By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
Over the last two weeks, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (18-3, 2-1 SEC) split a home-and-home series, cleaned up at home against two non-conference opponents and won its first Southeastern Conference series of the season.
Florida came up short in its first major road test of the season, falling 4-3 to the No. 14 UCF Knights in Orlando on March 4, though the Gators regrouped and won the rematch 10-2 in Gainesville the following evening. Florida then went on to sweep the Maine Black Bears in its final non-conference weekend series (5-0, 6-1, 5-3) and avoided any midweek letdown with a pair of wins against the Fairfield Stags (8-7, 6-1).
The Tennessee Volunteers dominated Florida for eight innings in the Gators’ SEC home opener and eventually claimed a 6-3 win, but UF captured the series with a 8-3 victory on Saturday and 9-4 rubber-match win on Sunday.
Here are five takeaways from the last two weeks:
1. Lefty longmen provide a big boost: Much has been said of the Gators’ strong weekend rotation, but Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has made great use of the versatility offered by his southpaws including senior Bobby Poyner (0-1, 3.13) and junior Danny Young (1-0, 0.63). On Saturday against Tennessee, Poyner (4.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) relieved sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (5.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB, 8 K) in the sixth and stayed on for the remaining four frames to collect his second save of the season. Young (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 7 K) notched a career-high seven strikeouts in five dominant innings of long relief to earn the win in UF’s win over UT on Sunday. Poyner and Young’s ability to go the distance at any time in a game should help O’Sullivan keep his bullpen arms fresh this season.
2. That one inning: Sophomore right-handed hurler Logan Shore (3-1, 1.78) has tossed 24 outstanding innings this season. Unfortunately, he also threw one very uncharacteristically poor inning in the first frame against Tennessee in Friday’s series opener. Shore entered the game having allowed one home run in the first 115 innings of his career. The Volunteers battered Shore for four homers, three in the first inning alone, in an eventual upset of the Gators.
3. Fabulous freshmen: Freshman catcher JJ Schwarz has started his rookie season on a tear, collecting hits in 18-of-21 at-bats, posting a .347 average with 21 RBI. One of the players Schwarz is driving in quite often is classmate and second baseman Dalton Guthrie. Many coaches would shy from giving a freshman the pressure of leading off, but O’Sullivan’s keen decision making has Guthrie thriving in the role with a .340 average and 10 multi-hit games.
4. Avoiding history: With a lead-off single in the bottom of the ninth on Friday, Guthrie made sure this year’s team was not the first Gators squad since 1963 to endure a no-hitter. For the first eight frames, UT starter Bret Marks shut down the UF batters. Guthrie’s single not only broke up the no-no, it started a rally that chased Marks. Florida scored three runs and brought the tying run to the plate but eventually dropped the SEC opener.
5. Bounce back boys: The Gators have lost three games this season but bounced back to win the next contest each time. Florida has avoided the post-loss hangover twice in the last two weeks along, against UCF and Tennessee. That type of resiliency will be important late in the season against tough SEC competition and even more integral once the postseason rolls around.
This week: UF hosts Florida State on Tuesday (7 p.m., SEC Network) and travels to Ole Miss for a three-game weekend series. The Gators and Rebels square off Friday at 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream), Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream) and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU.