Friday April 12, 2013Gators baseball team on verge of climbing back to .500 thanks to recent stretch
Updated: 1:37pm, April 12
Updated: 1:37pm, April 12
The Gators baseball team is smiling more of late with six wins in its last eight games.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In Thursday night’s win over SEC rival South Carolina, the Gators’ break came when Gamecocks sophomore TJ Costen slipped as he came around third base with two outs in the ninth inning.
Catcher Tyler Gushue, on the receiving end of a throw from right fielder Cory Reid, quickly threw to third baseman Josh Tobias, who then tagged Costen for the final out in Florida’s 3-2 win.
In Tuesday night’s road win at No. 7-ranked Florida State, the Gators were the benefactors of a throwing error by Seminoles third baseman Jose Brizuela in the ninth that allowed Harrison Bader to reach second to lead off the inning. Brizuela had grounded into an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the eighth and things quickly got worse for him when he fielded Bader’s ground ball.
With Bader on second, Seminoles pitcher Robby Coles tried to pick him off, but Coles’ throw went into the outfield and allowed Bader to take third. Later in the inning Bader scored the game-winning run on Josh Tobias’ sacrifice fly in Florida’s 4-3 win.
In Sunday’s 8-3 win at Mississippi State, the Gators won the old-fashioned way -- they pitched better and hit better than the Bulldogs.
In case you had gone to sleep on this year’s Gators baseball team, you might want to take notice of Florida’s recent play. The Gators have won six of eight since losing 4-3 at Ole Miss on March 29 and falling a season-high five games below .500 (11-16).
They are 17-18, 6-7 in the conference entering the second game of a three-game series with South Carolina tonight at McKethan Stadium.
“I don’t think it’s just the last three games,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan told reporters after Thursday’s win. “I think this team has been better the last month. The results haven’t always been the way we wanted them, but I think we’ve been playing better.
“We’ve been getting a lot of contributions. We’ve lost some tough one-run games, but I have seen improvement over the last month.”
Some of the breaks that went against Florida early in the season are now going its way. And like O’Sullivan said, the team has improved in some key areas, such as:
--Florida’s defense has been sharper of late with four consecutive errorless games.
--No. 1 starter Jonathon Crawford, 2-5 with a 4.17 ERA, is showing signs of last year’s Crawford.
--Freshman Richie Martin is back from a broken finger and starting in center field instead of shortstop; Florida is 3-0 with him in center.
--Freshman lefty Danny Young has pitched well since he entered the rotation. Young has a 1.59 ERA in four SEC appearances spanning 11 1/3 innings.
--The Gators are gaining confidence with some success and making fewer mistakes on the basepaths.
Young, scheduled to make his fourth start of the season tonight, is just one example of a young player improving.
“A young pitcher coming in and doing that is big for any team,’’ Crawford said. “That’s a good job on his part.”
Florida has already used 10 different starting pitchers this season in 35 games; the Gators used seven in 67 games a year ago.
Meanwhile, Gushue credited an attitude change with helping the Gators turn their fortunes around.
Early in the season they were too tight and too afraid of making mistakes. It showed as the Gators dropped six consecutive games to drop to 3-7. While they remain a game below .500, Gushue sees a team that is more loose and positive than during the season’s early struggles.
“I feel a lot of it has to do with ourselves and our approach to the game,’’ Gushue said. “It’s comes from within ourselves.”
The next step is to make it last. The Gators have 21 regular-season games remaining. They would like to reach at least 29 wins to feel good about a regional berth. They need 12 wins to reach that mark.
The schedule shapes up more favorable down the stretch. While the Gators still have SEC power LSU left, they have faced most of the SEC’s best teams already.
Regardless, the most important thing for the Gators is to continue to find ways to win.
“We’ll take one anyway we can,” O’Sullivan said.