Top-ranked Florida baseball, softball teams off to usual hot starts in 2018

By Adam Silverstein
February 19, 2018
Top-ranked Florida baseball, softball teams off to usual hot starts in 2018

Image Credit: ESPN Images

As baseball and softball get started in the middle of basketball season, it comes as no surprise that the two sports often wind up overlooked for months. When it comes to the Florida Gators, that is not as easy of a task.

Not when the baseball program can be referred to as “defending national champions” for the first time in history. The once-again No. 1-ranked Gators kicked off their season this weekend with a three-game home sweep of Siena, outscoring the Saints 36-5 over the series. Florida’s starting pitchers combined to toss 21 strikeouts in 20 innings as the batters mashed six home runs with three during Saturday’s second game.

The unanimous top-ranked preseason team, UF enters 2018 as the preseason favorite to win the Southeastern Conference with junior right-handed pitchers Michael Byrne and Brady Singer selected as Preseason First Team All-Americans. Freshman shortstop Brady McConnell, the highest-rated position player to enroll in college, leads the Gators’ No. 2-ranked recruiting class, and senior first baseman JJ Schwarz became the first player formally named team captain since head coach Kevin O’Sullivan took over in 2008.

Florida will play 13 network television games in 2018 with all home games and SEC road games available streaming live on SEC Network +. Among the teams UF will face on TV are Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

No. 2 UF softball has been rolling since early February, racking up eight straight wins before falling 4-3 while looking for a series sweep against No. 16 Louisiana on Sunday afternoon. The Gators shut out the Ragin’ Cajuns 13-0 over the first two games of the series, but Florida’s pitching was not up to snuff in the finale. UF had only allowed three runs (to South Florida on Feb. 11) in its first eight games of the season prior to Sunday’s affair, outscoring opponents 64-3 before giving up four runs in that game.

After its third straight Women’s College World Series appearance, Florida entered the 2018 season as the unanimous No. 2-ranked team in the nation. It once again signed a top-notch recruiting class and was tabbed as the preseason SEC favorite for the fifth straight year (the Gators have won three consecutive regular-season crowns).

Whereas baseball did have to replace some of its top talent, Gators softball returns 13 letterwinners from a season ago. Florida will find itself on network television 14 times overall with a mix of home and road games across ESPN’s platform.

Both teams stay in-state to play a bevy of games this week with baseball hosting on FAU on Tuesday and Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday before travelling to Coral Gables to face Miami in a three-game weekend series. Softball will play four double-headers in five days, hosting Oakland on Wednesday before playing Maryland and Illinois State on Friday, Maryland and Iowa State on Saturday, and Iowa State and Georgia Southern on Sunday — all as part of the Aquafina Invitational.

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