The Gators are ranked in the top-5 of every major college baseball poll and No. 1 in the country by D1Baseball.com but they feel like their season is just beginning. Sure, Florida has won 16-of-18, including back-to-back weekend series sweeps and are currently on a six game winning streak but their focus is on the future and the start of the SEC schedule.
Florida will host Tennessee (7-6) to kick off the conference schedule as the Gators look to repeat as SEC Champions in 2015. The Vols have gotten off to a Rocky Top start to the season — currently dead last with a .538 win percentage) and they face a tall task coming in to Gainesville, where Florida is 14-1 on the season.
“It’s a totally new season. None of the teams we played in the beginning of the season were really cakewalks but it’s all really building up to get yourself playing at a good level going into SEC play,” left-hander Danny Young said. “Obviously, the competition gets way tougher and you’ve gotta be on your game all the time.”
Let’s take a look at the weekend rotations for both teams. Both Florida and Tennessee have set weekend rotations and Florida’s starting pitching staff has performed phenomenally thus far into the year, posting a 1.66 and 10-1 record. The trio of sophomore starters has given up just 36 hits in 59.2 innings and has struck out 47 hitters.
Friday: RHP Logan Shore (3-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Brett Marks (1-1, 0.79 ERA)
Shore has been everything the Gators expected him to be coming off of an All-SEC freshman season. Aside from an early exit against Miami (due to a hip injury) Shore has blanked the opposition and looked unhittable. Florida has used Shore’s strong performances on Friday to propel them through the weekend and they hope to get a similar start on Friday.
Through three starts Shore has yet to allow a run, earned or unearned, walked just for in 19.1 innings, struck out 12 and is holding hitters to a .175 average against him.
Brett Marks is coming off of a career performance against the Grand Canyon Antelopes. Marks threw 7.2 innings, striking out a career-high 12 batters and his 27 strikeouts on the season lead all Volunteer pitchers.
Saturday: LHP A.J. Puk (3-1, 3.72 ERA) vs. LHP Drake Owenby (1-1, 2.53 ERA)
Puk is the wildcard in the weekend rotation. When the sophomore has been on he’s been lights out, striking out 19 batters in 19.1 innings of work. However, he’s given up two home runs on the season and has shown the propensity to not let things go on the mound, allowing a bad pitch or bad at bat to stick with him and snowball throughout the inning. Puk is doing a much better job of locating his pitches and throwing strikes, which, when you’re a 6-7 left-handed pitcher who throws in the low-to-mid 90s, that’s all you need to do.
Tennessee sends junior lefty Drake Owenby to the hill on Saturday. Owenby is coming off of a career-best 8.0 innings pitched against Grand Canyon.
Sunday: RHP Dane Dunning (4-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Serrano (1-1, 1.69)
Dunning has been the biggest surprise of the three sophomore starters. Dunning has been nearly unhittable through his first four starts, even though he only lasted 67 pitches in his last outing. Dunning leads the Gators weekends starters in innings pitched (21.0), hits allowed (10), batting average against (.139) and has struck out 16 batters.
Serrano ranks second in the SEC, with opposing batters hitting a paltry .115 against him, one spot ahead of Dunning. The sophomore right-hander has nasty stuff and has been a very good anchor to the back end of the Tennessee rotation.
- Florida comes into the game hitting .306 as a team; sixth best in the SEC. Tennessee is hitting just .270, 12th in the conference.
- The Florida pitching staff has a cumulative 2.24 ERA, good for fifth best in the SEC. The Vols are not far behind in seventh place with a 2.38 ERA.
- Florida’s .985 fielding percentage is best in the conference and their 11 errors on the season are the least committed among the 14 teams.
- Florida leads the SEC with 42 doubles.
- Junior outfielder Harrison Bader will return to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained ankle. Bader leads the Gators in home runs and in batting average.