Florida ready for Auburn again

Just three days after losing to Auburn in the series finale on Sunday with an Southeastern Conference title on the line, Florida will get another shot at the Tigers in the opening round of the 2012 SEC Tournament.

The Gators (40-16) will take on the Tigers (30-26) at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday in the third game of the tournament in Hoover, Ala.

“We fell a little bit short of an SEC regular season (title), but LSU earned it,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said on an SEC teleconference call. “I think this road trip has been really good for us, to be honest with you. We’ve had some good practices, and I thought we played really well at Auburn. I know they’re anxious to make a really good run here in the postseason.”

Florida will start the SEC Tournament with sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (4-2, 3.67 ERA) on the mound. He will face Auburn senior right-hander Jon Luke Jacobs (5-3, 3.75 ERA).

Crawford last threw against Mississippi State on May 12 in a four-inning outing in which he gave up two runs on four hits. He has started 11 games for the Gators this season.

“You throw a guy that had three innings the year before, and you look up and he’s starting some Friday night games (this year),” O’Sullivan said “He arguably, for me, is our MVP this year, to be honest with you. I think he has stepped in in some really tough situations and has pitched really good for us.”

In the double-elimination tournament, O’Sullivan plans to get back to the normal weekend rotation after Crawford throws. He’ll be followed on the mound by Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson and Karsten Whitson, depending on how far Florida advances.

After taking the series against the Tigers over the weekend, the Gators enter the SEC Tournament with a little bit of momentum after a late-season slide that made an SEC title a seeming impossibility going into the final week of SEC play.

Florida cranked out 20 runs on 34 hits with a .321 batting average over the weekend, far more production that it had gotten at the plate in the previous few weeks of SEC play.

“I feel like we’re playing probably our best baseball that we have all year,” O’Sullivan said. “Seems like we’re starting to get healthy. We’ve been through some difficult injuries throughout the year, but I think our trainers and strength staff have done a really nice job getting our guys healthy toward the last part of the season here.”

Despite the disappointment of narrowly missing an SEC title, Florida is just looking to get fully back on track with the SEC Tournament.

The team won the tournament a year ago, and it carried that momentum into NCAA Tournament play, eventually earning a spot in the College World Series championship series. If they can do it again, the weekend woes of SEC play will be forgotten quickly.

“I feel good about where we’re at right now, and I’ve got no disappointment in our team at all,” O’Sullivan said. “I feel like they’ve worked extremely hard, and I think they’ve put themselves in a really good position for postseason. Now it’s just a matter of us going out and hopefully playing our best baseball.”