GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Gators limped into the 2021 SEC Baseball Tournament, burdened by a season-high four-game losing streak. Watch live streaming coverage of Florida vs Alabama live on WatchESPN and SEC Network.
Two games later, Florida’s fortunes are loaded with promise.
Following wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State in Hoover, Ala., the No. 6-seed Gators (37-19) face 10th-seed Alabama (31-22) at 5:30 ET Thursday. The Gators can advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals with a victory and win their first three games in the SEC Tournament for the first time in 21 years. As an added bonus, they would have Friday off and not have to play again until noon on Saturday.
Meanwhile, if the Gators lose to the Crimson Tide, they would have to play No. 2-seed Tennessee on Friday night in an elimination game. The Gators and Alabama did not meet during the regular season.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, the Gators have created some positive momentum heading into the start of the NCAA Tournament next week, much different than if they had arrived in Hoover and lost to Kentucky and entered the NCAA Tournament on a five-game losing streak.
2021 SEC Baseball Tournament
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Gators shortstop Josh Rivera (.261, 5 HR, 26 RBI) broke out of an 0-for-15 slump in a big way Wednesday. Rivera went 4-for-5 with a pair of runs and an RBI. Rivera’s four hits set a career high. The Gators produced up and down the lineup in their 13-1 win over Mississippi State, collecting a season-high 18 hits. For Alabama, sophomore outfielder Owen Diodati is 4-for-9 with three RBI in the tournament. Diodati stroked the go-ahead single in the 11th inning to lift the Crimson Tide past Tennessee on Wednesday. He is hitting .235 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Junior Franco Aleman (1-4, 5.61 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Gators. Alabama has junior right-hander Dylan Smith (1-7, 4.04) slated to start. In his last start, Aleman tossed a career-high 6 1/3 innings with eight strikeouts in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas to close the regular season. A 6-foot-6 right-hander, Aleman has surrendered 63 hits and struck out 58 in 59 1/3 innings. Smith’s record is not impressive, but his stats (82 1/3 IP, 83 H, 100 SO) suggest he has pitched better than his won-loss record indicates.