By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 6 Florida Gators baseball (32-10, 12-6 SEC) started their recent five-game stretch with a tough road loss but recovered to claim four straight wins and remain one of the top 10 teams in the nation.
The Florida State Seminoles walked off in the 12th inning last week with a 4-3 victory to tilt the season series in the Seminoles’ favor 2-1. Florida bounced back with a 6-3 win Friday night over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi, and went on to earn a 2-1 win and 10-5 victory to sweep the weekend series. UF then returned home Tuesday and managed to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 2-1 despite being held to only four hits.
Here are five takeaways from Florida’s resilient week:
1. Weekend of firsts: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Logan Shore (6-2, 2.29 ERA) tossed the first complete game of his career (on the road) in Friday’s 6-3 win over MSU and helped set the tone for the Gators’ first road sweep of the season, which placed them in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC East with Vanderbilt and Missouri (12-6).
2. Going, going, gone-so: Freshman catcher JJ Schwarz and junior left fielder Harrison Bader have combined to hit an impressive 24 home runs so far this season, but coming into the 2015 campaign it was sophomore first baseman Peter Alonso who was expected to be UF’s biggest source of power. Unfortunately, he was sidelined for the first 30 games with a broken foot. Fortunately, now that Alonso is back in the fold, so is his power stroke. Alonso hit a pair of towering homers in the Mississippi State series finale, a potential preview of what Florida can expect from him over the rest of the season.
3. A new role: Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan shook things up this week when he brought in junior right-handed pitcher Taylor Lewis (2-1, 2.01 ERA) during the sixth inning of the UF-FSU game Tuesday. Lewis started the season as the team’s designated closer but has shown he can get key outs before the ninth inning. Lewis entered Sunday’s game in the fifth and stayed on to close it out; he received the win for his effort.
4. Controlling the game: One of the most impressive aspects of Florida’s weekend series sweep was in its ability to answer and kill any Mississippi State momentum, especially in Sunday’s finale. When the Bulldogs tied the game 3-3 in the fifth inning, the Gators responded in the top of sixth with four more runs to take the crowd back out of the game. MSU scored two more in the eighth inning, cutting the UF lead to 8-5, but the Gators quickly killed any hope of a late Bulldogs rally by adding two runs in the top of the ninth to make it 10-5, the game’s final score.
5. Stepping up: In the absence of sophomore LHP A.J. Puk (suspension), the pressure is now on sophomore RHP Dane Dunning (4-1, 3.02 ERA) to make it through the middle innings. The complimentary duo of Dunning and Puk on Saturdays has helped set up for a fresh bullpen on Sundays. Freshman RHP Alex Faedo (3-1, 2.65 ERA), the current Sunday starter, has shown he can dominate the first time through the batting order but has run into some trouble the second time through the lineup. That will work on Sundays if O’Sullivan has options, but arm availability will depend on how Shore and Dunning handle the first two starts of future series. This past weekend, the duo combined for 14.1 innings, but the Gators cannot depend on Shore to go the distance every outing.
This weekend: Junior shortstop Richie Martin will look to extend his 11-game hitting streak as Florida hosts Kentucky for three games: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. All three games will be streamed live online via SEC Network+.