still left. With season series wins against in-state rivals Miami and Florida State, one could say the 2007 campaign has already been an improvement in last year's disappointing season that failed to see the Gators reach the SEC postseason.

This weekend, though, may prove to be the defining moment of the season. Heading to Nashville, the Gators (23-20, 10-8 SEC) face off against the nation's top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores (36-8, 12-6 SEC). The Dores enter the weekend maintaining a four-game winning streak and a two-game lead over South Carolina and the Gators. A sweep and the Gators could find themselves in first place in the SEC East. The SEC road was rough to Florida after being swept at Arkansas two weeks ago, but UF swept Auburn and Georgia on the road earlier this season.

Florida will throw first-time starter, freshman Kyle Mullaney at the Commodores on Friday night. He'll go against Vandy left-hander David Price who boasts a 2.84 ERA in 82.1 innings of work.

Mullaney is 2-0 with 22 innings of work in 13 appearances. Control has been an issue for the right-hander, walking 13 and throwing five wild pitches. He'll have his hands full against one of the best hitting teams in the SEC. Vandy leads the league with 505 hits and a .322 team average.

Junior Bryan Augenstein starts Saturday's game, and freshman Billy Bullock gets the nod for Sunday after a strong five-inning start against Kentucky last week.

Leading the Gator bats into Nashville is senior Brian Leclerc. Leclerc earned SEC Player of the Week honors after going 9-for-15 against Florida State and Kentucky last week. Over the past 30 games, Leclerc is hitting .412 (40-for-97) and is hitting .422 against SEC opponents. He ranks fourth in the league for hitting.

Gator slugger Matt LaPorta is coming of a sluggish series against Kentucky by his standards. But the senior still went 3-for-10 against the Wildcats with hits in each game, extending his hitting stream to 19 games. Tim Olsen holds the Gator record for longest hitting streak, hitting in 29 games back in 2000.

During the stretch, LaPorta is hitting .464 with 27 RBI and 11 home runs. He's reached base in 40 of 41 games this season and likes the confines of Charles Hawkins Field in Nashville. In the Gators' last trip to Vandy, LaPorta knocked in five runs and scored three times, earning SEC Player of the Week honors.

For the first time this season, the Gators didn't have a mid-week game, and with a busy off-the-field schedule, head coach Pat McMahon was happy to have the week off.

"We're starting finals, and our players are really working to try to get that in order," he said. "Vanderbilt's a very good team, and we're really looking forward to playing them this weekend."

The Gators dropped the season series against Vanderbilt last season after allowing 18 hits and losing Sunday's game, 16-2. After dropping the series' opener on Friday night, Augenstein pitched the Gators to a 6-4 win on Saturday.

Friday's game will mark the ninth time the Gators have faced a ranked team in their last 13 games.

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