The long, arduous road filled with peaks, valleys, blood, sweat and tears has led the Florida Gators to Hoover, Alabama for the SEC Tournament.
Florida’s road was mostly as predicted. The Orange and Blue cruised to 40 wins and if not for their 3-7 mark in opening SEC series games, may have even won the league like they did last season. Still, for their efforts, the Gators were given the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament and with that comes a buy. The Gators will play the winner of Arkansas (33-20) vs. Tennessee (24-25) on Wednesday night at Regions Park in Hoover.
Sophomore Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.54 ERA) will take the hill for the Orange and Blue in their opening game. The Gators are 10-2 in games where Dunning earned the start.
As the No. 4 seed Florida’s road won’t be easy. A win on Wednesday sets the stage for a likely meeting with LSU, who, like Florida, will save their ace for the second game of the double elimination format. That will likely pit SEC Freshman of the Year Alex Lange against Florida’s ace Logan Shore in a battle of two future MLB hurlers. Lange ranks second in the SEC in ERA (2.11) and third in conference games (2.33). Lange is one of just two SEC pitchers to win 10 games (joining SEC Pitcher of the Year Carson Fulmer) and is just one of three pitchers in the conference with 90 strikeouts.
Florida and LSU have not met on the diamond this season, but the No. 1 ranked Tigers finished first in the SEC with a record of 46-9 and the No. 1 ranking in the country according to D1baseball.com.
The Gators are no slouches themselves. Florida finished with the sixth-best RPI in the country, the second best non-conference RPI in the country and have the most wins over any team in the top-25 in RPI this season.
Both teams will need to secure wins on Wednesday to make it to the showcase game on Thursday night but Florida has everything on the line here.
The Gators are battling for a National Seed in the NCAA Tournament, with it, the chance to potentially host the rest of their games up until the College World Series. D1baseball.com currently has the Gators projected as the No. 5 overall seed in the tournament. A 2-0 start in the SEC Tournament would all but lock Florida in as a national seed, allowing them to play at McKethan Stadium, where they went 28-6 (compared to just 11-8 on the road and 1-1 in neutral site games).
Before the season began, Richie Martin looked dead into the eyes of reporters and television cameras. The Gators knew that they were only as good as their last performance — back-to-back losses in the NCAA Tournament — but they were focused and confident. Martin stated the goal for the team was a SEC Championship or bust. Buddy Reed, Harrison Bader, Josh Tobias and the rest of the ball club echoed those words.
The Gators will have their chance this week to accomplish the goals that were set for them when the season began. The road won’t be easy this week but it hasn’t been easy the past four months either.
Four months ago every player on the roster talked the talk, this week there is no time for talking. Now it’s time to walk the walk.