Florida squeaks by Georgia 3-2, will play for title

Forced into an elimination game when the Georgia Bulldogs (31-30) beat them earlier in the afternoon, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (44-16) scored a run in the top of the ninth to break a tie and advance to the finals of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 3-2 win Saturday evening at Regions Park.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson got the start for Florida but gave up a run each in the bottom of the first and second. The Gators knotted the game at 2-2 just one inning later, when sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana hit his fourth home run of the year with junior left fielder Daniel Pigott on second base.

Whitson was pulled after 5.1 innings but Florida held Georgia scoreless for the duration of the contest. The Gators took advantage of a base runner to start the top of the ninth when redshirt sophomore designated hitter/first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-4, R) doubled to right center. He advanced to third on Pigott’s (0-1, R, 2 BB, 2 SB) sacrifice bunt and scored two batters later when Fontana (1-5, HR, 3 RBI, R, SB) reached on a fielder’s choice to second base.

Sophomore RHP Austin Maddox was called on to pitch the bottom of the ninth; he allowed one hit but struck out two to earn his fifth save of the season, giving junior RHP Tommy Toledo (4-3) the victory.

With the victory, Florida will take on No. 4 Vanderbilt (47-9) on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the title. The Gators return to the SEC Tournament Championship for the first time since 2000 and have not won since 1991.

Junior RHP Alex Panteliodis (4-2, 4.65 ERA) will take the mound and match up against Vanderbilt’s Taylor Hill (4-0, 3.16 ERA). Florida was 2-1 in a regular season road series at Vanderbilt May 13-15, defeating them 6-5 and 6-3(12) but falling 14-1 in between.

Georgia tops Florida 4-3, forces elimination game

In a strange game that included their starting pitcher being knocked out in the first inning, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (43-16) was forced into an elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament after dropping a close 4-3 decision to the Georgia Bulldogs (31-29) in the semifinal round of the event.

The top of the first was a tough inning for Florida, which saw sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson get taken off on a stretcher after giving up two earned runs. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino, who got his leg tangled with the batter while attempting to pick off a runner trying to steal second, stumbled and instead threw the ball into the back of the head of a crouching Johnson.

Johnson (0.2 IP, ER, 2 H, 2 K) was promptly brought to the hospital and deemed alert and responsive though he did have a headache and continued to undergo further tests. He was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding) and returned to the team hotel well before the game concluded.

Junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani replaced Johnson on the mound, and junior Tyler Thompson was chosen to take his place in the lineup at designated hitter.

The Gators got out of the top portion of the inning and tied the game up in the bottom frame. With sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-2, R, BB) and junior second baseman Preston Tucker (0-3, R, BB, SB) on base via walks, Thompson (1-4, 2 RBI) doubled to center to plate both men and erase his team’s deficit.

Georgia re-took the lead in the third, when three consecutive singles scored a run and a sacrifice fly by the next batter plated another to put the Bulldogs up 4-2. Florida responded in the fourth when senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-3, BB) reached on a throwing error allowing junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-4, R, SB) to score from third and the Gators to get within one.

Florida was never able to score the tying run, allowing the Georgia to claim the win.

DeSclafani, who stayed on and pitched the vast majority of the game in Johnson’s stead, put forth a superb effort for Florida. He struck out four, gave up six hits and allowed just two earned runs in 7.2 innings of relief work.

The Gators and Bulldogs will square off in an elimination game Saturday night with the victor facing Vanderbilt in the championship on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Gators roll over Ducks 7-0, advance to fourth-straight Women’s College World Series

The first team in Southeastern Conference history to advance to four-straight Women’s College World Series, No. 3 Florida Gators softball (52-10) moved on in the 2011 NCAA Tournament with a 7-0 victory over the No. 11 Oregon Ducks (42-16) on Saturday in Super Regionals action at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida won game one 9-1 and outscored Oregon 16-1 over the weekend.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (33-6) got the start for the Gators and was consistently productive all afternoon. She tossed a complete game shutout, striking out three batters, walking one and allowing only four hits in seven innings.

With runners on first and second in the top of the second, Florida junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie hit an infield single up the middle to advance the runners. An error by Oregon second baseman Kaylan Howard allowed junior pinch runner Ellie Langley, in for senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (0-3, BB), to score and put the Gators up 1-0.

Florida added another run in the third, when senior first baseman Megan Bush (1-4, RBI) doubled deep to right center, scoring sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte (on base via a walk) from first to give the Gators a 2-0 advantage.

After Florida loaded the bases in the top of the fourth, senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (1-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) stepped up and worked her way to a full count. Two pitches later, she singled up the middle to score Moultrie (3-4, RBI, 2 R, SB) and sophomore designated player Ensley Gammel (1-2, R, BB) but was called out at second after trying to stretch it into a double. Schutte followed her by striking out but leaving the Gators with a 4-0 lead heading into the second half of the game.

Looking to close out the contest by tacking on some more runs, Florida found themselves with Schutte at the plate with runners on first and third in the top of the sixth. On the first pitch of her at bat, Schutte (1-2, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) rocketed the ball out of the park, hitting a three-run homer and propelling her team ahead 7-0. Her performance on Saturday completed a fantastic weekend for the power hitter. Schutte concluded the Super Regionals going 3-4 with three homers, seven RBI, five runs scored and three walks.

The Ducks threatened to score in the bottom of the sixth, but Moultrie nabbed a fly ball in center and tossed it back to first to get the inning-ending double play. Rogers got Oregon’s batters out in order in the seventh to end the game and clinch the Gators’ WCWS berth.

Florida will face either No. 5 Missouri or No. 12 Washington in the first round of the WCWS. UF lost to UW in the final series of the 2009 WCWS.

FOUR BITS: Tebow/Meyer, Hunter, Embree, tennis

1 » Though not by any means a definitive statement nor something set in stone, Denver Broncos and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow made an interesting comment while in Vero Beach, FL speaking about his faith and football career. Tebow told TCPalm.com’s Laurie K. Blandford that he expects former Florida head coach Urban Meyer to return to coaching at some point…but in a different conference.

Tebow also said he thinks Meyer will come back to coaching, but not in the Southeastern Conference. “He definitely loves coaching,” Tebow said, “so he’ll be back soon.”

2 » In an interview with ESPN.com, Gators redshirt junior defensive lineman Omar Hunter explained that he is in the process of losing weight and fighting through injuries but is doing whatever it takes to prove himself to the new coaching staff in order to get plenty of time on the field in 2011. So far it seems to be working. “The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he said. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”

3 » Three members of Florida’s 2011 NCAA Championship women’s tennis team have advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships. No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree, competing in singles action, swatted No. 63 Leslie Hureau of Indiana 6-1, 6-0 on Friday to move on and extender her 27-match singles winning streak. She will square off against California’s No. 23 Mari Andersson on Saturday at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will was not as lucky, falling 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) in singles action to No. 18 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford. However, the No. 2 doubles team of Will and freshman Alex Cercone are still alive after defeating Arkansas’ No. 14 duo of Claudine Paulson and Anouk Tigu 6-2, 6-3 on Friday.

4 » On the men’s side, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix fell in the second round of the championships in singles action, dropping a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 match to Jose Hernandez of North Carolina. Not all is lost for Lacroix, who is part of the No. 17 doubles team with sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. The duo have reached the NCAA quarterfinals after taking down the LSU’s No. 8 team of Sebastian Carlsson and Neal Skupski 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 on Friday. Lacroix and Bangoura will face Louisville’s pair of Austen Childs and Viktor Maksimcuk on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

Schutte breaks Ducks, leads Gators to 9-1 win

Squaring off against the No. 11 Oregon Ducks just a week after taking down the No. 14 UCLA Bruins in regional action, No. 3 Florida Gators softball jumped out to a hot start and held on for an impressive run-rule victory. On the back of a pair of two-run homers by sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte, Florida (51-10) defeated Oregon (42-15) 9-1 in five innings to open the three-game 2011 NCAA Super Regionals at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Schutte (2-2, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB) hit her homers in the first and third inning, giving the Gators a quick 5-1 advantage. Senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (19-2) got the start and played well but was still pulled after striking out three and allowing one earned run on two hits in three innings.

She was replaced by freshman RHP Hannah Rogers, who tossed the final two innings of the game and struck out three during her appearance. Ending Rogers’s outing at two innings was Florida’s offense, which continued piling on runs.

Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (0-1, R, BB) was hit by a pitch, advanced to second via a sacrifice bunt and scored on two wild pitches in the fourth. The Gators rallied to get the bases loaded in the fifth, allowing senior first baseman Megan Bush’s (1-3, 2 RBI) infield single to score two putting Florida one run away from ending the game. Coyle was walked to load the bases, and a single by the next batter, senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (1-2, RBI), scored Schutte from third and gave the Gators the victory.

Also contributing for Florida offensively was senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (2-2, RBI, 3 R, BB), who plated a base runner in the first and crossed the plate three times. The Gators left three runners on base at the contest’s conclusion.

Friday’s game was not without its interesting moments. The start was pushed back to bad weather in the area, a short rain/hail delay occurred during the contest and a long foul ball from Schutte in the bottom of the first actually broke the window of a car driving by.

Florida and Oregon will square off in game two of the Super Regionals on Saturday at noon. The Gators are one victory away from advancing to the 2011 Women’s College World Series for the fourth-straight season.

Notre Dame C Wenger cleared to play at Florida

Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after sustaining two concussions in 2010, Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Dan Wenger was not cleared to play in 2011 by team doctors and granted an unconditional release release by head coach Brian Kelly.

Wenger set his sights on joining the Florida Gators and had been spotted on campus recently attending classes. On Friday, he announced via his Facebook page that doctors have cleared him to play, meaning he will be able to compete with the team in 2011.

“Its official, next year you can find me in the SWAMP!!!” he wrote.

One of the reasons Wenger decided to transfer to play for the Gators was to be reunited with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci, the two men who originally recruited him to the Irish.

In order to be immediately eligible and avoid sitting out a transfer season, Wenger has likely found a graduate degree program offered at Florida that was not available at Notre Dame. He is a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Coral Springs, FL) and started 13 games at center for the Irish in 2008.

Wenger will compete with redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison and redshirt junior Sam Robey at center and along the offensive line this summer.

Photo Credit: ChicagoNow/Unknown

Gators blank Crimson Tide 6-0 in SEC Tournament

As has been the case throughout the 2011 season, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (43-15) was too much for the Alabama Crimson Tide (33-25) on Thursday, shutting them out 6-0 to advance in the winner’s bracket of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament and reach the semifinal round of the event.

Florida sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (9-3) was the star of the show, tossing eight shutout while only allowing four singles and striking out two batters on the afternoon. He is now 3-0 in his career against Alabama and has not allowed the Crimson Tide to score a single run in his 21.1 innings against them.

Equally impressive for the Gators’ offense on Thursday were senior center fielder Bryson Smith and junior left fielder Daniel Pigott. Smith (4-5, 3 RBI, R) plated three runners on the afternoon while Pigott (4-4, 3 R) crossed home on three occasions. No other Florida players connected on more than once.

The Gators scored the majority of their runs right out of the gate with pairs in the top of the first and second inning. Smith also recorded RBI in the top fourth and ninth to give Florida it’s final six-run advantage.

UF moves on to face the winner of South Carolina/Georgia, which is being played Friday. The contest will take place Saturday with coverage available via Sun Sports (in certain markets) and ESPN3.com.

Gators tennis begins, advances in NCAA Singles

Four members of the Florida Gators tennis program advanced to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships for singles on Wednesday.

No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took his match 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 over Tulsa’s Japie De Klerk at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA.

Following him were a trio from Florida’s women’s team. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will defeated No. 60 Emily Fraser of Virginia in straight sets (6-3, 6-0). No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree accomplished the same feat over Miami’s No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn (7-5, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather followed suit in her win over Marshall’s No. 52 Michaela Kissell (6-2, 6-1).

However, Wednesdays singles matches were not without disappointment.

No. 40 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. fell 6-2, 6-4 to No. 8 Henrique Cunha of Duke, and a pair from the women’s team joined him. No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz won her first set but fell to No. 12 Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State (3-6, 6-1, 6-0), and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone dropped her match in straight sets to Virginia’s No. 27 Lindsey Hardenbergh (6-2, 7-6).

All is not lost for Bangoura and Cercone as both will compete in doubles action on Thursday. The No. 17 duo of Lacroix/Bangoura and No. 2 team of Will/Cercone will try to advance in their respective first-round matches.

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