Gators Try to Roll Tide

Nine games remain on the SEC schedule as the Gator baseball team heads down the stretch of the SEC race. Florida travels to Tuscaloosa for a three game set with Alabama that begins this evening. The Gators (31-11, 15-6) begin the weekend one game behind South Carolina in the SEC race. Alabama (28-17, 9-12) is in a battle for the eight and final spot in the SEC Tournament.

The Tide is just one game up on Tennessee for that spot.

Alabama is led by a trio of offensive performers. Taylor Dugas (.424, 15 SB) is the guy who is charged with getting on base and sparking the offense. Clay Jones (.341, 13 HR, 47 RBI) is the big bat providing the long ball, while Josh Rutledge (.360, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 11 SB) does a little of both.

Overall Bama is a solid offensive team (.305) but does not have a lot of power (41 HR) or speed (50 SB) as a team. The Gators (54 HR, 60 SB) are a bit better in both areas.

Pitching-wise Alabama will throw a pair of solid starters at the Gators in Adam Morgan (5-2, 5.79) and Jimmy Nelson (5-1, 3.90). Both have been plagued by the long ball, especially in SEC play. Nelson (10) and Morgan (9) have been taken deep regularly in their seven SEC starts. The third starter is uncertain, but Taylor Wolfe (3-2, 4.79) has the best numbers of the apparent candidates.

Alabama has been pretty good in the bullpen led by Nathan Kilcrease (3-2, 1.75, 4 saves). He's backed up by David Head (1-0, 3.48, 1 save) and Bret Whittaker (1-2, 4.44, 3 saves).

Overall, this is an opportunity for the Gators to build on their five game SEC winning streak. Alabama doesn't score a ton of runs and has trouble keeping the ball in the park. The key for the Gators will be to continue to get excellent starting pitching especially against Alabama's three main threats.


Here's a look at Florida's three starting pitchers heading into the weekend.

Hudson Randall (5-3, 3.30) will start the series opener Friday night against Morgan. In his last outing, Randall limited then No. 9 LSU to one run over eight innings. He established a career high with seven strikeouts and scattered seven hits while working eight innings for the second time this year.

Brian Johnson (4-2, 2.90) will be on the hill for the Gators on Saturday against Nelson. Johnson picked up the victory on the mound to complete the sweep of LSU. He worked 6.1 innings giving up nine hits and three runs (two earned), with four strikeouts. He also belted his first career grand slam to highlight the Gators' five-run fourth inning as part of a 2-for-4, career-high four-RBI effort helping him earn SEC Freshman of the Week recognition for the second time.

Alex Panteliodis (7-2, 2.92) will oppose some Alabama pitcher in the series finale on Sunday. Panteliodis is in the top ten of the SEC in wins, opposing batting average (.226) and ERA (2.92). The left-hander has worked at least five innings in all nine of his starts and boasts a 4.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.


Although he has just 31 at bats, Johnson (.387, 2 HR) has really sparked the Gator offense of late giving Coach Kevin O'Sullivan a quality bat behind slugging freshman Austin Maddox (.350, 13 HR, 50 RBI). Add in first baseman Preston Tucker (.333, 8 HR, 33 RBI) and you have a pretty stout middle of the order. Matt den Dekker (.356, 7 HR, 16 SB) has given those guys plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.

Florida is also looking for the resurgence of Josh Adams' bat to continue. The two-time All SEC performer has struggled much of the year, but does have his average moving upward (.237) and his power numbers are coming along as well (7 HR, 30 RBI).

While the Gators are hot and have moved up to No. 4 in the Baseball America rankings, there is one remaining area of concern and that's the bullpen. Florida needs to get more consistent performances out of two key guys down there in Nick Maronde (2-0, 6.00) and Greg Larson (2-1, 8.31). Those guys are the main parts of the critical bridge to closer Kevin Chapman (2-0, 1.45, 8 saves). The Gators may turn more towards freshman Steven Rodriguez who has a sparkling 1.62 ERA in ten outings.


South Carolina (16-5) takes its league leading record to Lexington to face Kentucky (7-14). The Wildcats are two games behind Alabama for eighth in the SEC so they have plenty to play for. Meanwhile the two teams right behind Florida, Ole Miss and Arkansas (both 14-7) will have a Western Division showdown in Oxford. The loser of that series could be all but out of the SEC race.

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