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April 3, 2013
As Florida begins to grow its most substantial bit of success in a 14-16 season, it is trying its hardest to shrink the focus in the dugout. With a three-game winning streak in hand, the Gators are working to embrace confidence while eliminating any form of satisfaction.
Make no mistake about it. The mood is different around McKethan Stadium. That's what happens when the No. 4 team in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division rebounds from a tough Friday night loss to win a series against the nation's No. 11 team. Following it with a Tuesday night win doesn't hurt either.
"We're in a really good place as a team," sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue said. "Everybody is loose. Everybody is having fun. We're enjoying the game. Winning helps."
The current stretch started with pitching. Inconsistent all year, Jonathon Crawford gave the Gators their crowning pitching performance of the season Saturday with a two-hit, complete-game shutout.
That carried through to a Sunday win and a come-from behind effort against Central Florida Tuesday in which the Gators rode three relief pitchers to victory after getting just 1.2 innings from starter Tucker Simpson.
The last time Florida won three or more games in a row this season, it followed it up by losing four of its next six and falling back into its old ways. But since the Vanderbilt series, UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he has seen a change in his team.
Going forward, the focus will continue to be finding more bullpen arms to help out the more proven names of Ryan Harris, Daniel Gibson and Johnny Magliozzi. O'Sullivan is giving his young relievers two innings each Wednesday to essentially earn consideration in this weekend's series against Mississippi State.
"We have to get some of these guys going because we're going to need them," O'Sullivan said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND
Mississippi State dropped out of the rankings after a weekend series loss against Arkansas. The offensive player to watch on the Bulldogs is junior Hunter Renfroe, who missed the start of the season because of injury but has since batted .439 with nine home runs and 36 RBI in 27 games.
The Bulldogs have one of the SEC's most potent offenses and have scored more runs than any other team in the conference.
On the mound, Mississippi State has featured one of the conference's best bullpens. The Bulldogs have four relievers with an ERA of 1.17 or better. Because of a well-known riff between O'Sullivan and Bulldogs coach John Cohen, Florida and Mississippi State has been one of the more heated SEC rivalries in recent years.
WEEKEND GAME TIMES
Friday: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: 4 p.m.
Sunday: 2:30 p.m.