HOOVER, Alabama – The Florida Gators completed a reversal from a 6-12 start in the Southeastern Conference to a 15-15 finish, and now they have reached the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday after sweeping two games Saturday.
No. 7 seed Florida (39-21) demolished a hot No. 2 seed in Texas A&M, 9-0, Saturday night after dispatching Alabama, 11-6, on Saturday morning following a 7-5 win over No. 3 seed Arkansas on Friday.
The Gators, who are 4-1 in the tournament, play for the title at 3 p.m. eastern Sunday on ESPN2 against No. 1 seed Tennessee (52-7), which eliminated No. 12 seed Kentucky (33-26), 12-2 late Saturday night.
Florida last won the SEC Tournament in 2015.
“We started off 6-12 in the SEC,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said incredulously.
That was partly due to injuries to pitchers – freshman left-hander Pierce Coppola (back) at the beginning of the season and sophomore left-hander Hunter Barco, who was lost in April with an elbow injury after a 5-2 start with a 2.50 ERA
“It’s almost like we’re running a day care center with our pitching staff,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s been freshman after freshman.”
Left-hander Timmy Manning is a sophomore, but he has thrown just 22 innings this season. He started and limited the Aggies to five hits over five innings with six strikeouts and one walk for the win to go to 1-0. Freshman Fisher Jameson threw four innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts and zero walks for his first save of the season.
The Gators didn’t need anything more than Jud Fabian’s 22nd home run of the season for a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Texas A&M just beat Florida, 10-0, on Thursday on 12 hits.
Two other freshmen from that “day care center” delivered in the Saturday opening win over Alabama. Right-hander Anthony Ursitti started and lasted two and two-thirds innings as Alabama tied it 6-6 through the third off him with five hits. But right-hander Nick Ficarrotta came on to shut out the Tide over six and a third innings for the win to go to 4-0. He struck out six.
“I have no idea what we’re going to do,” O’Sullivan said when asked about his pitching plan for Sunday.
The team that dropped Florida to 6-12 in the SEC was Tennessee with a three-game sweep April 22-24 in Gainesville by scores of 8-2, 3-0 and 6-4 in 11 innings.
Asked if his players would like another crack at Tennessee, O’Sullivan said, “I mean, we’re excited we’re still playing.”
NCAA REGIONAL 16 SITES ANNOUNCEMENT
Win or lose Sunday, Florida will likely be hosting an NCAA Regional next weekend.
The SEC West champion Aggies (37-18) were eliminated with their first loss of the tournament as the semis are single elimination, but they are expected to host an NCAA Regional as one of the nation’s top eight seeds. Tennessee is an obvious lock for a top eight seed and likely the No. 1 overall seed.
LSU, which was eliminated by Kentucky, 7-2, Saturday afternoon, likely lost a chance to host an NCAA Regional. Auburn has a chance to host despite a one-game stay in the SEC Tournament because of a better Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) number at 13 to 20 for LSU.
Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Georgia are expected to receive NCAA bids, but not host. Alabama is on the bubble for a bid at No. 41 in the RPI. Kentucky, which finished 12-18 in the SEC, probably needed to reach the tournament final to get a bid. The tournament winner gets an automatic bid.
The NCAA will announce the 16 NCAA Regional host sites at 8:30 p.m. Sunday via ESPN’s bottom line news updates. The 64-team field and the eight top seeds will be announced on Monday at noon on ESPN2.
SEC TOURNAMENT SATURDAY RESULTS
Florida 11, Alabama 6
Kentucky 7, LSU 2
Semifinal – Florida 9, Texas A&M 0
Semifinal – Tennessee 12, Kentucky 2
Florida vs. Tennessee-Kentucky winner, 3 p.m. eastern, ESPN2
Photo courtesy of Florida athletics.