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April 10, 2013

Baseball in the middle of marquee week



Florida has the opportunity to give Gainesville as big of a baseball week as it has seen this season.

Tuesday night, the Gators (16-18) avoided what would have been the first season sweep at the hands of the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles (27-6) since Kevin O'Sullivan took over as coach at UF. Florida won the game 4-3 thanks to a game-winning sacrifice fly by sophomore Josh Tobias that was set up when freshman Harrison Bader reached base and advance to third on back-to-back errors.

FSU, which despite its record is just No. 8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in fielding percentage, committed four errors on the night and finished the season series with seven in three games. Two of Florida's runs Tuesday night were unearned.

"It's big," O'Sullivan said. "To play your in-state rival, not getting swept is a big deal. They've got a good team. They deserved to win those first two games. We had to show some resiliency."

The Gators are now 2-0 since freshman Richie Martin returned to playing offense and defense, previously salvaging a Sunday win out of a wayward weekend series against Mississippi State. The usual shortstop is playing center field until he is comfortable enough to return to the infield.

In his last two games, Martin is 3 for 8 with 3 RBI. He has reached base in each of the 14 college baseball games he has played. He had a sacrifice fly for Florida's first run Tuesday night and later doubled in another run.

"I've never really played center," Martin said. "They're just sticking me out there. I'll play wherever they want. I'm just happy to be out there."

The turnaround is quick.

No. 11 South Carolina (26-7) is in town for a three-game series that begins Thursday night at 7:30 to accommodate an ESPNU broadcast Thursday and an ESPN2 broadcast Saturday afternoon. It is the final weekend of a treacherous five-series stretch that started Southeastern Conference play for the Gators. Florida opened conference play with consecutive series against the nation's No. 13, 2, 23, 21 and 11 teams.

With the exception of a trip to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 3 LSU Tigers, it's all downhill from here for the Gators. Four of Florida's final five weekend series will come against opponents with a combined 12-36 mark in SEC play.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND

The hit show is coming to Gainesville. South Carolina is tied with LSU for most home runs in the SEC with 28 and is led by LB Dantzler, a senior infielder from Winter Haven who is currently batting .331 with 10 homers and 34 RBI.

Anyone who has followed Florida baseball in recent years should be familiar with the offensive names. Joey Pankake is second on the Gamecocks in hits with 36 and has driven in 25 runs. Connor Bright and Tanner English are both hitting above .300.

Talent is still there on the mound as well, though South Carolina does not have the dominant pitching numbers it has in the past. The Gamecocks lead the SEC in strikeouts but are middle of the road in almost every other pitching statistic.

WEEKEND GAME TIMES

Friday: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: 3 p.m.


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