It was a weekend with a unique setup but one that provided results that have become all too familiar for No. 23 Florida recently. The Gators invited Illinois and Florida Gulf Coast in for a rare three-team series in which each team would play the two others twice between Thursday and Sunday.
The two opponents should hardly have been a staggering challenge. Illinois entered the four-day weekend 2-4 with losses to Georgia State, George Mason and Connecticut. FGCU lost a game to Bethune Cookman last weekend. But Florida exited the weekend losing three of four. It has now lost five of its last seven dating back to last weekend's series at Miami to fall to .500 on the season.
"We're not giving ourselves a chance," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We're just in a rut right now where we're not scoring many runs and every pitch is so important. It's taxing on your staff."
Good luck finding a specific reason for this weekend's putrid performance. Aside from a 4-0 Saturday victory against the Eagles that featured strong pitching and timely hitting, few things went right. The pitching was generally substantial. Freshman Logan Shore went six innings with seven strikeouts Thursday but was done in by four errors behind him and pitiful run production (1 for 11 with runners in scoring position).
In both games against Illinois, the Gators were simply outclassed both on the mound and at the plate. Fighting Illini pitcher Kevin Duchene tossed a three-hit complete game shutout in a 6-0 Friday night victory. Illinois cruised to a 5-0 Sunday victory with little opposition from UF bats, which couldn't turn XXX hits into a single run. It swept the weekend, winning all four games.
"The bottom line is we've got to stay positive," O'Sullivan said. "We've got to move this thing in the right direction. It's our job as coaches to get them going. … Guys start pressing. That's what happens. …. When you've done this as long as I have, these things happen. You don't see it coming and all of a sudden it catches you off-guard. They'll come out of it. It doesn't go on forever, but right now, it's difficult."
The Gators (6-6) now hit the road for a Tuesday night game at Southern Miss before returning to Gainesville for a weekend series against Connecticut.
RHP KARSTEN WHITSON and RHP AARON RHODES: The duo combined for an impressive three-hit shutout in Saturday's 4-0 victory against FGCU. For Whitson, it was his first win since June 10, 2012, after battling injury all of 2013. He lasted five innings, the same as his first two starts combined and allowed one hit. Rhodes worked the game's final four innings, striking out four and notching his first career save.
INF PETER ALONSO: A freshman infielder who played both first and third over the weekend, Alonso had some trouble with his glove at third Thursday but rebounded by being Florida's most consistent hitter. He finished the four-game stretch 7 for 16 (.438) and recorded the fourth multi-hit game of his young career Sunday against Illinois.
SITUATIONAL HITTING: McKethan Stadium's 2013 ghosts were back breathing as the Gators struggled mightily to score runs. Florida batted .143 with runners in scoring position in the weekend's three losses (3 for 21). "Just hit a ground ball, we get a run," O'Sullivanm noticeably frustrated, said Thursday. "I don't know what else to say. The Gators did manage to get three hits with runners in scoring position in Saturday's lone win.
INFIELD DEFENSE: There is nothing between the lines that frustrates O'Sullivan as much as poor defense, and there was an array of poor defense on display this weekend. It got started Thursday, when Florida committed four errors and lost because of two unearned runs. The Gators went on to suffer seven errors in four games. Shortstop Richie Martin now has seven errors in 12 games. He had three in 13 games at shortstop in 2013.