Gator baseball has had a tough road so far in 2013. The Gators lost plethora of talent last year the MLB Draft, a lot of whom are performing well in the minor and major leagues. Paco Rodriguez was called up onto the LA Dodgers active roster last season within three months of ending his career as a Gator. Former Gator catcher Mike Zunino, the third overall pick of the MLB Draft last season to Seattle, has hit a ridiculous four home runs and 16 RBI over his last five games at the AAA level. Former Gator short stop Nolan Fontana has a .468 batting average and 7 RBI currently at the High A level with the Houston Astros.
The 2013 Gator baseball team is a very young group with just two seniors on the entire roster- Vick Ramjit and Cody Dent. Add in the mix that Florida plays in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball, with six teams being ranked in the top 25. Even so, Florida has eight victories over ranked teams, a figure that leads the SEC. Things have not been picture perfect for Kevin O’Sullivan and his squad. Despite these struggles, there have been some bright spots in recent weeks for Florida.
The Gator offense has come alive, and the infield defense adjusted well to Richie Martin being out for 4 weeks with a broken finger. Martin in his return has not missed a beat offensively, in a win over FSU Tuesday he drove in a career-best two runs. Florida pitchers Johnny Magliozzi, who will start Saturday, and Jonathon Crawford, Thursday’s starter, have been very consistent in the last few weeks as well. Tuesday’s victory although didn’t win the series, was a big win on the road, and the ‘Noles baseball team is ranked 7th in the Nation.
Next up for Sully and the Gators is baseball powerhouse South Carolina.
USC is ranked 8th in the nation sitting at 27-7 and 8-4 in the SEC. USC swept Tennessee last weekend, and their only series being swept was against Arkansas, who sits just behind them in the polls at # 10.
USC’s pitching has been collectively dominant all season. Lefty Nolan Belcher will take the mound Thursday night; the senior has a 1.75 ERA. Tyler Webb has just a 0.75 ERA in 17 appearances, and has an impressive 11 saves. Jordan Montgomery has a 0.78 ERA and has earned four starts this season. He will start on the mound Friday. On average, USC’s opponents average just 3.5 runs per game, and bat at .236. USC’s fielding has been a little inconsistent however; the Gamecocks have a total of 33 errors on the season.
Florida’s offense has improved from the beginning of the season. The Gators collectively have a batting average of .258, and claimed the series over Ole Miss at the end of last month scoring 14 runs in three games. They lost two games to Mississippi State last weekend, before scoring 8 runs in the series finale Sunday to win 8-3.
The Gators scored four against the ‘Noles Tuesday, and FSU as a team has allowed just three other teams to score 4 runs or less and still beat them. Justin Shafer has been electric for Florida all year, batting .311 and 13 RBI. He also leads the SEC in doubles. Florida’s 4-hole hitter, sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue, leads the team in RBIs with 20, and has a .393 on base percentage.
Richie Martin was the lead-off man for Florida before getting injured. He should be in the second spot behind Casey Turgeon, who has the second most hits on the team with 34. Josh Tobias had his best outing as a Gator when he went 3 for 4 on Sunday against Mississippi State, and drove in the winning run Tuesday against FSU with a sacrifice fly. The Gator offense will have to step up big this weekend against USC’s defense.
The Gamecock offense on the other hand is loaded with heavy hitters. Senior LB Dantzler has 10 homers on the season with 34 RBIs. Joey Pankake has also been efficient, with six homers and batting .295. Max Schrock has batted in 24 runs. Every Gamecock in the lineup is hitting at least .250 or better, putting even more pressure on the Gator mound this weekend.
Thursday’s Gator starter on the mound Jonathon Crawford comes in with a 4.37 ERA and five losses. While the numbers are discouraging, Crawford was unbelievable in the Saturday game against Ole Miss in the end of last month. The junior pitched a complete game, giving up just two hits and no runs. In his last start against Mississippi State he recorded 2 earned runs. Crawford will have to bring the heat in order to start the series off well defensively.
Friday’s starter Freshman Danny Young didn’t have the best outing last weekend against Mississippi State. He gave up two hits in 6 innings, and walked two batters. The southpaw still has just a 3.38 ERA in 11 games. The freshman will be starting in just his fourth game in 2013.
The Saturday starter Johnny Magliozzi has served primarily as a lethal closer and reliever for Florida. This week, he gets his second start of the season. Magliozzi comes in with a 2.25 ERA, and has given up just 27 hits in 17 appearances. Magliozzi started in 6 games last year as a freshman. Sophomore Mags has a fiery passion on the mound that gets any dugout excited.
South Carolina will without a doubt be a big challenge for the young Gator team. However, if the offense continues producing and the pitching is consistent, Florida could believe it or not pull out a series win. Crawford will have to give USC his best stuff, and Magliozzi starting on the mound is ominous for any batting order.
The last time Florida faced USC was in the 2012 College World Series, where the Gamecocks overcame a 2 run deficit to beat the Gators handily 7-3. Revenge will without a doubt be on the minds of Florida this weekend.
Morgan Moriarty is a sophomore Telecommunications major at the University of Florida, and covers college football and recruiting for ESPN Radio. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter here @moriarty343