Gators Welcome Vandy

The Gator baseball team will play its third SEC series of the season beginning this evening when Florida hosts Vanderbilt. While there will be 21 games to go in SEC play after this weekend, the three game set takes on a little added importance than an early season series normally would.

Both teams are 4-2 in the SEC and appear to be two of the top three teams (along with South Carolina) in the Eastern Division. If the Gators want to repeat as SEC East champs they don't have to win the head-to-head series, but it sure would help. Additionally, Vandy is ranked No. 20 by Baseball America and Florida's NCAA resume will be shaped to a large extent by how the Gators do against other ranked opponents.

Florida is coming into this game on a bit of a down note. The Gators were extremely sloppy for the first time this season, committing five errors in a Tuesday loss to Florida State. That was on the heels of losing two out of three at Ole Miss.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand is on a roll. The Commodores have won eight straight, four of them in the SEC and bring a 23-4 to McKethan Stadium. They have a .340 team batting average and 3.02 ERA. They have similar power stats and base stealing stats to the Gators, but have been shakier defensively, committing 29 errors in 27 games.

Friday night, for the second week in a row promises to be an outstanding pitchers' duel. Alex Panteliodis (5-1, 2.03) takes to the hill for the Gators and he'll be opposed by Vandy righty Sonny Gray (4-2, 2.25).

Offensively the ‘Dores are led by third baseman Jason Esposito (.368, 5 HR, 32 RBI). Esposito also has 10 doubles and leads the team with 13 stolen bases. He's supported by DH Bryan Johns (.388), Shortstop Brian Harris (.372), Outfielder Connor Harrell (.354) and catcher Andrew Giobbi (.327, 3 HR, 29 RBI).

Last season the Gators lost two of three in Nashville. Two years ago Florida swept the series with Vandy, but lost to the ‘Dores in the SEC Tournament.

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Florida comes into the weekend set with an 18-6 record and the Gators are ranked No. 8 by Baseball America. The Gators continue to get tremendous production from freshman Austin Maddox who leads the team in batting (.382), homers (7), RBI (33), total bases (69) and slugging (.676). Maddox has been the DH most of the time, but has played a few games at third base.

Florida would like to see first baseman Preston Tucker break out and start delivering the power numbers he posted last year (15 HR, 85 RBI). Tucker has been solid (.359, 4 HR, 20 RBI), but not spectacular.

One guy who has been spectacular is freshman SS Nolan Fontana who still has not committed an error in 102 chances. In addition to his flawless defense, Fontana is hitting .321, has walked 18 times and been hit by pitches three times giving him a team high .465 on base percentage.

The Gators have generally pitched well this season, but there are two sophomores that really need to get going. Nick Maronde (5.82) has an ERA that is more than a run higher than what he posted last year as a freshman (4.40). The big issue with him has been control and command. Last year Maronde struck out 59 and walked 18. This year he has just 13 strikeouts to go with 11 walks.

The other key pitcher is Anthony DeSclafani (7.84) whose ERA is almost three runs higher than it was in 2009 (4.98). "Disco" has been unable to pitch effectively inside, hitting seven batters in just 20 and 2/3 innings. That issue has also contributed to him giving up 25 hits in those innings.


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