Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018 College World Series Predictions

It is perhaps my favorite time of the year! The 64-team field for the college baseball postseason has been announced and once again I am ready to announce my predictions for what really is an unpredictable tournament!

Before the 2018 college baseball season began, I released predictions on ZKS on how many teams would make it and I was fortunate enough to correctly guess 34 of the 64 schools selected! Though I am somewhat restrained by my preseason projected College World Series participants, I still have some liberty to give my thoughts on who I think the remaining eight will be in Omaha due to some of my anticipated schools not even making the tourney. 

As expected with an article of this type, I must stress that baseball is HARD TO PREDICT and that I do these picks hoping for wacky upsets and great storylines all the way up through the College World Series. So without further adieu, here are the ZKS predictions for the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Baseball Tournament!


Gainesville Regional
No. 1 Florida (42-17)
Jacksonville (39-19)
Florida Atlantic (40-17)
Columbia (20-28)

Winner: No. 1 Florida over Florida Atlantic

Why: The Gators are no stranger to being the top seed in this tournament. Winning the regular season title in college baseball's toughest conference for the second straight year is a testament to how talented this team is from top to bottom. After finally securing the program's first national championship last season, any pressures of "choking" should not weigh on the minds of this Florida squad.

They Gators may have finished the regular season and conference tournament on a sour note, but this team has just been too good all season to lose in regional play. Having first rounders like Jonathan India, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar does not hurt either.

Raleigh Regional
No. 16 NC State (40-16)
Auburn (39-21)
Northeastern (36-19)
Army (35-22)

Winner: Auburn over No. 16 NC State

Why: The good news for Auburn is that they are not playing in the Tallahassee Regional. With the change in scenery, a dangerous lineup, and first rounder Casey Mize at their disposal, the Tigers should finally be able to defeat their ACC-host and advance to super regionals.

Athens Regional
No. 8 Georgia (36-19)
Duke (40-15)
Troy (41-19)
Campbell (35-24)

Winner: No. 8 Georgia over Duke

Why: Despite a poor showing in the SEC Tournament, the Dawgs won 6 SEC series and have done enough to earn their first national seed since the 2008 tournament (where they finished runner-up in the College World Series). Now a decade later, Georgia just might be primed to make another run, and none of the other three teams in this region will prevent that from happening.

Lubbock Regional
No. 9 Texas Tech (39-17)
Louisville (43-17)
Kent State (39-16)
New Mexico State (40-20)

Winner: No. 9 Texas Tech over Louisville

Why: I picked Texas Tech to finish as the CWS runner-ups at the beginning of the season, but them being in the same bracket as Florida has forced me to make some alterations. As a ball club that has appeared in two of the last four CWS, Tech's early round exit in their own regional last season was very underwhelming.

With Louisville being their biggest threat this postseason, Tech should be able to avenge their shortcomings from last postseason and get back on track towards Omaha.

Fayetteville Regional
No. 5 Arkansas (39-18)
Southern Miss (43-16)
Dallas Baptist (40-19)
Oral Roberts (38-18)

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas over Southern Miss

Why: Arky's offense is DEADLY. Among the NCAA they currently sit third in home runs (84), third in home runs per game (1.47) and ninth in slugging percentage (.484). With guys like Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad, Carson Shaddy, and Eric Cole (who combined for 46 home runs), teams in this region will need to pitch carefully each time through this lineup. Akry should blast their way to their first super regional since 2015.

Greenville Regional
No. 12 East Carolina (43-16)
South Carolina (33-24)
Ohio State (36-22)
UNCW (37-21)

Winner: South Carolina over No. 12 East Carolina

Why: Do not let South Carolina's recent woes make you forget that at one point they won back-to-back national championships (2010 and 2011) and appeared in three straight CWS Finals. With new skipper Mark Kingston at the helm, the Gamecocks baseball program has been revitalized.

Relying on the gauntlet that has been their SEC schedule, South Carolina will advance to its first super regional since 2016. This will be the second upset of the tournament (Auburn over No. 16 NC State being the first).

Oxford Regional
No. 4 Ole Miss (46-15)
Tennessee Tech (48-9)
Missouri State (38-15)
Saint Louis (38-18)

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss over Missouri State

Why: Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament, which alone speaks volumes. Having won all but three SEC series this season, the Rebels have been a force to be reckoned with all season. With a 28-4 record at home, the SEC Western Division Champs will not fold to their competition at Swayze Field.

Austin Regional
No. 13 Texas (37-20)
Indiana (38-17)
Texas A&M (39-20)
Texas Southern (27-26)

Winner: No. 13 Texas over Texas A&M

Why: It is good to see Texas baseball actually somewhat relevant again in the post-Augie Garrido era (RIP Augie). Hosting a regional for the first time since 2011, the Big 12 Regular Season Champions will most likely have to duke it out with former conference rival Texas A&M to earn their super regional berth. With a 27-7 record at home, however, the odds are definitely in the Longhorns' favor.

Corvallis Regional
No. 3 Oregon State (44-10-1)
LSU (37-25)
San Diego State (42-21)
Northwestern State (37-22)

Winner: LSU over No. 3 Oregon State

Why: I will not lie, part of my reasoning for this pick is because I attend LSU for law school. However, lest not forget that LSU did beat a loaded Oregon State team TWICE in Omaha last year to advance to the CWS Finals.

LSU has a tendency to get hot around the postseason (as evidenced by their improbable run to the SEC Championship Game), so it would not surprise me one bit if the Bayou Bengals messed around and actually won the Corvallis Regional in some incredible LSU-esque fashion.

Minneapolis Regional
No. 14 Minnesota (41-13)
UCLA (36-19)
Gonzaga (32-22)
Canisius (35-20)

Winner: UCLA over No. 14 Minnesota

Why: Minnesota may have won both the Big 10 regular season and tournament titles, but they have not gotten past regional play since 1977. Though UCLA has not been any spectacular since their national championship in 2013 (they lost as the dang No. 1 overall seed in 2015!), the Bruins were able to rip off a nifty eight-game winning streak at one point this season in addition to handing Oregon State a loss in Corvallis. I think finally the Bruins get back to a super regional.

Chapel Hill Regional
No. 6 North Carolina (38-18)
Purdue (37-19)
Houston (36-23)
NC A&T (32-23)

Winner: No. 6 North Carolina over Houston

Why: Perhaps my most unconfident pick of the tournament, the Tarheels have found a way in some shape or fashion to crumble in the postseason. As much as I could see Houston "shocking the world" and handing the Tarheels what would be another crushing loss for them in Chapel Hill, I am banking on UNC perhaps feeling less pressure as a lower national seed and playing looose. In turn, they might just go and win their first regional since 2013.

DeLand Regional
No. 11 Stetson (45-11)
South Florida (35-20-1)
Oklahoma State (29-24-1)
Hartford (26-29)

Winner: South Florida over No. 11 Stetson

Why: Never has USF ever advanced to a super regional. However, in both of the past two years the Bulls have had to deal with the Florida Gators in Gainesville. This is Stetson's first ever year hosting a regional, and USF comes in with much experience after appearing in two of the last three tournaments. 

Although the Hatters beat the Bulls in both their regular season meetings, there is no better time than the postseason for USF to enact their revenge and finally reach a super regional.

Tallahassee Regional
No. 7 Florida State (43-17)
Mississippi State (31-25)
Oklahoma (36-23)
Samford (36-24)

Winner: No. 7 Florida State over Mississippi State

Why: Florida State is a solid ball club and (per usual) got hot in the ACC Tournament on route to yet another tournament title. Despite Miss State being able to boast that they swept No. 1 Florida in Starkville, they in no way will be able to replicate that mojo on the Gators' rival as the Seminoles are 30-7 at Dick Howser Stadium. I expect the Seminoles to roll through their regional.

Clemson Regional
No. 10 Clemson (45-14)
Vanderbilt (31-25)
St. John's (39-15)
Morehead State (37-24)

Winner: No. 10 Clemson over Vanderbilt

Why: I always love going for Clemson in the tournament. I really do not know why (it could be the uniform combinations or that incredible video I saw on their locker room), but I put the Tigers in the CWS nearly every year and continually they fail to make it there.

Despite not making it to Omaha since 2010 or even getting out of regionals since then, Clemson again is my pick to win their regional.  Even though Vandy is in Clemson's regional again, I want to believe that the Tigers learned from that loss and will be better prepared for the Commodores this time around. 

Stanford Regional
No. 2 Stanford (44-10)
Baylor (36-19)
Cal State Fullerton (32-23)
Wright State (39-15)

Winner: Cal State Fullerton over No. 2 Stanford 

Why: Though Stanford has made three super regionals this decade, it is hard for me to pick against Cal State Fullerton. Time and time again this Big West school finds a way to make it to Omaha as they have appeared in two of the last three CWS. Given the latest track records of both schools, I am going to take the Titans in a three-game, win-or-go home slugfest over the Cardinal.

Conway Regional
No. 15 Coastal Carolina (42-17)
UConn (35-20-1)
Washington (30-23)
LIU Brooklyn (31-24)

Winner: No. 15 Coastal Carolina over UConn

Why: Even though Coastal defeated my Florida Gators in the 2016 CWS and my LSU Tigers in the preceding super regional, I have no ill will towards the Chanticleers. Hosting for just the second time in school history, the Chanticleers should not have much problem with the competition in their regional. The Chanticleers will seek to recapture the magic from their 2016 title run as they advance to the fourth super regional in school history. 

Super Regionals
So if somehow I went a perfect 16/16 on regional winners, let's check out how super regionals would shape up! Keep in mind that a team has to win two out of three games in supers to advance to the College World Series.

Gainesville Super Regional
No. 1 Florida vs Auburn

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Florida won their series against Auburn in Gainesville during the regular season. The Gators are 14-7 all-time in super regional play and have only once ever lost in a super regional at home (2009 to Southern Miss). 

Whether or not the rain is going to cause absurd delays will be more of a concern for Florida and their fans than if Auburn is actually going to defeat the Gators to go to Omaha.

Athens Super Regional
No. 8 Georgia vs No. 9 Texas Tech

Winner: No. 9 Texas Tech

Why: Even though Tech has never played in a super regional not located in Lubbock, their experience from the last few postseasons should be enough to lift them over a Georgia team that might still be getting used to having success again in baseball.

Fayetteville Regional
No. 5 Arkansas vs South Carolina

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Arkansas and South Carolina hooked up in the regular season with the Razorbacks taking the series. The fire may be back for the Gamecocks, but it will not be enough to stop a potent Arky lineup from raking all across the yard.

Oxford Super Regional
No. 4 Ole Miss vs No. 13 Texas

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss

Why: In perhaps my favorite matchup of these projected super regionals, I think Ole Miss and Texas go all three games. In the end, the more-talented Rebels will take the series but the Longhorns will give them everything in the tank and leave a lot of people in Austin excited about the resurgence of Texas baseball.

Los Angeles Super Regional

Winner: LSU

Why: In what will be the most improbable super regional matchup of this tournament, the LSU Tigers will again find a way as they stun another Pac-12 team and somehow make it to the College World Series.

Chapel Hill Super Regional
No. 6 North Carolina vs South Florida

Winner: No. 6 North Carolina

Why: USF's euphoria of reaching super regionals will end abruptly as UNC quickly sweeps them to get back to the CWS for the first time since 2013.

Tallahassee Super Regional
No. 10 Clemson vs No. 7 Florida State

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: Clemson took the regular season series over the 'Noles at home. It will be a tad more difficult to get those two golden victories on the road, but the Tigers will find a way to pull it out in a three-game affair.

Conway Super Regional
No. 15 Coastal Carolina vs Cal State Fullerton 

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: In the second ever super regional to be hosted at Coastal Carolina, the Titans will rely on their experience as they gut out two tight victories over the Chanticleers to return to Omaha.

College World Series
We now arrive at the final eight in Omaha! Let's see who the 2018 National Champion will be! Keep in mind that two losses, similar to regionals and super regionals, will result in elimination. Let's get started!

College World Series First Round
No. 1 Florida vs No. 9 Texas Tech

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Though Tech eliminated the Gators from Omaha in heartbreaking fashion back in 2016, it will be Florida who gets the laugh this time as they take the opener.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Arky lost the regular season series to the Rebels and as a result had to split the SEC West title. In the most important game of the season, the Razorbacks will out-slug Ole Miss to claim a first round victory.

No. 6 North Carolina vs LSU

Winner:  No. 6 North Carolina

Why: Facing an LSU team that has relied on a ton of the usual bayou mojo to get further than they should, the Tarheels will continue to overcome their choking past as they defeat the Tigers in the first round.

No. 10 Clemson vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: Back in the CWS finally and with no South Carolina in sight, the Tigers will have the benefit of playing a Cal State Fullerton team that has struggled to get out of the first round in recent appearances. Clemson will continue the trend and send the Titans to the loser's bracket.

Elimination Games
No. 9 Texas Tech vs No. 4 Ole Miss

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss

Why: Hotty Toddy will not go down that easily. They will rally from the loss to Arky to send the Red Raiders home with yet again no hardware from Omaha.

LSU vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: Just to make it to Omaha will be what LSU takes away from this season as the Titans stave off elimination and end the Tigers' incredible run.

End Result: No. 9 Texas Tech & LSU ELIMINATED

Second Round
No. 1 Florida vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Though Florida won the regular season series, Arkansas smacked the Gators in the SEC Tournament. The Arky bats will light up Gator pitching once more as the defending champs will find themselves with their backs up against the wall in the loser's bracket.

No. 6 North Carolina vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner:  No. 10 Clemson

Why: In the first meeting of the year between the the two best teams in the ACC, the Tigers will prevail as the pressure of the CWS starts to get to North Carolina.

Elimination Games
No. 1 Florida vs No. 4 Ole Miss

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: In the first meeting between these SEC foes, the Gators will avoid elimination as the regular season champs send the tournament champs home.

No. 6 North Carolina vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: The Tarheels will completely crack under the pressure as the Cal State Fullerton will again win with their season on the line.

End Result: No. 4 Ole Miss & No. 6 North Carolina ELIMINATED

CWS Semifinals
No. 1 Florida vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Back at Arky needing two wins to reach the Finals, the Gators will pull what they did in Gainesville and rip off a pair of hard-fought victories over the Hogs to reach their fourth CWS Championship Series in school history.

Cal State Fullerton vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: With Cal State Fullerton exhausted after surviving two elimination games, a rested Clemson bunch will easily dispatch them to advance to their first ever CWS Championship Series.

End Result: No. 5 Arkansas & Cal State Fullerton ELIMINATED

CWS Finals
No. 1 Florida vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: I predicted this matchup back in 2016 and although we did get an SEC-ACC National Championship, it was not Florida vs Clemson. Two years later, I am again banking on my alma mater to make it back to the title game and for Clemson to put years of shortcomings behind them to finally plow through to the final.

As for the series itself, the Gators will win in three games. Their lack of depth at pitching will be what makes it go the distance but ultimately Florida will take it to secure the repeat.

National Champion:

Florida Gators!

Final Takeaway
So there you have it, the Florida Gators will repeat as National Champions! Keep in mind that as a Gator fan I am terrified that I followed through on my preseason pick because the tournament where I did pick the Gators to wit it all (2016) did not end well for the Orange and Blue.

The Gators have been great all season, but Florida teams that usually exhibit dominance throughout the entire regular season are the most viable candidates to go two and out in Omaha. Don't believe me? Just look back at 2012 and 2016. Not to mention that only one No. 1 overall seed (1999 Miami) has ever won the National Championship.

Hopefully I am wrong about that though and the Gators make another special run at the title. In fact, if even one of my upsets or half of my predictions came to fruition I would be very happy. Which brings me to why I love baseball. On any given day any team can win in this sport. It is going to yet again be another great postseason for college baseball, and I cannot wait to watch all the action as it unfolds!



Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 SEC Tournament Second Round: No.1 Florida Narrowly Defeats No. 8 LSU

In their first meeting since the 2017 College World Series Finals, the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (42-15) defeated the No. 8 seeded LSU Tigers (34-24) by a narrow score of 4-3.

Donning the mound for Florida was freshman right-hander Tommy Mace (4-0, 4.44 ERA). Despite some rough patches in the first couple of innings, Mace was able to deliver seven strong innings of work. He allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits while striking out four and walking just one.

With Florida up 4-3, Mace would not pitch the eighth inning as fellow freshman Jordan Butler came on in relief. The left-hander issued a leadoff walk and gave up a single before inducing a foul out for his first out. Florida skipper Kevin O'Sullivan would take no chances though, as he immediately went to closer Michael Byrne for the last five outs of the game.

The junior right-hander generated a groundout that second baseman Blake Reese gloved and threw to first base, but now LSU had runners on second and third with two away. Up to bat now was Jake Slaughter, who roped Byrne's 3-2 offering down the third base line.

There to glove the sharply hit grounder, however, was third baseman Jonathan India. The junior dove to his right, backhanded the ball, and then threw a strike to first base for the final out of the inning. It was a marvelous web gem that could not have come at any more of a crucial time in the game.

In the ninth, Byrne was back out there to close it out. He struck out the first two Tigers he faced, allowed a single, then induced a fly out to center field to end the game. It would be his 13th save of the season and give Tommy Mace his fourth career victory.

After going down 3-0 early, the Gator offense responded with three runs in the third and a run in the fifth as Florida banged out eight total hits. Here's how the game-tying rally in the third played out:

Third Inning
Senior center fielder Nick Horvath led off the inning with a single to left field. Freshman catcher Cal Greenfield proceeded to draw a walk. Up next was junior shortstop Deacon Liput, who doubled to left center to plate Horvath and put runners on second and third with no outs. It was now 3-1 LSU.

Junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo then grounded out to second base to score Greenfield and move Liput to third base. It was now 3-2 LSU with Jonathan India up to bat. India would knock a single through the left side of the infield to bring home Liput and knot the score up at 3-3.

Despite India reaching second on a failed pickoff attempt later in the inning, the Gators would be unable to knock him in as Will Dalton flew out to center and Austin Langworthy grounded out to second base.

Offensive Performers
The two Gators with multiple hits tonight were Jonathan India and Nick Horvath. Out of the three-hole, India went 2-4 with an RBI and a run scored while Horvath went 2-3 with a run scored down in the eight-hole.

Austin Langworthy had the clutch hit for Florida in a 1-4 effort. In the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs and runners on first and third, the sophomore left fielder singled up the middle to score Jonathan India and give the Gators a 4-3 lead.

The remaining Gators with base hits were Deacon Liput (1-3 with a double and a walk), Brady Smith (1-3), and Shane Shifflett (1-2).

The fielding for both teams was absolutely atrocious tonight as Florida committed four errors and LSU had two.

Florida's Errors
Florida's miscues consisted of two throwing errors from Blake Reese, a throwing error from Jonathan India, and a fielding error from India as well. Reese's errant throw in the second inning allowed LSU to take a 2-0 advantage as Jake Slaughter homered immediately after. Then again in the third inning another throwing gaffe from Reese would eventually turn into another LSU run to increase Florida's deficit to 3-0.

Both of India's mistakes came in the sixth inning. With one out, he misplayed a ground ball and then on the next ball hit to him he made a wild throw to first base. Fortunately for Florida, neither of these errors would lead to an LSU run.

LSU's Errors
Starting pitcher Ma'Khail Hilliard and third basemen Jake Slaughter committed the two Tiger errors. Hilliard sailed a throw trying to pick off Jonathan India in the third inning and Slaughter made an errant throw to first base in the fourth inning. Neither of these blunders would come back to haunt the Tigers.

Final Takeaway
For the the second consecutive season, the Florida Gators (42-15) will be advancing to the the third round of the SEC Tournament as members of the winner's bracket. Before previewing their upcoming matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks (37-17), here are my final thoughts on the win over LSU tonight:

  • Dating back to last season, the Gators have won five of their last six games against the Tigers.
  • This was the 19th meeting between Florida and LSU in the SEC Tournament.
  • The Gators are now 12-7 all-time against the Tigers in the SEC Tournament.
  • Deacon Liput's third inning double was his 12th two-bagger of the season.

Up next for Florida are the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Gators and Razorbacks met up in the regular season down in Gainesville where Florida took two of three games. Another freshman will get the nod for the Gators as right-hander Jack Leftwich (4-4, 4.80 ERA) is slated to start against the Razorbacks. First pitch is set for some time around 9:30 p.m. ET on May 24th. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.

As for the LSU Tigers (34-24), they will fight for a second chance at Florida as they will play the South Carolina Gamecocks (33-22) in an elimination game around 2 p.m. ET on May 24th.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com



Monday, May 14, 2018

UF Baseball: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 15 Georgia Series Recap

Let me begin by saying that yes, ZKS is back for the summer! After a tumultuous, stressful, absolutely ridiculous first year of law school at LSU, the articles have returned! Let's not make this about me anymore though. The Gators are SEC Regular Season Champs!

This past weekend in Gainesville, the No. 1 Florida Gators (41-12, 20-7 SEC) won the program's 15th SEC Regular Season Title with a series win over the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (35-16, 16-11 SEC). Here is a recap of each game.

Game 1 (May 11th)
In a thrilling walk off victory, the No.1 Florida Gators (40-11, 19-6 SEC) defeated the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (34-15, 15-10 SEC) by a score of 7-6.

Junior ace Brady Singer (10-1, 2.25 ERA) toed the rubber and allowed five runs (one earned) on eight hits in seven innings of work. He struck out six Bulldogs, issued one walk, and hit one batter.

All five of Georgia's runs came in the sixth inning. With Florida up 3-0 and two outs, junior infielder LJ Talley took Singer's 1-0 offering out of the yard for a go-ahead grand slam. Florida would tie it in the bottom half of the frame and Singer would return to the mound with the game tied 5-5 in the seventh.

After stranding runners on second and third with an inning-ending strikeout, Singer was done for the night. It would be the second no decision of the year for the right-hander as he concluded his outing with 105 pitches thrown.

Coming in for the eighth was touted freshman Jordan Butler. The left-hander pitched a perfect inning while striking out two batters to keep the game even. Butler earned himself a second inning of work in the ninth, but it is here where he began to run into some trouble.

Butler allowed a single on a 1-2 count and then hit a batter on a 1-1 count. Now with two men on and no outs, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan had no choice but to go this reliable closer Michael Byrne. The junior right-hander entered this anticipated bunting situation and did his job as he fielded the sacrifice bunt and threw it to first base for the first out of the frame.

After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Byrne induced a foul out for the second out of the inning. Then, trouble struck as Byrne threw a passed ball that allowed Georgia to take a 7-6 lead. He would get the next batter to line out and was now on the hook for his his first loss of the year. The run would be charged to Butler.

The Gators were able to bang out 10 hits in the game, with some of the most important base knocks coming in the final frame of the game. Here's a breakdown of how that wild ninth inning unfolded:

9th Inning
Sophomore first baseman Keenan Bell singled to right field on a 3-2 count. After fellow sophomore Andrew Baker came in to pinch run, senior center fielder Nick Horvath singled up the middle on a 1-2 count. Next was junior second baseman Deacon Liput, who was plunked with the first pitch of the at-bat to load the bases.

With still nobody out, Georgia skipper Scott Stricklin (weird I know) went to his bullpen and called on sophomore closer Aaron Schunk. Opposing him would be junior outfielder Nelson Maldonaldo. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Nelly hit a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Baker and knot the game up at 7-7. Horvath would advance to third on the sac fly.

With runners on first and third now, junior third baseman Jonathan India was intentionally walked to reload the bases and bring up sophomore outfielder Will Dalton. Working the count to 3-1, the transfer out of Columbia State Community College decided to end the game with a little more flair as he hit a deep fly ball out to center field. 

There was no doubt it was going to end the game as a sacrifice fly, but that would not even matter as sophomore centerfielder Tuck Maxwell dropped the ball. As soon as the ball hit the ground, Nick Horvath would cruise into home for the game-winning run!

Offensive Performers
Dalton's game-winning sacrifice fly would be his lone offensive contribution of the game as he went 0-3. Three Gators has multiple hits in the contest. Out of the two-hole, Nelson Maldonaldo went 2-3 with three RBI's, a run scored, a walk, and a sacrifice fly.

Right behind Nelly in the three-hole, Jonathan India posted a 2-4 night with a double, a run scored, and a walk. Rounding out the trio with the most hits was catcher JJ Schwarz. Out of the five-hole, the senior had himself a night as he went 3-4 with a solo home run in the fourth inning, a double, three RBI's, and a run scored.

Final Takeaway
With their incredible comeback victory against rival No. 15 Georgia, the No. 1 Florida Gators trimmed their magic number to clinch the SEC Regular Season Title down to one. Before recapping Game 2, here are some tidbits from a crazy night:

  • The win tonight extended Florida's winning streak against Georgia to six.
  • This is the second time this season that Florida has walked off against an opponent (Rhode Island on March 10th).
  • JJ Schwarz's home run was his 11th of the season.
  • JJ Schwarz's double was his 16th of the year, while Jonathan India notched his 11th two-bagger of the 2018 campaign. Deacon Liput also had a double (in a 1-4 effort) to tie India with 11 on the season as well. 
  • This was India's 21st, JJ's 18th, and Nelly's 15th multi-hit games of the season, respectively.
  • This is the seventh time JJ has gotten three hits in a single game.
  • Florida made just one error in the contest and it came off of a fielding error from Keenan Bell in the sixth inning. Two batters later, Georgia hit a grand slam. It would be Bell's third error of the year.
  • Michael Byrne now improves to a perfect 2-0 on the year.
  • This was Florida's 27th win at home.
  • Florida/Georgia on the diamond boded well for the rivalry as 5,279 fans packed the Mac for the series opener.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Game 2 (May 12th)
The No. 1 Florida Gators (41-11, 20-6 SEC) clinched back-to-back SEC Regular Season Titles with a 9-3 victory over the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (34-16, 15-11 SEC).

Junior right-hander Jackson Kowar (9-2, 2.56 ERA) toed the rubber and threw a gem for the Gators in a clinching effort. He scattered six hits over seven innings while allowing one unearned run, striking out nine, and walking only one. At 105 pitches after the seventh, Kowar was pulled with Florida up 9-1.

In relief came freshman right-hander Tommy Mace. Georgia responded positively to the pitching change as they touched up Mace for five hits and two runs. It would lead to no great comeback though, as Mace recorded the last six outs of the game to seal the victory and an SEC Championship. It would be Kowar's ninth win of the season.

Florida again recorded 10 hits and used a big six-run inning in the sixth to put Georgia away. Here are the theatrics from that inning:

6th Inning
JJ Schwarz singled on the first pitch he saw to lead off the inning and Austin Langworthy followed with a walk. Freshman first baseman Brady Smith then singled to load up the bases with no outs. Up now was junior second baseman Blake Reese, who cranked the first pitch he saw over the right field fence for a grand slam.

This increased Florida's lead to 7-1 and was good redemption for Reese after he had made a throwing error in the top of the fifth. Nick Horvath would draw a walk and after a pitching change and two straight outs, Jonathan India sent a 2-2 pitch into orbit to make it 9-1 Florida. Will Dalton would end the frame with a fly out.

Offensive Performers
Yet again, three Gators had multiple hits against the Bulldogs. Returning to the club were Nelson Maldonaldo and JJ Schwarz. Nelly went 2-4 with a two-run home run in the fifth inning, two RBI's, and a run scored out of the two-hole.

Schwarz again terrorized Georgia from the the five-hole as he went a perfect 3-3 with another solo home run in the fourth inning, one RBI, a run scored, and one walk. Capping off the list from two spots down in the seven-hole, Brady Smith went 2-4 with a pair of singles and a run scored.

Final Takeaway
In the process of clinching yet another SEC title, the Gators also won their 19th consecutive series. Before recapping Florida's bid at a sweep, here are some tidbits from Game 2:

  • The win tonight extended Florida's winning streak against Georgia to seven.
  • Florida has now won five consecutive series against the Bulldogs.
  • This was JJ's 12th, Nelly's 7th, and Reese's 4th home runs of the season, respectively.
  • This was  JJ's 18th, Nelly's 16th, and Smith's 5th multi-hit games of the season, respectively.
  • This is the eighth time JJ has gotten three hits in a single game.
  • Blake Reese's throwing error in the fifth inning was his 10th of the season.
  • This was Florida's 28th win at home.
  • This is the third time in program history that the Gators have clinched back-to-back SEC titles ('81-'82 and '10-'11)
  • 4,621 fans were able to make it out to the Mac for this one.

Game 3 (May 13th)
On Senior Day, the No. 1 Florida Gators (41-12, 20-7 SEC) came up just short in their attempt to sweep the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (35-16, 16-11 SEC) as they lost by a score of 4-1 in the series finale.

Making his fourth SEC start of his career, freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich (4-3, 4.26 ERA) donned the mound for the Gators in search of a sweep. Tossing only 4.2 innings, Leftwich got tagged for four earned runs on nine hits. Three of those runs came in the third inning. He struck out five while walking four Georgia hitters.

After runners reached the corners with two outs and Florida down 4-1 in the fifth, Kevin O'Sullivan pulled Leftwich at 83 pitches. In came right-hander Andrew Baker, would would be the first of Florida's four relievers on the day.

Baker kept the deficit at three as he induced a fly out to end the threat. He would pitch two shutout innings of one-hit relief. He had struck out two and walked a batter before Sully decided to pull him with two outs and runners on first and second in the seventh inning. The score was still 4-1 at this point.

Relieving Baker was freshman right-hander Hunter McMullen. He hit his lone batter of the contest on a 1-2 pitch to load the bases. That was all Sully needed to see as he immediately took out McMullen in favor of Jordan Butler. Despite falling down 2-1 in the count, the freshman generated a fly out into left field to escape the frame with no damage.

In the eighth, Michael Byrne would assume pitching duties and finish out the rest of the game. He registered one strike out and allowed one walk as he kept Georgia off the board to give the Gators a fighting chance down three entering the bottom of the ninth inning.

Three. That's how many hits the Gators had in this game. After Blake Reese's RBI groundout in the second inning, Florida would do no more on offense. The trio of Gators with hits were Jonathan India, Will Dalton, and Austin Langworthy. They each singled and each drew one of Florida's three walks in the contest. Dalton and Langworthy both recorded a stolen base as well.

A bunch of credit should be given to Georgia starter Kevin Smith (7-1, 3.25 ERA). He delivered seven strong innings against the Gators while striking out six, walking three, and conceding just one run on three hits. He threw 112 pitches in the contest.

Final Takeaway
As has been a similar tune this season, Florida yet again missed out on a series sweep. Regardless, that does not detract from what has yet again been another solid series victory for the Orange and Blue. Here are my final tidbits from the tough loss:

  • Florida's six-game winning streak may have ended, but they have still won 10 out of 11 series against Georgia in the Kevin O'Sullivan era.
  • Also in the Kevin O'Sullivan era, the Gators are 25-8 against the Dawgs in the regular season.
  • Will Dalton stole his eighth bag of the season in this game while sophomore Austin Langworthy nabbed his fourth stolen base of the year.
  • Deacon Liput had a game to forget about as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts.
  • Aaron Schunk and Keegan McGovern were the leading hitters for Georgia today. Schunk went 2-5 with a run scored and a stolen base, while McGovern went 2-5 with a three-run home run, three RBI's, and a run scored. His blast in the third inning is what gave Georgia a 3-1 lead at the time. 
  • This is the fifth time this season (fourth in SEC play) that the Gators have been unable to complete the sweep in the series finale. This is just a point of interest, it does not at all undermine how great Florida has been on the weekends this season.
  • 4,135 fans showed out to the Mac for Senior Day.
  • Speaking of Senior Day, both JJ Schwarz and Nick Horvath (both high school teammates at Palm Beach Gardens) were honored today for their contributions and time with the Florida Gator baseball program. 
  • Florida finishes with a 28-6 record at home for the 2018 regular season.

Looking Ahead
With another SEC series victory and the SEC Regular Season Championship clinched, Florida has nothing to worry about except trying to win their 20th consecutive weekend series. Their final opponent of the regular season will be the Mississippi State Bulldogs (28-24, 12-15 SEC) down in

Even though the Bulldogs have had a subpar season, their fans will still show out and create a chaotic environment to try and rattled the top-ranked Gators. Under Kevin O'Sullivan, Florida has a 12-6 record against the Bulldogs in their six regular season meetings. At Dudy Noble Field at Polk-Dement Stadium (Miss State's field), the Gators are 6-3 and have not lost a series there since the 2013 season.

The series is set to start on Thursday, but the Gators will go with the usual rotation. Junior right-hander Brady Singer (10-1, 2.25 ERA) will get the opener, junior right-hander Jackson Kowar (9-2, 2.56 ERA) will throw Friday, and freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich (4-3, 4.26 ERA) will start the final game of the regular season.

Mississippi State will most likely counter with Ethan Small (5-3, 2.75 ERA), Konnor Pilkington (2-6 4.31 ERA), and Jacob Billingsley (3-3, 4.58 ERA) in some combination or another.

Game 1 can be seen on SEC Network+ at 7:30 p.m ET, Game 2 will be on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET, and Game 3 will also be on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m. ET.

As for the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs, they will take on the Presbyterian Blue Hose (15-36) in a weekday game at home before hosting the No .6 Arkansas Razorbacks (36-15, 17-10, SEC) in their last home series of the regular season.