Baseball: Florida vs. Vanderbilt Series Preview

There is a lot on the line this weekend when the Florida Gators take to the road for their final Southeastern Conference series of the regular season. The Gators (35-18, 17-10 SEC) travel to Nashville to face always tough Vanderbilt (34-18, 13-14 SEC) in a series that could determine who wins the SEC East and who will have the top seed in the SEC Tournament.

The Gators hold a slim, half-game lead over Tennessee (37-16, 16-10 SEC) in the SEC East and a one-game margin over LSU (36-17, 16-11 SEC) for the top mark in the league.

One of the more unusual trends in the Vanderbilt-Florida series is that it's been four years since there was a split in the weekend series. Last year, for example, the Gators swept the Commodores in the regular season in Gainesville but Vanderbilt beat the Gators twice in the SEC Tourney.

In 2001, Florida, under then-Coach Andy Lopez, swept Vandy in Nashville. One year later under Coach Pat McMahon, the Gators swept the 'Dores at home. In 2003, Vanderbilt swept Florida in Nashville.

If the trend of the last four years holds, the winner of Friday night's game will be on its way to a happy finish of the regular season.

Only two Florida players swung the bat consistently well against the Commodores last year. Catcher Brian Jeroloman played a limited role in the series but went 4-7 (.571) while Adam Davis had five hits in sixteen at bats (.312).

This weekend, with so much talk about SEC titles, conference seeding, hosting an NCAA Regional, and RPI, Florida has the chance to squelch all the talk by playing like a champion for three straight days.

Series Records:

Overall: Florida leads 105-54-1 (.656)

Under Pat McMahon: Florida leads 6-5 (.545)

Florida on the road: Season (8-7); SEC (7-5); Last 10 games (6-4). Florida is 19-6 (.760) in day games; only 15-12 (.555) in night games.

Uh-oh: The Gators have only scored 15 runs in the ninth inning all season. Opponents have scored 42 runs against the Gators.

Hey, Florida?

Florida leads the Southeastern Conference and still determines its own fate. Sure, that would have been easier had the Gators put away Mississippi State last Sunday to complete the sweep. Florida would have held a one-and-a-half game lead on the Vols and a two game lead over LSU. Obviously, that didn't happen which makes this weekend another typical regular season fight to the finish in the nation's best baseball conference.

So, when was the last time Florida and Georgia worked together for anything? It just doesn't happen very often but it will this weekend. The Dogs have won their last two SEC series and are still in contention for an SEC Tournament berth. However, they must win and have Florida, Ole Miss, and/or Kentucky win as well. Despite the Gamecocks slide, chances are slim that Kentucky will take two or three in South Carolina. Ole Miss (playing at Arkansas) and Florida (at Vanderbilt) are the Doggies' best hope for victory.

So, what might help snap the Gators to attention? How about the whispers of another post season trip to that dump they call Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables.

Vanderbilt 2005:


The Commodores lead the SEC in pitching. Florida must solve the starters and get into the bullpen if they want a better chance to win.

Jensen Lewis, who lost against Ole Miss (6.1 IP, 7 hits, 1 ER, 8K) had an early exit against Arkansas (2.1 IP, 6 hits, 4 ER, 1K), lost to Tennessee (6.1 IP, 9 hits, 4 ER, 6K), and a no decision against Georgia (6.2 IP, 4 hits, 3 ER, 2K) can be beaten.

Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia were able to get to Lewis by simply putting the ball in play. Georgia and Ole Miss were aided by numerous errors committed by the Vanderbilt defense. Again, put the ball in play and make them make the play.

Florida is 10-5 versus lefthanded starter and Vanderbilt has a couple of them in Ryan Mullins and David Price. However, the Gators may not see Price in a starter's role. The Commodores have lost the past three Sunday games, and Price has not looked solid in any of those contests.


RHP Jensen Lewis (8-2): 6-3, 195, Jr., 2.27 ERA, .211 OBA

Lewis was simply outstanding last weekend versus Kentucky. The junior tossed a complete game two-hit shutout, striking out 13 Wildcats along the way.

He lost in head-to-head matchups with two of the SEC's top pitchers, Mark Holliman of Ole Miss and Luke Hochevar of Tennessee. Furthermore, Lewis lasted only 2.1 innings going against yet another SEC stud, Schmidt of Arkansas.

Lewis went 1-1 against the Gators last season. His combined numbers are good for six innings pitched, allowing eight hits and only one earned run. Lewis struck out three and walked two.

LHP Ryan Mullins (6-1): 6-6, 190, Jr., 3.54 ERA, .267 OBA

Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin threw Mullins last Tuesday against Ohio University. He pitched seven innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs while striking out four.

Mullins loaded the bases in each of the two innings he lasted last weekend versus Kentucky. The southpaw issued four walks and three hits, including a solo home run as he faced just 12 batters.

The lanky southpaw's combined numbers against Florida in '04 are first round stuff. Mullins pitched 16 innings and gave up just one earned run on 13 hits. He struck out 15 Gators, including 12 in the SEC Tournament game. He went 1-0 against Florida.

LHP David Price (2-4): 6-6, 190, Fr., 3.18 ERA, .220 OBA

The Price wasn't quite right last Sunday. The freshman lasted only 2.1 innings against the 'Cats, who ripped him for nine hits and five earned runs. He picked up his last loss the week before against Georgia. The 'Dores have lost their last three Sunday contests.


RHP Matt Buschmann (4-2): 6-3, 195, Jr., 3.55 ERA, .230 OBA, 1 save

Buschmann combined to pitch 9.1 innings against Florida, allowing nine hits and four earned runs. He walked two and struck out two as well. Both of his appearances were no decisions.

RHP Michael Wagner (3-0): 6-1, 190, So., 3.43 ERA, .222 OBA, 1 save

Wagner closed out a game in the Georgia series. He pitched 1.1 innings and allowed one hit.

LHP Stephen Shao (3-2): 6-0, 170, So., 3.34 ERA, .257 OBA, 2 saves

Shao did not fare well in Athens a couple of weeks ago. He gave up three hits to six of the batters he faced in just 1.1 innings of work. He picked up the loss in that game.

RHP Jeff Sues (3-4): 6-4, 225, Jr., 4.65 ERA, .272 OBA, 1 save

Sues pitched in relief of Mullins Tuesday night against Ohio University. Sues threw two no-hit, shutout innings. He allowed one walk. Sues was roughed up a bit by Kentucky last weekend. He gave up three hits and an earned run while facing just seven batters in the ninth. He was saddled with his fourth loss of the year.

The big righthander pitched three innings in relief giving up five hits and one earned run, while striking out two Florida batters.

RHP Ryan Rote (1-3): 6-4, 225, Sr., 4.76 ERA, .196 OBA, 8 saves

The Commodores closer pitched one inning allowing one hit against Ohio U on Wednesday night. He picked up his third loss of the season in a mid-week game against Middle Tennessee State just over a week ago. Rote gave up three hits and three earned runs in two innings.

Rote picked up a loss against the Gators last season. The senior pitched four innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs. He struck out eight though.


What more can you expect from Alan Horne? The Marianna native was simply phenomenal last Saturday afternoon. Horne (6-2, 3.94 ERA, .288) was yet again locked in a pitcher's duel but kept challenging the Bulldog hitters. He won the duel and most importantly, the game, for the Gators with his nine inning stint. It marked the second consecutive start where Horne tallied 130 pitches.

He was absolutely sensational against the Razorbacks two weeks ago on the road. Horne stuck out 12 Arkansas hitters while allowing only four singles in nine solid innings but again, the Gators couldn't generate any offense. Had Horne gotten the W he likely would have been named SEC Pitcher of the Week. Hopeful that he'll provide a spark from the mound and strong challenge to Jensen Lewis, Coach Pat McMahon has elected to go with Horne for the Friday night role in the Music City.

Junior Bryan Ball (6-3, 2.92 ERA, .245 OBA) pitched 8.1 strong innings as Florida beat Mississippi State 8-2. The righthander gave up and just two earned runs while striking out five. He also walked five. He lowered his ERA from 3.02 to 2.92. The Charlotte County High School grad threw 130 pitches.

Ball pitched 6.1 innings and gave up nine hits and three earned runs in the Friday night start two weeks ago versus Arkansas on the road. He struck out five and walked only two. He picked up the loss, but Nick Schmidt shut down Florida offensively.

Ball pitched well against the Commodores last year. He threw five innings giving up just six hits and one earned run. He struck out three Vanderbilt hitters.

Senior Tommy Boss (6-3, 4.91, .318) gave up a couple of earned runs in the first inning against State, but settled down and pitched pretty well the remaining four innings before he was replaced by Michael Branham.

The senior pitched well as the Sunday starter against Arkansas helping Florida to their lone win in the series. Boss gave up five hits and four earned runs in 5.1 innings, while striking out three. Most of the damage done by the Hogs was in sixth inning as the wheels began to fall off of the Florida team.

Boss pitched 13 innings against Vanderbilt last season. The righthander gave up 13 hits and six earned runs, while striking out six. Boss was 0-1 versus Vandy last season.

Florida still has some problems to correct in the pen. Tommy Wynn moved from the pen to the starting role for the mid-week game and gave up seven earned runs in 0.1 innings against USF. Stephen Locke got the mid-week starting assignments against Florida State, South Florida, and Stetson in Gainesville. The freshman did not demonstrate the effectiveness that he displayed earlier in the season starting for Ball.

Fellow southpaw Stephen Porter has given up four earned runs in just 2.1 innings of work. However, Porter got the lone MSU batter he faced to hit into a double play.

Over the previous five games before the Mississippi State series, reliever Darren O'Day had given up nine hits and four earned runs while walking three in just six innings. He struggled against Florida State mightily.

However, O'Day appears to be making strides just in time for the stretch run. The junior has pitched 5.1 innings in recent stints against Mississippi State and Stetson. He allowed six hits and just one earned run, while striking out six. He walked none.

O'Day picked up one of the Gators wins against Vanderbilt last year in relief of Bryan Ball. He threw five innings, allowing six hits and just one earned run.

The two consistent bright spots in the pen over the past three weeks are lefty Mike Pete, who has pitched 5.1 innings and allowed only one earned run on five hits. Pete has also struck out six. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this is the time of the year where somebody unexpectedly always steps up. Mike Pete appears to be filling that role among the pitching staff. Submariner Connor Falkenbach has given up two earned runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings, while striking out five.

Falkenbach also picked up a win against the Commodores last season. He pitched five innings and allowed no earned runs on just two hits. The Miami native struck out five.




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Some of the Gators simply aren't swinging the bats well, while others may be on the verge of getting hot at the right time. If a couple of these guys would stop swinging for the fences and just put the ball in play, they'd be much better off. Back to the lineup. Let's start with the leader.

Center fielder Jeff Corsaletti has seen his average drop from over .400 to .376. However, Corso may have broken out of the slump with two hits in his last two at bats Wednesday night against Stetson. He'll certainly want to improve on his 3-14 numbers last season against the 'Dores.

Clean-up hitter Matt LaPorta leads the SEC in home runs (21) and RBI's (62). The sophomore is currently hitting .335 and is third in the conference in slugging percentage (.731).

Shortstop Justin Tordi entered the Mississippi State series hitting just .249. It appeared at times to be affecting him a bit in the field as well. Uncharacteristically, Tordi made two errors against South Florida. Tordi had only made four errors in the previous 47 games. However, Tordi is now hitting .260 and Florida needs him to continue heating up.

Third baseman Brandon McArthur had been red hot against Georgia and several games afterward. However, he had cooled off to .288 prior to the State series. McArthur appears to be resurgent again, as his average is back to .300

Catcher Brian Jeroloman was at .276 but has been putting the ball in play plenty of late. The Samurai has raised his average .20 points the past four games. He is now hovering around the .300 mark.

Once firing off hits that raised his average to .317, Stephen Barton has cooled off recently, dropping to .288.

Outfielders Gavin Dickey (.299) and Brian LeClerc (.274) are in need for a breakout series. Dickey is two for his last 17 and is missing pitches. LeClerc is just two for his last 11 and looks like he is swinging for Archer Road at times. Coach McMahon replaced LeClerc with Barton in right field against Stetson.

Second baseman Adam Davis is swinging the bat very well of late. Davis has seen his average rise from around the .300 mark to .324, just before the State series. Davis now sits at .321.

Vanderbilt is led at the plate by Baxter, Hernandez, Feinberg, and Mansolino. Sounds like a New York law firm, but they're card carrying members of the Vanderbilt 300 club.

First baseman Mike Baxter leads the 'Dores in batting average at .381 The junior from White Stone, New York also leads the team in power numbers with eight home runs, 45 RBI's, and a slugging percentage of .614

Catcher Brian Hernandez played at Wellington High School in West Palm Beach. He is second on the team with 14 doubles. Third baseman Alex Fienberg is a California native who is hitting at a .336 clip. Feinberg swings the bat for average and is solid defensively.

Second baseman Warner Jones is outstanding as well. The 2004 All-American is hitting .302 and is among the team leaders in doubles, home runs, and RBI's.




























Vanderbilt seems to commit errors in bunches but they don't do it consistently which tells me the Gators might be able to shake this team up. Ole Miss scored four of their six runs in innings when the 'Dores committed errors. Ditto in the lone Vols victory. Vanderbilt committed three more in Georgia's Friday night win and two more in the Dogs Sunday victory.

Shortstop Dominic De La Osa of Coral Gables has committed 15 errors in just 146 chances (.897) this season. The freshman was All-Dade County and a second team all-state selection.

Florida had improved tremendously over the past three weeks. The overall team fielding percentage was .967, sixth best in the conference. However, a pair of mid-week games against South Florida and the Gators committed seven errors in just 78 chances.

Second baseman Adam Davis leads the team with 16 errors in 296 chances (.946). Davis had been playing very well of late, showing signs of his Freshman All-American form.

Third baseman Brandon McArthur has committed 13 errors in just 85 chances (.847). He doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence playing over there. Obviously, B-Mac has made tremendous strides the past year, and after struggling offensively early in the season, he has some tremendous streaks swinging the bat. McMahon has been using freshman Matt Gaski in the latter stages for defensive purposes. Personally, it seems that B-Mac might be playing a bit better defensively since Gaski has been pushing him at third.



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Base running:

Vanderbilt has stolen 94 bases in 114 attempts. Mike Baxter (26-32), Antoan Richardson (17-21), and Warner Jones (14-16) led the 'Dores running attack.

Adam Davis leads the Gators with 21 stolen bases in 26 attempts. Jeff Corsaletti (10-11) and Stephen Barton (10-13) are second and third. With Vanderbilt catcher Brian Hernandez only throwing out 18.7% of the opposing runners, don't be surprised to see the Gators try to make some things happen on the base paths.


Some Florida fans want to blame Coach Pat McMahon for the Gators recent slump. Some have even called for his job. This is the same McMahon who coached this team to a 27-8 record and a number three ranking. What did he do? Basically, McMahon coached the same way he did to get the Gators to an outstanding .771 winning percentage roughly two-thirds through the season.

Once the slump was in place, McMahon tweaked things a bit. Some of the moves worked out, others didn't. But, anybody who has coached their kids in farm league baseball or who spends any time managing employees understands that these kids, just like your employees, know what is expected and how to get it done. Pat McMahon can't hold their hand on the field.

Had McMahon sat on his hands and not made moves like shaking up the batting order, sitting a slumping Jared Kubin at DH, replacing McArthur with Gaski late in games for defensive purposes, I, too, would be concerned about the leadership on this squad. But, this was a slump and slumps are part of baseball. Ask any Yankees fan. Nobody likes them, but everybody has to go through them sooner or later.

Personally, I think McMahon's move of Alan Horne to the Friday night starting role is terrific. Lewis has not pitched especially well when going head-to-head against the opponents ace.

McMahon is closing in on 20th place in the all-time SEC wins column. He should reach that mark in the SEC Tourney.


Florida fans will hope that Alan Horne has continued success moving into the Friday night starting slot. O'Day and Falkenbach earned wins in last year's contests against the 'Dores. Boss picked up one of Florida's two losses, but he pitched well enough in the SEC Tourney to have gotten the win. He just happened to have pitched a complete game against Mullins, who struck out 12 that day.

The Gators will be keeping an ear to the ground in three locations. A generally lousy Georgia team travels to Knoxville to take on the Vols. LSU takes to the road against Mississippi State. If Florida doesn't take care of business and fails to fare well in the SEC Tourney, a trip to the rat trap (Mark Light Stadium) for the NCAA Regionals potentially awaits them. Top Stories