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May 9, 2013
No. 3 LSU turned Florida's scratches into wounds last weekend.
The Gators' pitching staff has bent more than a rubber band all season but didn't snap until the Tigers dropped 26 runs on it in three games. Florida's offense had gone quiet before, but never quite as a quiet as it did during a four-hit shutout loss Saturday to seal the fate of the series. Three errors in two games didn't exactly showcase the defensive improvements UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan has talked about in recent weeks.
Two games against bottom-tier in-state opponents may have been what was needed to begin to sew the wounds shut before the home stretch of Southeastern Conference play. In two completely one-sided affairs Monday and Tuesday against Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic, Florida won by a combined score of 29-2. The Gators held the Rattlers to three hits and the Owls to one hit.
"Our relief pitching was really good - holding a team like FAU to one run and one hit over nine innings," O'Sullivan said Tuesday night. "We were obviously pleased with the effort."
Competition was an obvious step down from LSU, a team that knocked UF (27-23, 12-12 SEC) out of the top-25 with the sweep. FAMU is now 7-42 on the season, while FAU is 28-20 playing in the Sun Belt Conference. Tuesday night brought O'Sullivan his 250th victory at UF.
But competition will stay down to some extent as the Gators round out their season with a series each against the last-place team in the SEC West and the last-place team in the SEC East. Pipe dreams of hosting an NCAA Regional are gone, but the ultimate goal of making the postseason is still in play for a young Florida team.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND
Thanks in large part to a weak non-conference schedule, the Auburn Tigers come to Gainesville sporting a 28-19 record but an SEC West-worst 9-15 mark in conference play.
Auburn's offense has shown flashes of potential, specifically on the senior bats of Garrett Cooper (.358/7 HR/ 35 RBI) and Cullen Wacker (.338/ 34 RBI). After them, the lineup hits a bit of a lull with no other players hitting better than .278 on a team that is No. 12 in the SEC in runs scored.
Eight different pitchers have started a game for the Tigers this season, which is not quite as high as the Gators' 10. Junior left-hander Michael O'Neal has been the most consistent starter with a 2.70 ERA and an 8-3 record in 12 outings. Auburn is riding a four-game winning streak, having taken two out of three from Ole Miss last weekend followed by midweek wins against Jacksonville State and Samford.
WEEKEND GAME TIMES
Friday: 7 p.m.
Saturday: 7 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.