Alabama at No. 22 Florida
Schedule: Friday at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Sunday at noon
Where: Alfred A. McKethan Stadium (Gainesville, Fla.)
Records: Alabama 20-6 (2-4 SEC), Florida 17-10 (1-5 SEC)
Radio: 102.9 FM
Florida has been at the front of the SEC’s dominant baseball programs in recent years. The Gators have reached seven of the last nine College World Series and won a national championship in 2017. The dugout in Gainesville seems to always be stocked with talent to overwhelm some of the nation’s best programs.
But the start of the season has been a struggle. Florida remains ranked, but has slipped to 1-5 in the conference standings after being swept at Vanderbilt last weekend.
“I have tremendous respect for (coach Kevin O’Sullivan) and the Florida program,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “They’ve been consistently great. Not just pretty good, they’ve been great consistently for several years now. They’ll be talented and they’ll be good. We’re just going to go play. I’m glad they’re (17-10) and not 21-0. They’ve played a bunch of teams and they’ll be good.”
There’s plenty of season to still be played for both Alabama and Florida; the Gators could still find their way into the mix for another conference championship. But Alabama also has a chance this weekend to take a step forward.
Alabama has lost six straight series against Florida in Gainesville, going 4-14 in those games. The last time the Crimson won a series in Gainesville was a three-game sweep in 1999. That season was also the last time Alabama reached the College World Series.
“I think Florida has a very talented team,” junior reliever Davis Vainer said. “I don’t think their record really indicates how good they are. They have a good pitching staff and they can hit the ball really well.”
The first two conference series this season have shown how far Alabama’s play can swing at times. The Crimson Tide has a 10-0 win over top-10 Arkansas but also has three conference losses by eight or more runs.
It’s the first season as an SEC starter for two of the members of the weekend rotation and seven of nine regulars in the lineup. There may be room for Alabama to improve, but there could also be more growing pains before that happens.
“I think anybody that pays attention to our team or program can tell that we’re better (than last year),” coach Brad Bohannon said. “Now that being said, every other team in the SEC West has been ranked in the top 15 at some point this year. So to get out of the basement of the SEC West, basically you have to be a top 15 team in the country. I’m not sure that we’re there right now. We have a lot of pieces but there are some areas we need to get better.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.