Florida entered the college baseball season as the consensus No. 1 team and promptly lost its season-opening home series against Miami.
The Gators have been up and down since, but winning two of three from Vanderbilt over the weekend could be a sign they're getting closer to being the team they thought they could be all along.
"We've all been waiting for this team to kind of have a weekend like this, and now hopefully they know what it feels like and what it's supposed to look like when you're playing these types of teams," coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Hopefully this is a start of us playing our best baseball at the right time."
The Gators brought back seven position players and 16 of 18 pitchers, including all three weekend starters, from the team that was 16-1 when the 2020 season was shut down because of the pandemic.
The season-opening series loss was Florida's first to Miami in Gainesville since 2009, and the Gators were out of the top 10 after getting swept at South Carolina in late March.
Franco Aleman has replaced Tommy Mace as the No. 1 starter for three straight SEC series. Mace has moved to No. 2 and Hunter Barco has remained No. 3. Leftwich, who began the season as the No. 2, moved to the bullpen.
Florida spotted Kumar Rocker and Vandy a 7-0 lead on Friday and lost 11-7. The Gators bounced back against Jack Leiter on Saturday and won 11-8, and they scored all their runs in the first four innings of a 5-3 win Sunday.
Kris Armstrong was 5 for 13 with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs in the series. Jud Fabian hit his 15th and 16th homers and Mace gave the Gators eight strong innings Saturday. Leftwich earned two saves.
The Gators had been looking forward to the series since getting outscored 34-6 in three losses at Vanderbilt in 2019. There were no SEC games in 2020.
"That series was not fun for us," Armstrong said. "We were just trying to go at them with everything we had."
The Gators (30-13, 13-8) were ranked as high as No. 7 Monday and are one game behind Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the SEC East. They play two of their last three conference series on the road, including at No. 1 Arkansas to end the regular season.
"We're trending in the right direction for sure," Leftwich said.
IN THE POLLS
Arkansas (34-8) is the consensus No. 1 team for the fourth straight week after winning two of three at LSU.
Vanderbilt (32-9) remained No. 2 despite its series loss, and Big 12 leader TCU (33-10) moved up to No. 3 in D1Baseball.com and the Collegiate Baseball newspaper.
Notre Dame (24-8), coming off a home sweep of North Carolina, is ranked No. 2 and Vanderbilt is No. 3 by Baseball America.
Rutgers (17-13) has won won five straight, all on the road against what at the time were ranked opponents in Michigan and Nebraska.
The three wins at Nebraska marked Rutgers' first Big Ten road sweep since it joined the conference in 2014. The Cornhuskers hadn't been swept at home by a league opponent since 2009, when they were in the Big 12.
Texas Tech continued to work its magic in Austin, winning a series at then-No. 3 Texas for the fourth time in five visits under coach Tim Tadlock.
The Longhorns went into the weekend having won 17 of 18 before losing a home series for the first time. Texas got a grand slam from Douglas Hodo III in an 11-3 win Sunday after losses of 6-3 and 5-3.
It was Tech's first series road win over a top-10 opponent since 2016.
WORKING OT FOR NO HITTER
Texas-Arlington's Carlos Tavera and Tanner King combined for an 11-inning no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Little Rock on Friday.
Tavera went the first nine innings, walking three and striking out 11 in a 132-pitch outing. Tavera has a streak of 20 2/3 shutout innings with 30 strikeouts. King was credited with the win, striking out three in two innings.
There were two other no-hitters over the weekend. Seton Hall's Tyler Burnham struck out a career-high 14 batters in a 2-0 win over Georgetown, and Butler's Connor Schultz and Nick Eaton combined for a seven-inning no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Northern Kentucky.
Horizon League leader Wright State put up eye-popping numbers against last-place Purdue-Fort Wayne over the weekend.
The Raiders had 28 doubles, 15 homers and two triples while outscoring the Mastadons 88-16 in a four-game road sweep. The scores: 9-1, 22-2, 28-7, 29-6.