University of Florida

After dominating SEC, Florida Gators baseball and softball have bigger goals in mind

The Florida Gators baseball team won its second straight SEC regular-season title on Saturday.
The Florida Gators baseball team won its second straight SEC regular-season title on Saturday. Courtesy of UF Communications

The Florida Gators' success on the diamonds continues.

The top-ranked UF baseball program won a share of its second straight SEC regular-season title on Saturday afternoon after defeating Georgia 9-3. A few hours later, the fourth-ranked Gators softball team won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2013. That came a week after winning the regular-season crown for the fourth straight year.

And each team has a chance to continue its torrid run as postseason play approaches.

For the baseball team, the onus falls on building from last year's success but focusing on this year's product.

The Gators finally broke through and won the College World Series last year, winning their first national championship after five trips to Omaha under coach Kevin O'Sullivan came up empty handed.

One of the questions surrounding the team heading into the 2018 season was how they would respond to the pressure of trying to repeat.

If the regular season has been any indication, they’ve handled it pretty well.

Florida is 41-12 (20-7 SEC) with just a weekend series against Mississippi State remaining on the regular-season docket. The Gators have now won 19 consecutive weekend series dating back to the 2017 season. That streak doesn’t include its postseason run from last year, which included a best-of-3 Super Regional against Wake Forest and a best-of-3 College World Series championship series against LSU. Nor does it include the three-game midweek sweep of Florida State this season.

"It is not easy to have a bull's-eye on your back all year," O'Sullivan told reporters Saturday. "They have handled it with class and consistency. I'm looking forward to seeing how they will do in postseason."

And the Florida team of 2018 is proving that it’s more dynamic than the 2017 team that won it all.

The one-two punch of starting pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar is lights out when both are at the top of their game (which is often). While the No. 3 spot of the weekend rotation has been spotty the past month with Tyler Dyson being pulled in favor of freshman Jack Leftwich, the Gators have more depth in their bullpen compared to last year, highlighted by freshmen Jordan Butler and Tommy Mace, sophomore Andrew Baker and junior closer Michael Byrne.

Coral Springs native Jonathan India leads the Florida offense and paces the SEC in on-base percentage (.524), slugging percentage (.772), walks (44). He’s second with 16 home runs, 55 runs scored and a .383 batting average.

As for his supporting cast? Five Florida regulars are hitting at least .288 and seven have driven in at least 30 runs each. Hitting 76 home runs as a team helps, too.

After closing the regular season at Mississippi State this weekend, Florida heads to Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Tournament. The NCAA Tournament follows. Barring a major setback, the Gators should be the No. 1 overall seed.

For softball, the focus is maintaining the intensity and clutch performances that were on display in Columbia, Missouri, this week.

It had been five years since the Florida Gators won the SEC softball tournament.

That changed on Saturday.

SEC Player of the Year Amanda Lorenz came up clutch with three-run home runs in both the semifinals and the finals to lift Florida to the tournament crown.

It was icing on the cake after once again having a stronghold on arguably the top conference in college softball. The Gators went 20-4 in league play this season and won seven of eight weekend series. It was the third straight season that Florida won at least 20 games in the SEC.

Lorenz has reached base safely in all 58 games this season and boasts a .418 batting average. Couple that with the pitching prowess of ace Kelly Barnhill (26-1, 0.99 ERA, five no-hitters) and Aleshia Ocasio (20-6, 1.22 ERA), and the Gators have the potential to make another deep postseason run. Florida reached the championship series last year, only to drop both games against Oklahoma.

The Gators are the No. 2 national seed for the NCAA Tournament and will host USF, Ohio State and Bethune-Cookman in the regional round. Florida (50-8) is looking to reach the Women's College World Series for the ninth time in 13 years under coach Tim Walton. All 13 SEC teams are playing in the NCAA Tournament. Nine were named regional hosts as the top 16 teams this season.

The quest for the Gators softball team to win its first national championship since 2015 begins Friday.