Clutch Weekend Sets Gators Up for Postseason

The Florida baseball team's sweep of Vanderbilt will go down as one of the finest regular season weekends in recent Gator history.

Kevin O'Sullivan's team went into the Vandy series knowing they could miss out on both SEC and NCAA tournament play if they didn't take care of business. Well they took care of business and then some, winning all three games and vaulting to third in the final SEC standings.

When all was said and done the Gators (17-13) posted a better SEC record than every team other than division winners Georgia (20-6-1) and LSU (18-11-1). The weekend performance locked up a prime spot in the SEC Tournament with a "home" game against the very same Commodores Wednesday afternoon.

But the three wins did more than that. Florida improved to 34-20 on the season and assured the Gators of a spot in the NCAA Tournament as well. The Gators entered the weekend ranked No. 22 in the NCAA RPI standings, while Vanderbilt was No. 25. Three wins over such a strong team, accompanied by a win over South Florida earlier in the week takes off all the pressure as the Gators head to Hoover, Alabama.

The Gators had to fight and scrap for each win in the series. Thursday it was seniors Bryson Barber and Brandon McArthur hitting two run homers in the eighth inning to turn a deficit into an 8-6 lead. Josh Edmonson, part of a beleaguered Gator bullpen finished it off in the ninth and the Gators had the series opener.

Friday, again the Gators fell behind, this time three-zip before scoring two in the fourth and three in the fifth to take the lead. Florida pitching did the job until the ninth when an unearned run made it a 5-4 game. Patrick Keating came out of the bullpen to strike out Vandy star Pedro Alvarez and notch his first save of the season.

The weekend sweep was completed in a somewhat similar fashion on Saturday. Vandy dominated early, leading 7-1 in the middle of the fourth. The Gators rallied for an 8-7 lead only to surrender four unearned runs in the eighth inning. The Gators came right back with four to take the lead before another error let Vandy tie it in the ninth. No matter, Florida's Kyle Mullaney threw two scoreless innings and Jon Townsend singled home Cole Figueroa and the Gators had a 13-12 win.

Team Better Than Sum of the Parts

One of the best compliments you can give a coaching staff, or a team for that matter is to refer to them as being better than the "sum of the parts". In other words a team that collectively generates better results than the talent and experience on hand you tend to indicate. The 2006 Basketball team is an example, as was the Gator Baseball team two years ago. I think this team belongs in the same category and the numbers seem to bear that out.

Florida is 34-20 against a very difficult schedule, yet does not have a hitter with ten homers or 20 doubles. No Gators has 60 RBI or 30 stolen bases. The pitching staff has only one man (Keating 8-0) with more than five wins and three saves (Mullaney) tops the bullpen. They struggle defensively as well, as evidenced by 79 errors.

Those are the stats of a .500 club, which is something Florida was for the most part in SEC play. But this team finished 14 games above the .500 mark because of guts, guile and tenacity. A senior class with minimal talent produced the biggest hits on the biggest weekend of the season. Another thing this team did for the most part is take care of business in the middle of the week. This was a key in the second half of the season with two wins over UNF and single victories over Bethune Cookman and USF. Those were the kind of games that got away last year and left the Gators on the outside looking in when the NCAA Tournament got underway.

That's not happening this time around.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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