Gators Have Opportunity in Rocky Top

After back-to-back weekends against two of the better teams in the SEC, the Gator baseball team takes on one of the lesser teams over the next three days. Florida (21-7) is in Knoxville, Tenn. to open a series with the Tennessee Volunteers (15-15) Friday night. Tennessee is in a three-way tie for the worst record in the SEC at 2-7, while the Gators bring a 6-3 SEC mark to Rocky Top.

That Tennessee record is at least a bit deceiving, however. The Vols were swept on consecutive weekends by LSU and South Carolina, which just happen to have the best records in the SEC. After losing the series opener to Ole Miss last weekend the Vols bounced back to take the final two games of the series against a team that took two of three from the Gators.

Tennessee has a team batting average of .283, but thanks to 38 HR the Vols average better than seven runs a game. The offense is led by outfielder P.J. Polk and I do mean led. Polk is tops on the Vols in batting (.365), homers (7), extra base hits (13), slugging (.600), on-base (.483) and stolen bases (15). If the Gators can control him that will go a long way to keeping the Vols lineup in check.

Other significant offensive threats include Zack Osborne (.308, 4, 17), Cody Hawn (.297, 5, 23) and Blake Forsythe (.245, 4, 25). The Vols have good speed with Josh Liles (9-11) and Khayyan Norfolk (7-8) joining Polk as threats on the base paths.

Tennessee has a staff ERA of 5.19. Their most effective starter, Stephen McCray (3-3, 2.03) is slated to pitch Saturday's game. Friday night the Vols will go with Bryan Morgado (2-3, 5.06), while Steven Gruver (1-1, 5.27) gets the ball Sunday afternoon.

Defensively, Tennessee has been pretty solid, committing just 25 errors in 30 contests. Anytime a college team is below one error a game you'll take it.


The Gators come into the contest actually having played two fewer games due largely to the cancellation of the LaSalle series. As a result, Florida is exactly halfway through its NCAA allotted 56 regular season games. Florida's offensive numbers are actually worse than the Vols, but the Gators have much better pitching numbers. Also keep in mind Florida's difficult non-conference slate including three games each against No. 7 Florida State and No. 14 Miami.

The Gators continue to be led by three guys in the top four spots of the lineup. Matt den Dekker (.336, 5, 21), Preston Tucker (.359, 4, 22) and Austin Maddox (.356, 7, 34). Den Dekker (10-13) is the only Gator in double figures in stolen bases.

Alex Panteliodis (5-1, 1.93) will be on the mound to start the weekend and is having one of the best seasons in the SEC. He'll be followed by two freshmen in Brian Johnson (3-1, 3.09) and Hudson Randall (2-3, 4.68). A major strength for the Gators this year has been the bullpen, led by junior lefty Steven Chapman (1-0, 1.33, 5 saves).

Florida's defense has been very good for much of the season, committing 24 errors in 28 games with nine of those misplays coming at third base.


The Gators swept Tennessee in Gainesville last season, posting wins of 3-2, 10-2 and 7-5. The last time the teams met in Knoxville ('08) the Vols took two of three.


The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 25 by Baseball America this week led by LSU (No. 5) and Florida (No. 8). They are followed by Arkansas (No. 10, South Carolina (No. 11), Ole Miss (No. 15), Vandy (No. 20) and Alabama (No. 25). The SEC has the most teams in that poll, followed by the ACC (6).


The rest of the SEC schedule this weekend:

Alabama (4-5) at Kentucky (2-7)
Arkansas (6-3) at Mississippi State (3-6)
LSU (7-2) at Auburn (5-4)
Ole Miss (5-4) at Georgia (2-7)
South Carolina (7-2) at Vanderbilt (5-4)

This is the fourth of 10 weekends of SEC Baseball action. The Gators will be at Kentucky next weekend.

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