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March 9, 2014

Baseball Weekend Recap: UConn

Coaching a baseball team comes with built-in frustrations that become exposed when your team finds a prolonged rut. That's what Kevin O'Sullivan found his team in Saturday evening following another game that shouldn't have gone to extra innings but did.

Don't get him wrong. He was happy about the win, the Gators' second in as many days, but one week from Southeastern Conference play, O'Sullivan knew three runs in 21 innings wasn't enough.

"The offense will come around. I've seen them play in the fall and I've seen them play in the spring. I've seen them," he said. "Let's face it. Some guys are disappointed with themselves. You ask anybody, 'How you playing?' and when you're 0 for 4 or 1 for your last 9, they don't feel real good about themselves."

Luckily for Florida, the pitching was as good as the offense was bad Friday and Saturday. Strong starting pitching ate up a combined 11.1 innings whole allowing just five hits and one run. The bullpen was even better. Six different pitchers combined for 9.2 inning of shutout ball.

"This should be a big confidence boost for a lot of those guys out of the 'pen," O'Sullivan said. "It really should. You can't create this type of environment in practice. This should build character and give them a lot of confidence moving forward."

Sunday, O'Sullivan got a taste of his previous wish for the offense. Florida struck fast in the first inning, opening with a lead-off single and an RBI double to open the game. Unfortunately, it came after Karsten Whitson had allowed two runs in the top of the first.

It wasn't always ideal, but the Gators offense showed signs of life similar to what their coach predicted for the future. There were six runs on 11 hits. Trailing 5-4 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Taylor Gushue hit Florida's second home run of the year - both by him - to send the series to extra innings for a third consecutive game. Josh Tobias tripled to lead off the 10th and was knocked in by Casey Turgeon for the game-winner, 6-5.

Afterward, O'Sullivan called it the best offensive performance of the season.

"We're starting to break out," Gushue said. "Bats are getting hot, pitchers are absolutely carving up the other hitters. Not enough can be said about our pitching this weekend. It was unbelievable. Every key situation, they did their jobs. They're going to have a nice off-day tomorrow, that's for sure."


- FRESHMAN PITCHING: Friday and Saturday featured nearly identical games and the most notable consistency was the pitching done by Logan Shore and A.J. Puk. Shore has become Florida's most reliable starter and responded to getting the ball on Friday by spreading two hits over seven innings, striking out four and not allowing a run. Puk featured his usual heat but exercised better command than usual, striking out seven in 4.1 innings Saturday. O'Sullivan felt the need to pull him after he allowed his first run because of a lack of UF run support.

- 2B CASEY TURGEON: Searching for a bright spot after two days of poor offense, O'Sullivan pointed to Turgeon and rightfully so. The junior reached base in 11 of his 16 plate appearances on the weekend (.692 OBP) including five walks and six hits. He knocked in three runs, the second coming courtesy of a hard-hit double on Sunday and the third a walk-off squeeze bunt.


RUN PRODUCTION: There are too many names to point to when properly describing what went wrong offensively in the first two games of the series. The Gators could only manage three runs out of 15 hits over the course of Friday and Saturday, leaving 24 runners on base. It was an all too familiar struggle after the Gators scored six runs in four games last weekend. Luckily for Florida, it took a turn for the better Sunday.

OF JUSTIN SHAFER: O'Sullivan had gotten away from using a junior who was supposed to be a key part of this year's team in recent weeks. Shafer helped him show why against UConn. He went 1 for 12 with two strikeouts while seeing time in left and right field and committing an error. Initially slated as the team's closer, Shafer continues to watch from that aspect as well. He did not pitch again this weekend and has only thrown twice this season, allowing eight hits and three runs in 2.2 innings.

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