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Gator Baseball Heads to Nashville for Pivotal SEC East Clash

The fifth ranked Florida Gators (37-12, 18-6 SEC) baseball team is looking to bounce back from last weekend's series loss to number 18 Arkansas Razorbacks in the Music City as they take on the second ranked Vanderbilt Commodores (41-6, 19-5 SEC) at Hawkins Field this weekend. Florida currently sits tied with the fourth ranked South Carolina Gamecocks for second in the SEC East, one game behind Vandy for league supremacy. The Gators are familiar with the position they're in. Just last year, Florida played at South Carolina the last weekend of the season for the SEC regular season title. The Gators took the first two games against the 'Cocks and claimed the SEC Championship. This year, the opponent is different, but the mindset is the same: Win this series to stay in the SEC title hunt.

Hear from Austin Maddox, Alex Panteliodis, Hudson Randall, Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino, and UF Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan as they preview this weekend's crucial series after the jump.

In tonight's series opener, it will be a clash of aces as Florida sends sophomore righty Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.05 ERA) to the mound against the 'Dores Junior right hander Sonny Gray (9-3, 1.94 ERA). Randall pitched pretty well in a loss at Arkansas last Thursday night (7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 5 K), but ended up taking the loss. He's 6-2 with a 2.50 ERA in league competition. Randall has shown great control over the course of the season striking out 44 while only giving up four walks. His counterpart on the mound, Gray, is Vanderbilt's best pro prospect, ranked 14th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft (Via ESPN's Keith Law). Gray has drawn comparisons to San Francisco Giants two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for his stature (both 5'11", under 180 lbs) and his taxing delivery. You can catch the likely pitcher's duel on CSS (Channel 199 on Cox Cable in Gainesville/Ocala) or online at 

The middle game of the series features a matchup of southpaws on the bump as Florida sends sophomore Brian Johnson (7-2, 2.53 ERA) against Vandy's 10 game winner Grayson Garvin (10-1, 2.15 ERA). Johnson has given up three earned runs or less in 11 out of his 12 starts. He most recently worked four innings against Arkansas, giving up four runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Saturday's game has a midday start at 3 p.m.

The series finale will pit a pair of unbeatens against each other as freshman faces senior. The Gators have freshman righty Karsten Whitson (6-0, 2.26 ERA) taking the mound against Commodores senior righty Taylor Hill (4-0, 3.17 ERA). Whitson pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits while striking out six in Florida's lone win in Fayetteville last weekend. On the season, Whitson leads the Gators with 62 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. He's 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA, and 40 strikeouts in SEC league play. Sunday's finale starts at 2 p.m.

Series Notes & Nuggets:

  • UF Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan and VU Head Coach Tim Corbin coached together at Clemson between 1999-2002.
  • Florida took the first two games of the regular season series last year to win the series. The teams faced off again in the SEC Tournament, where Florida bested Vandy again, 5-2, to advance to the semifinals.
  • In their last trip to Nashville, the two teams split the first two games, but Vanderbilt took the rubber match to win the series, 2-1.
  • O'Sullivan is 7-4 against Vanderbilt as Florida Head Coach. Corbin is 14-14 versus Florida as Vandy Head Coach.
  • Gator sluggers Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino enter the game with 13-game hitting streaks.
  • Interestingly enough, 10 of the past 14 series featuring Florida and Vanderbilt have resulted in sweeps. A Florida sweep would keep the Gators in prime position for the SEC regular season championship.
  • The Gators hold a 117-62-1 advantage over the Commodores since the series began in 1927.