In 2015, the Florida baseball team had a bye at the SEC Tournament, lost a see-sawing first game late at night, rebounded to beat a team from Alabama on the second day of play, advanced to a Saturday semifinal against LSU with a run-rule win, then beat the Tigers by a single run in a pitchers' duel behind a surprising performance from an unsung hero on the mound.
In 2016, the Florida baseball team had a bye at the SEC Tournament, lost a see-sawing first game late at night, rebounded to beat a team from Alabama on the second day of play, and advanced to a Saturday semifinal against LSU with a run-rule win, then beat the Tigers by a single run in a pitchers' duel behind a surprising performance from an unsung hero on the mound
Florida's 1-0 win over LSU on Saturday in an SEC Tournament semifinal may have been preordained by the Gators' apparent location within a really weird episode of The Twilight Zone about SEC baseball, but it also belonged to little-used Scott Moss, forced into a spot start by Kevin O'Sullivan's reluctance to use Logan Shore while he was recovering from a reported stomach bug.
Moss mowed down the Tigers for the better part of his six full innings, allowing three hits and fanning seven batters, with impressive stuff that reminded that the Gators' bag of tricks is overfilled with talented pitchers, and Jonathan India drove home Dalton Guthrie for the day's only run with a double in the seventh..
For Moss, it was a vindication of the work done to recover from a 2014 Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his first two seasons in orange and blue. For Florida, it was a needed bridge to a third consecutive SEC Tournament final, in which the Gators will face likely national seed Texas A&M (3 p.m., ESPN2 or WatchESPN) with Shore on the hill — and a third straight win after losses in three of their previous four outings, all to LSU.
The Gators went just 2-3 against the Tigers over the span of nine days, but played none of those games at home, and left LSU coach Paul Mainieri comparing the battles to Ali-Frazier fights. None of the five games between the two teams was decided by more than four runs.
And in standing and trading with heavyweights while banged up, without Shore or still-recovering Peter Alonso, the Gators have proved, outcome of yet another Sunday game against Texas A&M aside, why they're the nation's best team.
Few teams in college baseball have depth on their pitching staff or in their lineup to match the Gators; fewer still, if any, have the sort of stacked roster that can keep a talent like Moss in reserve as a sixth starter, or bring on a Danny Reyes — three doubles and three RBI in his three starts in Hoover — as a late-season spark.
Florida undeniably swooned a bit over the last three weeks, after Alonso's fractured hand. That injury hardly made the Gators any less talented, though; it just hamstrung their lineup. And the lineup not producing was as much about not playing well for a stretch than some deeply flawed existence sans Alonso.
This week in Hoover, the Gators have finally played well despite having to play left-handed. And if Florida is finding something resembling its nearly untouchable early-season form on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, with players set to return from malady and injury, all those projections of Gators glory may yet come true.