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May 1, 2013

Gators set for top-25 showdown



Life is good for the Gators right now. The No. 21 Florida Gators, that is.

After taking two of three games from Tennessee over the weekend, Florida is ranked for the first time in two months. At 25-20, the Gators are the comeback story of the year in college baseball and appear to be on the verge of salvaging a rebuilding season and turning it into something more memorable.

"We've pulled ourselves out of a very difficult situation about halfway through the year and we've put ourselves in position where we can make a push here at the end and get into the postseason," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "But we have some work to do."

That roll finds its most serious test Thursday when the Gators travel to Baton Rouge, La., to start a three-game series against the No. 3 LSU Tigers. What they'll experience is another world in terms of college baseball.

More than 10,000 people will pile into Alex Box Stadium for each game, and for a Florida team loaded with underclassmen, the experience will be a first. To win at LSU, the Gators will have to overcome the odds that have been stacked against them for most of the season.

Florida has won in spite of an inconsistent rotation. Jonathon Crawford is the team's only regular starter and he is nursing an ankle injury. He'll get the start Saturday, but the two previous days are undetermined.

Occasional starter Danny Young is cleared to pitch after taking a line drive to the face last weekend but has 25-30 stitches in his mouth and will not start. Freshman Jay Carmichael has dealt with arm issues recently.

The Gators have won in spite of an offensive lineup with plenty of holes that is ninth in the Southeastern Conference in batting average and eighth in runs scored.

Look at the numbers and it becomes all the more amazing that this team could be a successful last few weekends away from hosting an NCAA regional. It's a trend the Gators are hoping to continue.

"Things can swing one way or another, it just depends," sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue said. "Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you're just better, sometimes, you just get beat."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND

This is the only series Florida has remaining against a legitimate postseason team. LSU has lost some steam recently, dropping three of its last six including its last weekend series against No. 15 South Carolina. But even with the recent losses, the Tigers are still 40-6 and five of their losses have come in SEC play.

There's hardly a flaw. LSU is second in the SEC, behind Vanderbilt, in almost every major statistical category. Five regular starters are hitting .313 or better. Mason Katz is batting .379 with 13 homers and 61 RBI and he's not the team's most efficient hitter. That honor goes to Alex Bregman (.395).

LSU's pitching rotation is anything but inconsistent. The Tigers' have three proven starters led by Aaron Nola, who is 8-0 with an ERA of 2.14 this season. He has struck out 90 batters compared to 12 walks.

WEEKEND GAME TIMES

Thursday: 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Friday: 7:30 p.m. (CSS/Cox Sports)
Saturday: 1 p.m. (ESPN2)


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