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March 3, 2013

Gators bounce back for series win



Flu season might be coming to an end, but Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan is trying to make sure something else is contagious around Gainesville: winning.

Sunday, the Gators (5-7) struck early by posting four runs in the third inning and eventually going on to beat Miami (10-2) 6-3 and win the weekend series. It was an important bounce-back for a young team that dropped the series opener Friday night before winning the next two games.

"Those were two great wins, to take a series from a great Miami team," sophomore left fielder Justin Shafer said. "They hadn't lost all year. That's big for us. Just like losing is contagious, so is winning."

Entering the weekend, Florida was trapped inside its longest losing streak (five games) since 2009, when departed superstars like Mike Zunino, Hudson Randall and Nolan Fontana, were freshmen. Friday night, that streak slipped to six when the Gators scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the Hurricanes only to give up a game-deciding run in the ninth.

The loss was yet another example of Florida's youth, another night where the Gators could take an opponent to the wire only to fail closing them out. But the next two days, it was youth that helped Florida end the skid.

Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue had the kind of big hit Florida has waited two weeks for Saturday night when he singled to right field and drove in two runs to give the Gators a 4-3 lead in an eventual 6-4 victory. Freshman Richie Martin has started his college career by getting on base in all of Florida's 12 games and is currently on a 10-game hitting streak. He left Sunday's game with a finger injury after a bunt play.

Freshman Harrison Bader's RBI triple capped off a four-run third for the Gators Sunday.

Of Florida's 14 runs over the weekend, only two were knocked in by a player who was not a freshman or a sophomore.

"We showed some resiliency," O'Sullivan said. "We're all proud of how we bounced back after a Friday night loss against a big rival. We'll take it, but we've still got some work to do."

O'Sullivan referenced the bullpen as an area he would like to see improve. Florida has found a reliable trio in Jay Carmichael, Ryan Harris and Johnny Magliozzi, but the others have been inconsistent at best. O'Sullivan will test those other arms in two midweek games this week against Jacksonville.

The Gators have now won 16 of their last 18 against the Hurricanes after going 1-5 against their in-state rivals during the first six meetings under O'Sullivan.

WHO'S HOT

Sophomore LF Justin Shafer: At .413, Shafer leads the Gators in batting average and is proving worthy of his comfortable No. 3 spot in the batting order. Against Miami, Shafer was Florida's best offensive weapon. He batted .583 (7 for 12) for the weekend, knocked in a run and stole a base. Shafer will likely be among those tested as a pitcher during midweek action.

Sophomore RHP Ryan Harris: Now tied with Friday night starter Jonathon Crawford for most innings pitched this season, Harris has served as a versatile set-up man for closer Magliozzi. In Saturday and Sunday action, he combined to throw five innings while allowing three hits and zero runs.

WHO'S NOT

Sophomore 3B Josh Tobias: Expected to be Florida's starting third baseman entering the season, Tobias has fallen by the wayside a bit as Florida caters to Zack Powers, who is batting .352 and leading the Gators in RBI as a clean-up hitter. Meanwhile, Tobias has been relegated to designated hitter and pinch hitter duties. He went 1 for 7 with one walk this weekend.

Senior CF Cody Dent: After leading Florida in batting during the opening weekend, Dent has reverted to his old ways. Since going 3 for 8 in the Duke Series, Dent has batted .100 (2 for 20) and was largely held out of action this weekend in favor of Bader.

Midweek games: Tuesday at Jacksonville, Wednesday vs. Jacksonville


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