Up to this past weekend, the Florida Gators were cruising through the season with little adversity. Far from perfect, the Gators had still won each of their weekend series and were 11-4 in Southeastern Conference play, with a No. 3 ranking nationally.
Florida hit a speed bump this weekend in Columbia, South Carolina.
The Gators (31-10, 11-7 SEC) now ranked 4th in the D1Baseball top-25 rankings, were swept in their weekend series with the No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks (34-6, 13-4 SEC).
Reaction on social media has been panicked. After winning with question marks all season, UF was stumped by South Carolina. The Gators only led for two innings collectively across the three games and only met half of the Gamecocks’ weekend run total (26-13).
There is more to be considered when it comes to the weekend series. Although there are certainly issues to be addressed in terms of consistency on both sides of the ball, the Gators were swept by what is a good South Carolina team. UF is its third conference sweep, albeit next to Georgia and Missouri. The Gamecocks are growing into what looks like one of the top teams this season, jumping from sixth to third in the top-25 and from second to first in the RPI.
A sweep is a sweep, but there is more to be unpacked from the Gators’ weekend skid.
The “good” here isn’t really about what UF did good this weekend — because there isn’t much to be said. The pitching from starters to relief wasn’t at its peak and the batting was far from it. But there’s reasons to believe this happened in a vacuum of sorts.
There’s no argument Florida is one of the better offensive teams this season. The batting has been solid through the order and it’s hard to think a bad weekend will completely derail that.
Pitching has been a lingering issue throughout the season. The relief is spotty, but at its peak UF’s starting rotation looks like one of the best in the country. When the Gators’ starters can go seven or more innings, the bullpen can usually work something out with the final two.
That’s not an easy ask, however. As seen this weekend, Florida seems in limbo if one of its aces has a blowup start. Still, the flashes of potential shows the Gators can pitch well where it counts, and its more of a matter if they will.
The nice thing about a vacuum is it doesn’t reflect upon the whole season. If things go bad, it doesn’t necessarily make the team bad. What seems to panic Florida fans more than anything is the idea of what will happen in must-win games.
This is a valid point. Regional, super regional and perhaps college world series games at times are both single-game vacuums and highly consequential. While the Gators have a solid track record overall with a couple blemishes, a season can end very fast if those blemishes rear their heads in must-win games later this season.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s temperament suggests the Gators aren’t going to panic as much as their fanbase. Still, there is some quality control to be done in Florida wants to avoid a sweep in a series that has bigger implications in June.
Things aren’t going to get easier for UF. The Gators face two more top-25 teams in weekend series before regional play, hosting No. 5 Vanderbilt and traveling No. 16 Kentucky, who is ranked second in RPI. Vandy is a perennial challenger and Kentucky has played multiple higher ranked teams and looked better this year.
Still, there’s 14 games left before post-season play begins with the SEC Tournament. There isn’t much reason to think Florida will have a total collapse in that time. The Gators will likely still be a top-25 team and host a top-10 regional. Beyond that is where it gets tricky. For now, Florida fans shouldn’t panic and rather should choose to re-evaluate in late May.