The final regular season series for number four Florida baseball (39-14, 20-7 SEC) may turn out to be the most important as they welcome the Kentucky Wildcats (24-28, 7-20 SEC) to Gainesville and McKethan Stadium. With the 20-7 mark in league play, Florida is tied atop the SEC standings with number two South Carolina and number three Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks finish up in Tuscaloosa against Alabama, and the Commodores travel to Athens to take on Georgia. The Gators are looking to win back-to-back SEC regular season titles for the second time in school history and the first time since 1981-1982. The only way for Florida to receive at least a share of the SEC Championship is for them to sweep Kentucky this weekend. And with Florida facing one of the SEC's worst baseball team's at home, there's a decent possibility the Gators goals of winning the league championship come to fruition.
Interviews with Florida players and head coach Kevin O'Sullivan after the jump.The first game of the series starts tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. Florida will send southpaw Brian Johnson (7-3, 3.38 ERAA) to the mound against fellow lefty Taylor Rogers (3-6, 5.01 ERA). Johnson has been struggling lately for Florida, dropping his last two against Arkansas and Vanderbilt. He'll be looking to turn it around against the Wildcats.
Game two will be on Friday night and will pit Gators' ace Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.14 ERA) against Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06 ERA). Randall hasn't won a game since April 29 after losing to Arkansas and receiving a no-decision at Vanderbilt. His opponent, Meyer, is a projected top-10 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, and leads the league in strikeouts (101), innings pitched (94), complete games (four) and complete-game shutouts (two). The game will start at 7 p.m. and will be aired on Fox Sports Florida.
The series finale will feature Karsten Whitson (6-0, 2.51 ERA) against a Kentucky starter to be named later. The freshman has compiled a 3-0 record with a 2.64 ERA during league play. Whitson was the ninth overall pick out of high school in last years draft, and has arguably been the best freshman pitcher in college baseball. The season finale starts at 4 p.m. Saturday and will be aired on Fox Sports Florida.
If there is no clear cut SEC winner after the weekend is over, the SEC's tiebreak scenario will come into play. The tiebreakers will determine the seeding heading into the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, AL. In the event of a three-team tie, the first tie break would be the total win-loss percentage among the tied teams. The tiebreak at this point, should all of the teams finish with the same SEC record, would go to Vanderbilt, followed by South Carolina, and finally Florida.
This weekend's series also has implications on a national level. If Florida wins the SEC title outright, it would strengthen it's argument for a high national seed and the right to host NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals on the way to Omaha and the College World Series. As it stands now, Florida is projected as a lock for a national seed (given to the top eight teams), and the number three seed overall.
Series Notes & Nuggets:
- Florida leads the all-time series with Kentucky 127-55-1.
- Under head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, UF is 5-4 against the Wildcats.
- Nolan Fontana (.317, 43 runs, 33 RBI) enters the UK series on a seven-game hitting streak in which he is 11-for-26 (.423) with six runs and three RBI. He was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday.
- With an SEC title this weekend, UF's athletic program will have claimed 50 SEC Championships in the past 10 years.