Remember all that trouble South Carolina gave Florida in the College World Series in 2011-2012? Well, it may not have been on such a high stage, but the Gators have been quietly delivering doses of payback over the last few years- the latest of which puts the Gamecocks’ entire season in jeopardy, and puts the Gators’ season in a great position to be successful.
This afternoon, Florida crushed South Carolina to put the icing on the cake of a three game sweep. None of the three wins this weekend were particularly close, as Florida won the weekend with a combined score of 38-10 (wins of 14-3, 12-5 and 12-2). The sweep means Florida has beaten South Carolina 12 out of the last 13 games. Will Muschamp looks at those numbers in bewilderment.
But more importantly, the sweep improves Florida’s record to 28-9 and 9-6 in the SEC, which vaults the Gators right back in the race for… well, everything.
Florida started the season red hot, but then stalled as the SEC season began, and stumbled out to a 6-6 start in SEC play. This put them four back of SEC East (and SEC) leading Vanderbilt, two back of second place Missouri and tied with South Carolina for third with 18 games to play. Not exactly a reason to panic, but certainly not the start to the conference slate that many were expecting. At the very least, the 6-6 start left some serious questions about whether or not Florida could compete for the trophies they want to compete for, like the SEC championship, a regional and super regional trophy and even a College World Series trophy.
Each of the top ten teams in the national rankings (#1 Texas A&M, #2 Vanderbilt, #3 LSU, #4 TCU, #5 UCLA, #6 Louisville, #7 USC, #8 FSU and #9 Arizona State) each lost at least once this past week, many of them to inferior opponents. Florida’s sweep of the 21st ranked Gamecocks will almost certainly vault them back into the top five, and maybe even higher depending on how those teams finish out the weekend. If Florida continues to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat (two of three or a series sweep, either works) and plays Vanderbilt (the only tough remaining opponent) tough, a national seed- meaning home field advantage until the College World Series- seems like a lock.
And now Florida has closed to within two games of SEC leading Vanderbilt, meaning they’re right back in the hunt for a second consecutive SEC championship since they play them.
Now, this sweep of the Gamecocks doesn’t erase the questions that slow start posed- there are still some pitching problems that need to be examined (for example, AJ Puk and Dane Dunning “piggybacking” off each other forces them to both be perfect, because if one of them fails the other will be forced into action and then his effort will be wasted and he’ll be done for the weekend)- but it definitely makes me feel much better about the direction of the season. Florida now controls its own destiny to the SEC regular season championship, and their bats have not only come alive, but they’ve stayed alive over a four game span. The 22 runs against Stetson were not a fluke, as the Gators scored 12 or more runs in each of the next three games. Pete Alonso, Richie Martin, Harrison Bader, Buddy Reed, JJ Schwarz and Ryan Larson each collected at least five hits over the weekend, proving that Florida can get some offense from multiple different sources. And the power has been there, too; Schwarz hit seven homers on the week, while Bader hit three and Guthrie hit two.
I think that qualifies as a good offense.
Look. South Carolina’s not what they used to be. In fact, they’re a borderline mess at 6-9 in the SEC and 23-14 overall against a so-so out of conference schedule. But they do have a solid pitching staff, so watching the Gators tee off on them all weekend was certainly something to put some stock in. And hey, this was a conference series, so it not only made the Gators look good, but it meant something.