The Florida Gators sure do love Columbia, SC.
The football team went there and put quite a scare into the 10th ranked Gamecocks, leading for most of the way before eventually losing, 19-14. Michael Frazier went off for a school record 37 points in a rout of the Gamecocks basketball team. And now the Gator baseball team went in, and, unfazed by the Gamecocks’ sterling #4 ranking, stole two out of three games to put themselves in phenomenal shape for the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and if you know a South Carolina fan that needs more ribbing than that, here’s a truly awesome stat: for all the trouble the Gamecocks have historically given Florida in baseball, the Gators have won eight out of the last ten games against them.
But back to the most recent series. Kevin O’Sullivan’s club went into Columbia and gave another impressive showing against a really good team.
The first one wasn’t much fun. After Florida scored in the first inning, South Carolina scored three runs in the fifth and blew it open with another one in the eight to win 4-1. Saturday didn’t look much better, as Florida trailed 3-0 after 7. But in the 8th, AJ Puk doubled in a run, was then brought home by Richie Martin to make it 3-2, and then in the ninth, Casey Turgeon tied it with a sac fly to send the game to extra innings. It took four innings, but in the 13th, Justin Shafer hit another sac fly, scoring Harrison Bader, and then Shafer proceeded to shut down the Gamecocks in their half of the inning for the win. Sunday was just as exciting of a finish. Down 4-2 in the 8th, Peter Alonso drove in two runs to tie it, Zach Powers doubled him home, and Buddy Reed drove him in to stake Florida a 6-4 lead. Florida’s bullpen did allow a solo homer, but then put the clamps down to secure the 6-5 win, and the series.
As I wrote last week, Florida’s sweep of FSU was lots of fun to have as a trash talk avenue against Nole fans, but that was just a small sample size of a much larger overall picture. It’s a baseball season, with up to 70 games if you’re good enough. FSU occupies three of those games, and maybe four or five should the teams meet in the NCAA Tournament. All those other games mean something too, and truthfully, it’s more fun to taunt FSU about beating them in baseball if we care about that sport for more than just beating FSU, if that makes sense.
Anyway, Florida now has the “big wins” portion of its NCAA Tournament resume pretty much set. The Gators are 8-1 against top ten teams, including sweeps of FSU and LSU, and now comes the time where Florida gets to run up their record to make that piece of their resume look good, too (right now, Florida is 23-23, which falls in the “good, but not great” category). The upcoming schedule looks like this: a trip to Fort Myers to play Florida Gulf Coast tonight, and then comes a huge home stretch: a weekend series with Georgia, Tuesday game against Jacksonville, Wednesday game against Florida A&M, and then another weekend series against Missouri. None of those teams are particularly impressive, so Florida should be looking at around a 7-2 record over the next couple weeks. Then it gets a little harder, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
And the way Florida’s playing right now, let’s just enjoy the moment. We need every enjoyable moment we can get our hands on after the heartbreaking end to our basketball season, and if we’re willing to slow down and look around, we’ll find plenty of them in Gator baseball.