If we gone do it, we do it big. And we do it three times.
Yesterday was April 8th, a day FSU fans used to show the world their creativity by christening it as “Gators Day” to commemorate Florida’s 4-8 record on the football field last fall. Of course, no such holiday really exists, despite FSU fans taunting Gator fans with things like “Happy Holidays”, but FSU fans were generally in a pretty festive mood throughout the day. I say throughout the day, and not the night, because as the sun set in Tallahassee last night, it was Gator Nation that was celebrating, and FSU fans that were mourning (or not, because baseball isn’t a real sport according to them).
Casey Turgeon’s three run homer highlighted a four run Gator 5th inning, and the Gators would add one more in the sixth and three more in the 8th as Florida destroyed FSU on the baseball diamond yesterday, 8-0, to complete the season sweep of the Noles. Danny Young (4-0) hurled five innings of shutout ball, and Justin Shafer, Bobby Poyner, Aaron Rhodes and Karsten Whitson combined to allow two hits over the final four innings. On the other side of the coin, Florida got help from several sources offensively; ten different Gators reached base safely, and nine of them did so on clean hits.
This, of course, makes for some awesome avenues of smack talk to have against the Noles:
-This was the first time FSU has been shut out at home since 2011.
-Florida has now taken the two out three “big sports” series (football game, basketball game, and two out three baseball series) for the third straight year, and the fifth time in the last six years (though to be truthful, they clinched that with their 4-1 win over FSU in Jacksonville a couple weeks ago).
-Quite ironically, Florida’s win yesterday, on 4/8, remember, made FSU’s baseball team 4-8 against Florida in the last 12 games they’ve played.
-Oh, and for what it’s worth, FSU’s basketball team’s record against Florida in the last 12 games they’ve played is…? Yep, that would be 4-8 as well. You’re damned right yesterday was Gator Day.
-And just to rub one final packet of salt into FSU’s wounds, Jameis Winston is now 3-5 against the Florida Gators.
More importantly than simple bragging rights, though, are the long term implications of this win. Yes, it’s really sweet to sweep FSU and have something to throw in their faces. But to me, Gator baseball is about more than that.
The Gators appear to be in excellent shape to make the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive year under Kevin O’Sullivan. Last night’s win put them at 21-12 on the season, with three wins over the #1 team in the nation, a stat that’s virtually impossible to ignore both when it comes to selecting the field (which shouldn’t be a problem for Florida barring a complete collapse the rest of the way) and determining the top sixteen teams in the country who get to host regionals (and the top eight for Super Regionals, but that might be a bit out of reach with 12 losses already).
Let’s take a second to realize how important this sweep really was. Florida’s resume is, overall, good but not great. Among the positives are: a sweep of then #4, now #8 LSU in Gainesville, taking two out of three against a decent Arkansas team in Gainesville, sweeping a so-so UConn team in Gainesville (it’s just in basketball that we can’t beat them) which shows Florida’s willingness to schedule other respectable teams, and taking two out of three from a solid Maryland squad- also in Gainesville. But Florida’s got plenty of eyesores, too: they lost a trio of two out of three road series to (now #15) Kentucky, (now #20) Miami and (unranked) Texas A&M, two straight to Illinois, and even to Florida Atlantic.
Again, that’s not a bad resume by any means, but that looks like a bubble team to me, though the sweep of LSU probably pushes them in when it’s all said and done. That’s where the three game, three city sweep of the Seminoles comes in. Not only are the Gators a lock for the NCAA Tournament as of right now, they’ve got a strong case to be hosting a regional, which means they’d have to be deemed a top 16 team by the selection committee, and since they were #25 before blasting FSU last night on their home turf, that ranking is sure to skyrocket barring an awful performance this weekend… which segues nicely into my next paragraph.
This weekend, Florida takes on 4th ranked South Carolina in Columbia. The Gators, on the road against the number four in the country, have absolutely nothing to lose. Unless they get swept, and lose each game in embarrassing fashion, I expect that #25 to rise several spots. Even if Florida gets thrashed three straight times, they may hover around #25, or at least gets some votes next week. Consider the week they would have had in this hypothetical: 1-3 against top four teams, all on the road, and they took apart the #1 team in the country (for the third time) on their home field. While that week isn’t exactly something to pop a cork about, that’s certainly not anything to be overly embarrassed about, either.
That’s the worst case scenario.
On a more positive level of thinking, the Gators could jump into the top 15 and maybe even the top 10 with a sweep of the Gamecocks if the right teams lose. Sure, going from #25 to the top ten in one week may seem like a huge leap, but now think about that week: 4-0 against top four teams in the country, all on the road, and again, the 8-0 beatdown of the #1 team in the country. This would also give Florida three sweeps over current top ten teams in LSU, FSU and South Carolina, and would put them at 24-12 with one of the hardest schedules in the country.
Then there’s all the in between scenarios, which vary from everywhere in between the best and worst case scenarios I laid out: Florida could lose two out of three, but win one in big fashion and lose two close ones, they could eke one out and get pasted in the other two, they could win two out of three in blowouts and lose a close third game, or they could squeeze two close ones out and get bombed in the third one.
After South Carolina, the schedule looks like this: a Tuesday trip to Fort Myers to play Florida Gulf Coast, and then comes a huge home stretch: a weekend series with Georgia, Tuesday game against Jacksonville, Wednesday game against Florida A&M, and then another weekend series against Missouri. Florida’s typically played very well in Gainesville this year minus the two losses to Illinois, and none of those teams are really any good, so the Gators can use this opportunity to pretty up their record with an impressive strength of schedule already tucked away in their back pocket.
Now that I’ve put that all out there, we know where Florida stands and what they have to do in the coming weeks. This may not be Kevin O’Sullivan’s best team, but it’s a damned good one, and one that’s coming together at the right time. Again, it’s awesome to be able to use this against FSU, but to me, this means more. It’s a full baseball season, not just a three game series that the average Gator fan can turn into an avenue of taunting against our rivals out west. That is a piece of it, yes, but there’s more to it than that.
This is another piece of the “Everything School” puzzle, and could make for quite a ride this spring- one that Gator fans should sit back and enjoy.