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March 20, 2013
Beating the University of North Florida Ospreys isn't a big deal for most Florida teams. North Florida is buried well below the notable athletic programs in the state. Yet going into Tuesday night's game, the Ospreys had won two of their last three against the Gators' baseball team.
Florida was coming off an opening weekend series in the Southeastern Conference in which it cruised against Kentucky Friday night before getting beat by a combined 10 runs on Saturday and Sunday.
"We've put ourselves in a situation where we've got to buckle down," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Every game from this point forward is going to be treated the same, and we've got to give a good effort."
The Gators (10-12) got started early offensively Tuesday in a 9-4 win. Sophomores Justin Shafer and Taylor Gushue - two players Florida needs to be offensive leaders - hit home runs to open scoring. For Gushue, it was his first home run since March 18 of last season.
Freshman pitcher Tucker Simpson became the first UF starting pitcher this season to record a victorious decision by going 5.2 innings and allowing six hits and three earned runs. He said after the game he has taken his move from the weekend rotation not as a demotion but as something O'Sullivan feels fits the team better.
Regardless, Florida is desperate for a sign of life.
The Gators play three of the top six teams in the country in their next four weekend series. It starts on the road with No. 2 Vanderbilt this weekend. The only team outside of the top six Florida will face the next four weekends is No. 19 Mississippi State.
"Obviously they have a very good team," O'Sullivan said of Vanderbilt. "We feel like we have a good team, too. We haven't played our best baseball."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND
The Commodores (19-2) are riding a four-game winning streak after sweeping Auburn in the opening weekend of SEC play. Vanderbilt is led by two of the best pitchers in the nation, starters Tyler Beede and Kevin Ziomek.
Both players currently have an ERA under 1.00 and have been victorious in all five of their starts. Offensively, Vanderbilt leads the SEC in extra-base hits and stolen bases. Florida is second-to-last in extra-base hits and No. 11 in stolen bases.
Gushue has thrown out 10 of the 32 runners who have tried to steal a base on him this year.
"I'm totally excited," Gushue said of the opportunity this weekend. "I can't wait."
Vanderbilt junior infielder Tony Kemp is batting .442 with 18 RBI and 10 stolen bases this season.
WEEKEND GAME TIMES
Friday: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: 7 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.