Gators Stay Red-Hot; St. Peter’s Winless

This week’s college baseball notebook takes a look at the red-hot Florida Gators, who have won nine straight games. St. Peter’s remains winless and looks to avoid becoming the eighth winless team in college baseball since World War II.  Post season play begins this weekend for the Ivy League and Patriot League.

GATORS STREAKING:
One month ago, the Florida Gators baseball team was at the cross roads.  The Gators had suffered back-to-back, 1-run, extra-inning losses to Tennessee and were clinging to slim lead in the eighth inning of the series finale. The Gators held a 5-4 lead but the Volunteers had runners and second and third with no outs.

UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan summoned RHP Michael Byrne in from the bullpen with the game, and perhaps season, on the line.  To make this situation ever dicier Byrne was the losing pitcher in the first two games of the season after he allowed the winning run in the 10th inning. He had thrown 62 pitches the previous two days, but O’Sullivan rolled the dice. Byrne got a pop up and strikeout before UT’s leading hitter Jeff Moberg walked to load the bases. Byrne then coaxed a come-backer from Justin Ammons to end the threat.  He retired the Vols in order in the ninth to seal the win.

The Gators are 15-2 since that eventful day and have won nine straight games, including back-to-back sweeps over Georgia and Ole Miss. Florida heads to Alabama this weekend and hosts Kentucky the final weekend in a series that will decided the SEC Eastern Division championship.

Byrne has been lights out for the Gators since April 9.  He has tossed 11.1 consecutive scoreless innings (3 H, 3 BB, 6 K) and recorded nine saves in 10 appearances. The Florida bullpen is responsible for five wins and seven saves during the current 9-game winning streak.

The offense is coming around, too.  The Gators have hovered around the bottom of the league in batting average and runs scored all season. Last weekend, Florida scored 24 runs in a three-game sweep against Ole Miss, who entered the weekend with the lowest ERA in the SEC. The 24 runs were the most allowed by Ole Miss in a series all season.

SEC RACE HEATING UP:
Seven teams are within two games of first place in the Southeastern Conference standings heading into the final two weekends.

The SEC Eastern Division is a two team race between Florida and Kentucky. The Gators 9-game winning streak has moved them into sole possession of first places with a 16-8 SEC record. Kentucky, who suffered a home series loss to Georgia this past weekend, is one game behind the Gators with a 15-9 SEC slate. Florida travels to Alabama this weekend, while UK hosts Tennessee. The Gators and Wildcats will play one another with the division title on the line next weekend in Gainesville.

Five teams are within two games of first place in the SEC Western Division, including Miss. State, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Auburn. Miss. State leads the division with a 16-8 record. LSU is one game back at 15-8.  Arkansas is 14-9, while Texas A&M and Auburn are two games out of first place with a 14-10 SEC record. Miss. State travels to Georgia this weekend for a pivotal series, while LSU hosts Auburn in Baton Rouge.  LSU and MSU will close out the regular season in Starkville next week, with the winner more than likely winning the division title.

ST. PETER’S STILL WINLESS:
The St. Peter’s Peacocks (0-32, 0-18 MAAC) are the only winless team in the nation. The Peacocks were swept at home by Siena on Sunday and Monday to extend the nation’s longest losing streak, which dates back to 2016. St. Peter’s came within one out of ending that 33-game losing streak on Monday against Siena.  The Peacocks were one out away from the win before Siena senior centerfielder Dan Swain launched a game-winning, 3-run home to dead center field to give the Saints an 8-7 come-from-behind win over the Peacocks.  Swain finished 5-for-5 with four runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs in the win. He reached base in all six plate appearances.

St. Peter’s has six games remaining with Iona (17-21) and Manhattan (14-31) the final two weekends in an effort to avoid the eighth winless season in college baseball since World War II.  Coppin State (0-29) was the last winless team in 2009. Pittsburgh had three straight winless seasons in 1943, 1944 and 1945, going 0-7 in all three years.

WINLESS COLLEGE BASEBALL TEAMS (Since 1941)
Pittsburgh              0-7 (1943)
Pittsburgh              0-7 (1944)
Pittsburgh              0-7 (1945)
Vanderbilt             0-18-1 (1951)
Norfolk State         0-12 (1973)
Coppin State         0-44 (2007)
Coppin State         0-29 (2009)

PLAYOFF BASEBALL BEGINS THIS WEEKEND:
One automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Tournament will be up for grabs this weekend.

Penn (23-20, 12-8 Ivy) and Yale (27-16, 16-4 Ivy) will meet a best-of-three series at Yale Field in New Haven, Conn.  Yale defeated Penn 6-2 and 5-4 (10 innings) at home on April 9. Scott Politz tossed a 7-inning complete game in the opener. Benny Wagner delivered the walk-off double in the 10th inning to complete the double header sweep.

Penn defeated Columbia 6-3 in a one-game playoff for the Gehrig Division championship on Sunday.  Penn hit three home runs in the win. The Bulldogs, who have not played since April 30, will host UMass Lowell on Wednesday before this weekend’s championship series.

Yale will be seeking its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. Penn has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 1995.

Navy, Holy Cross, Army and Bucknell all qualified for the Patriot League playoffs, which begin with the best-of-three semifinals this weekend.

Navy (36-14, 16-4) won its third straight regular season championship and will host No. 4 seed Bucknell (19-26, 10-10) in the best-of-three semifinals on May 13-14 at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium in Annapolis.  Navy won three of four games with Bucknell during the regular season series on April 29-30.

Patriot League preseason favorite and No. 2 seed Holy Cross (19-24, 10-8) will host No. 3 seed Army (23-25, 10-10) in the other semifinal at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field in Worcester, Mass. Holy Cross beat Army three times in the four-game regular season series at Army on April 15-16.

The winners will meet in the best-of-three championship series on May 20-21.

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