There's a chance, though not a great one, that Florida's stick-and-ball sports will be completely done for the 2012-13 season by 10 p.m. Eastern this Saturday night. Florida's beleaguered baseball team is up against the wall in the Bloomington Regional by virtue of its loss to Austin Peay on Friday, and Florida's softball team has to defeat Nebraska Saturday evening to stay alive in the Women's College World Series after an awful first game against Tennessee.
The good news? Neither of those teams is finished just yet, and both would probably be favorites if you could bet on NCAA Tournament action in baseball and softball. (If you can, DO NOT TELL ME, I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.) And the better news? I have these handy three-step plans for both teams that are just foolproof, let me tell you.
The Florida Baseball Plan For Escaping A Losing Season
1. Get on base, any which way you can
You can't win games without baserunners unless your team has power to burn. Florida doesn't: The Gators have 28 homers in 1,948 at-bats in 2013, and that translates to a 1.4 percent home run rate, or a homer roughly every 70 at-bats. Given Justin Shafer's three-run dinger on Friday, Florida's probably got a long wait until the next scheduled launch. So getting on base will be the operative strategy on Saturday.
One thing I've never quite understood about Florida's lineup this year is why Harrison Bader, who owns a team-high .310 batting average and a .371 on-base percentage, is buried as low in the order (he's hitting sixth today, his usual spot) as he is. He and Richie Martin (.303 average, .371 OBP) are the two best hit-for-average guys on this team, despite being freshmen, and it makes oodles of sense to have them both up top, where they can get on and present a threat on the basepaths.
Even with Bader hitting sixth, though, Florida's lineup might be getting a little better with the removal of Brady Roberson for Zack Powers, even though Roberson's numbers (.395 batting average, .442 OBP) dwarf Powers' (.265/.379) over a much smaller sample: Powers is excellent at drawing walks, with 22 in 184 plate appearances in 2013.
2. Go deep with a lead
This one's simple: Florida's been very good at closing out games when it has leads late, but is not good at all when it's not leading late. Despite a loss that came after carrying a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning on Friday, Florida is 23-2 when leading after seven innings in 2013, a testament to how strong the Gators bullpen has been all season.
But the flip side of that is Florida's ugly 6-27 record when tied or trailing after the seventh inning, which suggests that there's just not a lot of ways for the Gators to come back if they fall into a hole.
3. Have Mags be Mags
Johnny Magliozzi's been one of the better enigmas on a team that could have worn question marks instead of jersey numbers this spring, and he has been excellent of late, compiling a 1.93 ERA against SEC competition, and allowing five runs, four earned, over 6.2 innings against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament.
Mags still isn't a college starter by trade, having made just three starts on the year, and he's likely to struggle against batters the second and third times he sees them as a result; without a deep repertoire or the more patient starter's mentality, Mags is likely to more or less throw his heart out from the jump, caution be damned.
If he does that well, and gets Valparaiso players swinging and missing, Florida will be in good shape to see another day. If he doesn't? Florida might finish 2013 with a losing record.
The Florida Softball Plan For Riding High Again
1. Get the real Hannah Rogers back
Rogers was very good for most of the Women's College World Series in 2011, helping clean up after Stephanie Brombacher and earning two wins as a freshman starter. But her Thursday outing, which lasted just a third of an inning, was more like her last two WCWS appearances in 2011, when Arizona State touched her up for 11 earned runs in 6.2 innings of work, including nine in the first 2.1 innings of the championship final.
The real Hannah Rogers is the one whose ability to mix speeds and locate her pitches made her an All-SEC ace this year, and while living off the plate leads to plenty of walks (88 in 255.2 innings), she usually more than makes up for it with strikeouts (236 on the year), which she didn't get any of against Tennessee.
Rogers probably won't be squeezed the same way she was on Thursday by a puzzlingly small strike zone, and if she's able to go get through a first inning or three quickly, it could do a ton of good for her psyche.
2. Bomb away
Florida's among the nation's best teams in terms of power, and flexed its muscle against three NCAA Tournament teams in the SEC Tournament, earning nearly half of its runs via deposits over the fence.
Florida has just four homers in six NCAA Tournament games, however, and all four came in the first two games of the Gainesville Regional, against Hampton and USF. Florida won those two games by a 18-2 count, but has actually been outscored in the four games since, 12-9, despite two shutouts.
Clearly, homers are a big part of Florida's offense, and with 83 of them on the year, it's not as if the Gators don't know how to hit them. If Lauren Haeger, Kelsey Horton, and Stephanie Tofft swing away on Saturday, good things might happen.
3. Stay patient
You think Rogers walks batters? Nebraska pitchers have issued 206 free passes this season (Florida's given up 153), and that's largely due to ace Tatum Edrwards, who has 141 walks in 244.0 innings.
Florida's also very good at drawing walks, as previously mentioned, and if it can load the bases for Haeger, it will almost certainly produce offense. Tim Walton telling his charges that "A walk is just as good as a hit" would definitely be a bright idea on Saturday.
I'll be in the comments here, talking about both games all day. Feel free to join me.