GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida came into this weekend ranked in the top-10 nationally in a slew of offensive categories. First in slugging (.651). Second in home runs (45). Fourth in scoring (11.0 runs per game). Fourth in batting (.348). The Gators are inarguably one of the best offenses in the country.
Slowing down that lineup on the road was the challenge on the first weekend of SEC play for Alabama. The Crimson Tide have a strong, experienced pitching staff and ranked No. 22 nationally in team ERA (3.43), but the Gators represented a big test.
Florida won the series, winning Thursday’s opener, 3-0, behind a one-hitter from Brandon Sproat. It walked off with an 8-7 victory in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader to clinch the series before Alabama won the nightcap, 6-3.
The Crimson Tide (17-4) go home with a tough series loss, but the knowledge that their pitching staff met the challenge head on. They held the Gators (18-4) to 14 runs in the series, just over Florida’s per game average. The Tide struck out 27 batters, walked seven and gave up 22 hits in 25.1 innings in Gainesville.
Alabama’s gameplan on the mound was to attack the Florida hitters.
“I just told the kids you’ve got to go right at them, you can’t give them anything for free,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “You can’t expect to shut down a team like that, you’ve just got to slow them down and try to match them and win it late. That’s kind of what happened in the second game (Friday).”
The Crimson Tide used just seven pitchers on a short week (the series began on a Thursday) that became shorter when forecasted rain on Saturday forced the series to finish with a Friday doubleheader. Alabama on Thursday started righthander Hagen Banks, who previously had only pitched in relief this season, as it reorganizes its rotation and he delivered in a big spot. He held the Gators scoreless in 3.1 innings, striking out two, walking none and allowing just one hit.
On Friday, starters Ben Hess (6.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 8 K) and Grayson Hitt (5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K) were solid and the bullpen was strong all weekend. Redshirt freshman righthander Kade Woods shined in Friday’s win, as he struck out all seven batters he faced to close out the win and earn his first career save.
“I thought all three of our starters gave us a chance to win,” Bohannon said. “I thought we pitched well out of the bullpen.”
Pitching is a strength this season for the Tide, with Hess and Hitt expected…
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