South Carolina hosts the consensus number 1 team in the nation, the Florida Gators. Florida is, to put it simply, the most complete college baseball team I have seen.
Batting: Florida returns the SEC Player of the year, Mike Zunino He is batting .402 this year with 7 home runs and 25 RBIs. He is joined by two first team all-SEC batters in Preston Tucker (.321, 8 HR, 22 RBI) and Brian Johnson (.295, HR, 12 RBI). There’s also second team all-SEC shortstop Nolan Fontana who is batting .333 with 4 HR, 13 RBI and has stolen all 5 bases he’s attempted. And don’t be lulled into confidence when these guys aren’t at the plate, the rest of the lineup is deep and dangerous.
Pitching: The pitching is just as impressive as the batting. Junior RHP Hudson Randall will pitch the Thursday night game. He is 3-0 with a 3.45 ERA. He was the ace last year and should create a must-see match-up against Michael Roth. The second starter will be Brian Johnson. Johnson, the junior lefty, is 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA. He hasn’t gone as deep into games as Randall, but he is pretty strong in his own right. Kharsten Whitson, the expected third starter, is injured, so Jonathon Crawford is expected to start in his place. Crawford is a sophomore right hander who is 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA.
Once the Gators get to their bullpen, the continue to shine. Austin Maddox has 10 appearances and a 0.49 ERA to lead the staff. The other likely relievers also have impressive ERAs: Daniel Gibson, 0.82; Greg Larson 1.02, Bobby Poyner, 1.88 and Steven Rodriguez, 3.07.
What South Carolina Needs: After last weekend’s Kentucky series, this series lost much of its importance, not just from a national perspective, but from a Gamecock perspective as well. The last two years the Florida-South Carolina series has determined the SEC East winner, and last year a second series determined the national champion. This series was supposed to determine who had the inside track to winning the East this year. By losing 3 to Kentucky, South Carolina has temporarily taken a back seat in that race.
The importance of the series to the Gamecocks is to get on track. Carolina isn’t trying to dominate the division from start to finish. They are trying to build a young team into a championship caliber team by season’s end. To get there, they need to find out more about what their players can do, and their young players need to continue to develop. Because of this altered emphasis, winning this early season series isn’t that important. Avoiding a sweep and a 0-6 start is important, so winning one game is what is needed, but winning two would really be a boost going forward.