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February 28, 2013

Young Gators trying to keep slump simple



Being in charge of such a young team has Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan on damage control. After Tuesday night's 10-inning loss to North Florida - the team's fifth in a row - he called his players together and told them to stop playing the opposition. The Gators were having enough trouble playing themselves.

After being marred by errors in the first five games of the season, Florida fell prey to untimely pitching mistakes in its next four games.

Later Tuesday night, a pitching staff that features seven freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and zero seniors, was called together for another meeting by sophomore closer Johnny Magliozzi.

They told each other they need to step up and take advantage of runs their hitters are giving them. O'Sullivan appreciated the leadership but also admitted it's another sign of a young team.

"You can have all the meetings you want," O'Sullivan said. "It's pretty simple. We've got to get the ball down and we've got to pitch a little bit better. If you have too many meetings, that probably means you're not focusing on the things at hand."

Simplicity is a key word for O'Sullivan right now. Regularly starting six fielders who are either freshmen or sophomores means limiting verbiage and thoughts and trying to emphasize positivity and confidence.

There are, strangely enough, positives that have come in the last week. The Gators have only committed one error in their last four games after surrendering 15 in their first five games. Three players are hitting .342 or better and only one of Florida's losses has come by more than three runs.

It's hardly a work of art or the signs of a top-25 team - Florida dropped out of the rankings for the first time since April 23, 2009, this week - but it's baby steps for a team that's nothing like the one that went to the College World Series last year.

Now there is a legitimate need to win and it won't be easy. An undefeated Miami comes to Gainesville this weekend , not the easiest solution for a team full of players tired of losing.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND

The Hurricanes bring a significant challenge to a struggling team. Their 9-0 record has been built on beating up on inferior opponents, but in many ways, the Gators have gone 3-6 against what were supposed to be inferior opponents.

Miami has two players - Alex Hernandez and Brad Fieger - hitting .406 or better but hasn't had it easy to get to 9-0. The Hurricanes have gone extra innings against Florida Atlantic and Rutgers and beat the likes of St. Thomas and Milwaukee by one run.

Starting pitching enters the weekend as the difference maker. Chris Diaz and Javi Salas, respectively Miami's Friday and Saturday starter, have combined to throw 23.2 innings and allow one earned run in four total outings this season.

To contrast that, Florida has two full-time relievers who have thrown as many or more innings than UF Friday night ace Jonathon Crawford.

After trying two different options the first two weekends, Florida will name no Sunday starter going into the weekend. O'Sullivan doesn't want to think that far ahead with a young group that needs to win before then.

"Whatever we've got left, our best available guy goes Sunday," he said. "We're in a situation right now where we can't look too far ahead."

GAME TIMES

Friday: 7 p.m.
Saturday: 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.


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