After dropping the opening series to Liberty, the Gators bounced back in a big way this past week. The team took care of business in the midweek games against Stetson and North Florida, then proceeded to cap off a perfect week with a sweep of Georgia State.
An overall well rounded weekly performance was key in the Gators improving their record to 6-2. Let's take a look at some of the takeaways from this past week's action:
Strong Showing from Starting Rotation
On Wednesday night, Brandon Sproat earned his first start of the season and the right-hander made the most of it. Against North Florida, Sproat tossed five innings of one run ball, while allowing four hits, one walk, and striking out eight.
This was a much better outing for Sproat, who kept the Ospreys off the scoreboard until his final inning of work. After allowing the first two batters to reach base in the first and second inning, he remained calm and retired the next three batters. He would also face the minimum in the third and fourth innings.
Brandon Sproat is someone Kevin O'Sullivan spoke highly of in his pre-season media sessions, claiming that Sproat is someone who can help determine how far the Gators can go this year. Hopefully Sproat can continue to use this as momentum and string together consecutive strong outings for a pitching staff that needs consistency.
Hunter Barco continued his dominance on Friday night. Last week, he set a career-high in strikeouts with 11, a personal record that only lasted one week. Against Georgia State, Barco beat his previous career-high with 12 strikeouts in six innings of work.
Barco did get tagged for his first earned run of the season, which came in the first inning of the game. However, he didn't let that get to him and stayed locked in while breezing through Georgia State's lineup all night long.
Again, Barco utilized the strikeout and soft contact to aid himself to another incredible performance. On Friday, he faced 22 batters and retired 17 via strikeout or groundout. Barco's start to the 2022 season is standing out not just on a team level, but on a national level as well. His 23 strikeouts in 12 innings rank him second in the NCAA among starting pitchers. The left-hander has an incredible 17.9 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 to start the year.
To cap off a strong week for the starting rotation, Timmy Manning got the ball on Sunday. Manning ran up a high pitch count and got hit around a bit, but he kept the damage minimal and gave the Gators four solid innings. Manning finished the day giving up six hits, one run, two walks, and six strikeouts.
The Gators knew they would be without Tyler Nesbitt and Nick Pogue to start the year and likely won't see them in game action until SEC play begins. Even then, it's going to take them both some time to get ramped up. However, in the early stages of the season it's important for the starting rotation to establish some form of an identity and last week we began to see flashes of that.
The Bats are Coming Alive
With a rotation that still needs to be ironed out, the Gators offense is a unit that could help determine just how strong of a start the team could get off to. In the opening weekend, there were mixed results with mostly poor performances. This week, however, it was completely different as the bats exploded and played a huge role in helping the team go perfect.
Heading into the week, Sterlin Thompson was the Gators hottest hitter. That's now changed as Colby Halter has been setting the tone at the top of the lineup. And this isn't even a knock on Thompson, who has a hit in every game, Halter is just swinging an incredibly hot bat.
Over the five games played last week, Halter managed to collect two hits or more in each game, including a career-high four hit game on Sunday. Halter also hit three home runs on the week, tying him for the team lead. Through the first eight games, Halter is doing everything you want out of a leadoff hitter. He's getting on base at a 47% clip and he's hammering pitchers when they make mistakes.
Kendrick Calilao and Kris Armstrong are two hitters who have gotten off to a really rough start. On Saturday, Armstrong finally got ahold of one for his first home run of the season and on Sunday, Calilao collected two hits, driving in two runs. Both of these guys, especially Armstrong, are important bats for the Gators. Hopefully they can now turn the page from the tough start and begin to get back to their normal ways of hitting.
Josh Rivera was moved around throughout the week and it's been of benefit to the shortstop. Rivera put together two multi-hit performances this week and added a double and a home run. It was a slow start for Rivera heading into the week, but he's now put together a respectable .269/.345/.462 slash line on the season.
After an inconsistent opening weekend at the plate, Kevin O'Sullivan needed to make some lineup changes, which he did and it paid off big time for him. The Gators collected 10 or more hits in three games and put up double digit runs in two games.
It's a great time for the bats to get hot. The Gators have a big weekend ahead in Coral Gables as they face the Hurricanes and they are only a few weeks away from SEC play starting up.
Other notable performances from the week include:
Tucker Talbott - Five hits in two starts
BT Riopelle - Three hit day (Sunday), team leading .438 batting average
Rene Lastres - First home run in first collegiate at-bat
Ty Evans - First collegiate home run
Mr. Reliable out of the Bullpen
Nick Ficarrotta has five appearances already, which leads the team and has thrown 11 innings, trailing only Barco for the most on the team. The Gators had a designed bullpen day on Tuesday, and Ficarrotta ate up four innings of shutout ball that night, earning the win.
In total, Ficarrotta made three appearances this week, where he tossed 8.2 innings, gave up one hit, no runs, one walk, and registered 12 strikeouts. He got the ball after Barco on Friday and matched his dominance with a shutout, three inning save.
The next closest reliever in regards to usage and innings is Blake Purnell, who has made four appearances and thrown 7.1 innings. Purnell has also been reliable for the Gators to start the year, maintaining a perfect ERA with no walks up to this point.
While the Gators will be testing out different arms for the rotation, it's refreshing to know they have a couple of guys who can give them multiple strong innings should the starters run into any trouble.
Before heading to Coral Gables this weekend, the Gators will head to North Florida on Tuesday with first pitch scheduled for 6:05 PM. On Wednesday, they will host Florida A&M with first pitch scheduled for 7:00 PM. It was an exciting week of Gators baseball, hopefully that trend continues as the schedule will start getting tougher.
Featured Photo Credit: @GatorsBB on Twitter via Steve Simoneau