After a miserable 14-18 start, very few people thought that the Gators had any chance at making the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year.
But four wins (all against ranked teams) later, the Gators (18-18, 7-7 SEC) are back at .500 and are suddenly on the verge of sweeping one of college baseball's perennial powerhouses.
Johnny Magliozzi got his second save in as many nights, freshman Harrison Bader delivered a clutch two-run single to give the Gators a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth, and Florida topped South Carolina to secure by far their biggest series win of the season.
The Gamecocks gave the Gators a run in the first inning with another error, and added yet another one later in the game to make it four in two games. Unlike Thursday night's miscues, however, tonight's errors didn't directly give Florida the game.
The Gators did a better job of taking this one.
In last night's recap, I pointed out that Florida couldn't count on everything going its way. You don't get too many free runs or outs in SEC baseball. Florida had to find another way to win, perhaps with its bats. Bader did that with his clutch hit into left field, scoring two runs and giving the Gators a lead they would not relinquish. Then, with runners on second and third, Magliozzi struck out Brison Celek to end the game.
If this team has proven anything so far this season, it's that they're becoming more and more clutch as the season goes on. Florida had previously been awful in games decided by one run (1-7 entering this week), but now it has won three such games in a row. The Gamecocks are a trendy College World Series pick, and yet Florida has taken two straight games off them by one run.
The next step is sweeping this series on Saturday. Beating South Carolina in a series is a big part of their NCAA resume, don't get me wrong, but sweeping the Gamecocks would be huge. It wouldn't make the Gators a lock for the Tournament, but it would just help them that much more. And with the 14-18 start the Gators got off to, they can use any help they can get.
Sweeping the Gamecocks would also put the Gators in a position they couldn't have even dreamed of a week ago: Second place in the SEC East, with the tiebreaker over South Carolina. The final statement the Gators will get to make before they turn control of their season over to the selection committee is the SEC Tournament, and Florida can go a long way towards decreasing its chances of an early exit by getting a better seed. The Gators could set up a nice run through the SEC Tournament by drawing the worst teams possible.
Taking the series from the eighth-ranked team in the nation is nice, but the Gators are going to need to sweep the Gamecocks today if they want to really be taken seriously. The way I look at it, the Gators have some good, but not great pieces for a résumé. Series wins over Miami and Ole Miss are good, but not great accomplishments. A series win over South Carolina is arguably great, but the Gators have a chance to turn great into phenomenal with a sweep.
The good news for the Gators is that after they finish up with South Carolina, they'll have a chance to rack up some wins: With the notable exception of LSU, their remaining schedule is really easy. With three games against Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn (all four teams have below .500 SEC records, and only Auburn has a winning record overall), and several games against intrastate schools sprinkled in (Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M and USF), Florida can really pad their win total and give themselves that piece to their resume.
First, though, let's see if they can sweep the Gamecocks. The final game of the series comes on Saturday, at 3 p.m., and will be televised on ESPN2.