By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (21-5, 3-3 SEC) bookended the last week with high notes but ran into some trouble in the middle games, going 3-2 against the Florida State Seminoles, Ole Miss Rebels and Stetson Hatters in its last five games.
Florida began the seven-day stretch with a 14-8 win over No. 11 FSU, the Gators’ fifth straight win against its in-state rival. UF then dropped its series opener 4-1 to Ole Miss and lost the first game of a Saturday doubleheader 5-2 before claiming a 8-4 victory in the series finale to hold off a sweep. The Gators then ended their short road swing with a rally-aided 9-6 win against Stetson on Tuesday in Deland, Florida.
Here are five takeaways from the last five games:
1. It starts with pitching: In Florida’s two losses at Ole Miss, its starters put the team in an early hole on the road, which spells trouble at every level of baseball. For the second week in a row, sophomore right-handed pitcher Logan Shore (3-2, 2.48 ERA) has given up at least one home run in the first inning. Against Tennessee last week, Shore settled down to pitch five more frames; this time, Shore (3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, WP) was unable to get through four innings. Sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (4-2, 4.73 ERA) struggled even more. Puk (2.1 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 2 WP) was unable to make it out of the third inning of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, ensuring another long day for the bullpen.
2. Miscues make it worse: In the Gators’ first 22 games of the season, they combined to commit just 13 errors. In three games against the Rebels, UF made five unforced mistakes. Between the weak starting pitching and errors in the field, Florida hardly resembled a team coached by Kevin O’Sullivan.
3. Ole Miss shut down Darth Bader: Junior center fielder Harrison Bader probably hopes he never has to step foot in Oxford, Mississippi, ever again. Bader went a miserable 1-for-13 in the series and saw his batting average drop 65 points over the three games. Bader rebounded Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, two runs and a walk.
4. Prepare to see more of a freshman infielder: The Gators hoped to have sophomore first baseman Peter Alonso (broken foot) back in action by now, and in his absence, UF has primarily turned to sophomore John Sternagel and freshman Christian Hicks, who aren’t getting it done at the plate with batting averages of .162 and .150, respectively. Florida picked up a much-needed offensive boost when it turned to freshman 1B Jeremy Vasquez, who has gone 7-for-20 with two RBI in the last five games. Until Alonso is back, expect to see more of Vasquez at first base.
5. Lack of leadership: Senior third baseman Josh Tobias did not make the trip to Oxford due to a violation of team rules. He was sorely missed in the series for both his productive bat (.391 batting average) and reliable glove at the hot corner (1.000 fielding percentage). Tobias is one of only two seniors on this year’s team. He returned with a big night at the plate against Stetson on Tuesday, going 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBI.
What a play: On Tuesday against the Seminoles, the Gators used a trick play to steal home base in the bottom of the fourth inning and push their lead to 7-5. Tobias (on first) purposely fell down while feigning an attempt to steal second base, drawing the attention of the pitcher away from junior Richie Martin (on third) to take off for home and easily make it there safely. Check it out below!
This week: Florida is set to host Alabama in a three-game home series. The Gators and Crimson Tide will square off Thursday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network), Friday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream) and Saturday at 1 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream).