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No. 1 Gators face a challenging week in baseball

Unbeaten Florida gets a visit from FSU Tuesday night and opens SEC play against Georgia on Friday.
Coach Kevin O'Sullivan and Florida are off to a program-record 16-0 start, but have two tough games coming up. [GARY MCCULLOUGH  |  AP]
Coach Kevin O'Sullivan and Florida are off to a program-record 16-0 start, but have two tough games coming up. [GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP]

Florida is looking like its old self through the first four weeks of the baseball season. Maybe even better.

The top-ranked Gators are off to a program-record 16-0 start and the only unbeaten team in Division I. That’s quite a rebound from last season, when they struggled on the mound, won their fewest games since 2013 and didn’t make the College World Series for the first time since 2014.

The highlight of the first month was the three-game sweep at nationally ranked Miami. But this will be the Gators’ toughest week so far, with Florida State (10-5) visiting Tuesday night and SEC play opening Friday at home against Georgia (14-2). FSU is ranked as high as No. 15 and Georgia as high as No. 3.

Florida is averaging 7.7 runs per game and has hit 21 homers with an everyday lineup that includes six freshmen or sophomores. Leadoff man Jud Fabian has five homers and six doubles, Jacob Young is batting .448 and freshman Nathan Hickey has hit four home runs in the last four games.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s pitching staff is performing closer to the norm than it did last season, when its 5.37 ERA was the program’s highest since 2001. The weekend rotation of Tommy Mace (3-0, 1.67), Jack Leftwich (2-0, 4.15) and Hunter Barco (2-0, 1.40) has combined for 75 strikeouts against 19 walks in 68 innings, and first-year closer Ben Specht (2-0, 0.82) has three saves and allowed one earned run in 11 innings.

Florida is the consensus No. 1 team in the major polls. D1Baseball.com ranks Louisville (11-4) and Georgia Nos. 2 and 3. Baseball America has Texas Tech (16-1) No. 2 followed by Georgia. Collegiate Baseball newspaper has Texas Tech and UCLA (13-2) next in line behind the Gators.

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