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.

Johnson’s grand slam powers Florida over MSU

Down 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Florida Gators sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and smacked a grand slam to right to propel his team to an eventual 7-5 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first round of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

No. 2 Florida (42-15) got on the board in the bottom of the first, tacking on a run when junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, 2 RBI, R, BB) doubled to center on a full count to score sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-1, RBI, R, 3 BB). Mississippi State (34-22) jumped ahead 2-1 in the third, but the Gators responded when Fontana was walked with the bases loaded in the fourth to plate senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, RBI, R) and tie the game 2-2.

The Bulldogs followed by scoring three unanswered runs including a solo homer from Nick Vickerson (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) in the top of the sixth and two more on a fielder’s choice and wild pitch in the seventh.

In a hole, Florida got its first three batters on base in the bottom of the inning. Senior center fielder Bryson Smith (0-4, R) was hit by a pitch, Tucker forced a walk and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-5, R) singled to center to setup Johnson’s (1-4, GS, 4 RBI, R) game-changer. Already up 6-5, the Gators added another run in the eighth when Tucker scored Dent (1-2, R, 2 BB) with an RBI single to left field.

Junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo (2.2 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 6 K, 2 BB) got the start for UF but picked up a no decision. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (3-1) threw a hitless 1.2 innings in relief and earned his third win; sophomore RHP Austin Maddox (S4) came on in the ninth to get the final three outs and secure the victory.

No. 3-seed Florida will take on No. 7-seed Alabama in winner’s bracket action on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Gators swept the season series 3-0.

TWO BITS: Blakely to Auburn, USF/UF postponed

1 » Two weeks ago, the Florida Gators granted a transfer request for four-star freshman running back Mike Blakely, who enrolled in January but deemed that Florida was not a good fit him. Though it was believed that Blakely’s transfer request contained stipulations limiting him from moving on to Florida State, Miami or another Southeastern Conference program, multiple reports surfaced Wednesday morning stating that Blakely has chosen the Auburn Tigers as his destination. Gators head coach Will Muschamp apparently granted Blakely an unconditional release. “It’s just very fortunate that Coach Muschamp, a class act, went ahead and released him to go to Auburn,” Blakely’s high school head coach told the media in Alabama. “He didn’t think he would have an opportunity to go to Auburn, but it worked out.”

2 » In 2002, Florida and the South Florida Bulls agreed to play a pair of football games. Though the teams played with the Gators winning 38-14 last year, the second game in the series was originally scheduled for 2009 “then 2011, then 2015,” according to the St. Petersburg Times, which is reporting that the game is now “no longer attached to any year, though the two schools remain contractually bound to play.” Though the exact reasoning is not known, the Times reports part of the reason is that the Bulls’ entry into the Big East means that, with eight conference games to be played beginning in 2012, they will have to drop one out-of-conference game previously scheduled.

Embree’s will earns redemption for UF, Boonstra

Exactly one year ago today, Stanford Cardinal tennis player Mallory Burdette won her team the 2010 NCAA Championship. Squaring off against the higher-ranked Florida Gators, Stanford captured their 16th title when Burdette battled and eventually upended then-senior Marrit Boonstra 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 in the final match of the afternoon.

Boonstra, understandably, was devastated. Her 17-match singles winning streak came to an end and, more importantly, her inability to close that day cost her team a title. No one blamed her for the loss, but she heaped plenty of it on herself.

What a difference 12 months can make.

After falling to the Cardinal in that match and once again at the 2011 USTA/ITA Indoor Championships, the Gators had revenge on their minds entering the 2011 NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Fighting their way through the bracket with relative ease, Florida wound up face-to-face with Stanford on their home court, a place where the Cardinal had not lost in the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years.

Tuesday night, it became sophomore Lauren Embree’s job to release that frustration and exact the revenge her team had been building up. What a coincidence it was Embree would be given that opportunity for the Gators…against the exact opponent who ended their party a year earlier.

Embree’s match with Burdette at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA was one for the books. It may not have set records for match length or points won, but something special happened on the court that is tough to capture in words.

Fans in attendance and watching around the world saw two players scrape and claw their way to the brink. Label it determination, tenacity or perseverance; whatever you choose to call it, Embree-Burdette turned into Ali-Frazier and someone had to win.

Luckily for Florida, it was Embree, who fought against impossible odds to claim the fifth national title for the Gators women’s tennis program.

She started the match hot, up 5-1 in the first set before Burdette powered her way to six-straight games and a 7-5 win. Looking dejected, Embree fought back to claim the second set 6-3 and even things up. Then Burdette took over again, mounting a 4-0 advantage in the third and final set, putting Florida’s hopes for a title on the brink even as Gators freshman Olivia Janowicz held a massive lead on the far court.

Embree did not panic.

She kept her focus, channeled some inner strength and fought back to take a 5-4 lead. When Burdette knotted the match twice at 5-5 and 6-6, Embree kept her composure and realized, even though she was exhausted and outmatched physically, her opponent was just as tired and was making more and more mental mistakes.

If Embree could put away a point, she did. If she was falling behind, she kept her rally long enough where either Burdette would have to expend extra energy to win or commit an unforced error due to exhaustion, frustration or both.

Burdette may have had the physical advantage (not to mention a raucous home crowd cheering her on), but Embree was onto her and did everything she could to create opportunities for Burdette to slip up.

In the end, it worked. Embree won a thrilling tiebreaker 8-6, her teammates exploded onto the court to hug her in celebration and Gator Chomps were performed everywhere from Stanford to Gainesville.

Florida accomplished a rare feat.

Not only did they end an undefeated streak, beat the No. 1 team in the country and avenge two championship losses within the last 12 months, the Gators and Embree redeemed a player who gave her heart and soul to the team for four years only to be crushed emotionally in her final performance.

Tuesday night, on the court as a student coach for Florida, Boonstra smiled.

Embree’s heroics send Florida women’s tennis to fifth NCAA title in 4-3 nail-biter over Stanford

After four hours of action at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA, sophomore Lauren Embree fought her way to a third set and defeated Mallory Burdette 8-6 in a tiebreaker to send No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (31-1) to a 4-3 victory in the 2011 NCAA Championship over the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (28-1).

Florida captured their fifth NCAA Championship – and first national title since 2003 – by upending Stanford on their home court. The Cardinal had been undefeated at home over the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years (Feb. 27, 1999).

The Gators started hot out of the gate, quickly clinching the doubles point. The No. 45 duo of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen defeated Nicole Gibbs/Veronica Li to win their set 8-3, and the No. 37 pairing of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather matched them with an 8-3 victory of their own over the No. 43 team of Carolyn McVeigh and Stacey Tan to win the point outright.

After a short break, Stanford quickly turned the contest around and took a 2-1 lead with consecutive singles victories – both in straight sets. No. 3 Hilary Barte got it started by defeating Florida’s ace – No. 7 sophomore Allie Will – 6-2, 6-4; No. 18 Gibbs piled on the pressure by topping No. 91 Oyen 6-4, 7-5.

The Cardinal and the Gators then did battle in a trio of matches that all advanced to the third set. Stacey Tan won the first with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 42 Mather to give Stanford a 3-1 lead, but No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone quickly responded by fighting back to earn a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Li to reduce Florida’s deficit to 3-2.

The chance the Gators had appeared to have quickly faded as No. 22 Burdette took a 4-0 advantage on No. 17 Embree in their third set. Burdette fought back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set to win 7-5 but gave up the second 6-3 to Embree. Florida’s standout sophomore then turned the tide, winning five-straight games to take a 5-4 lead in the final set. Simultaneously, No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz went up 4-0 in her third set against McVeigh, seemingly giving the Gators the advantage back.

Embree, attempting to break Burdette’s serve and win the match, had double match point with a 40-15 lead. However, Burdette powered her way to deuce and then to victory, tying the contest 5-5. Embree answered back to take a 6-5 lead, but Burdette responded by winning the next game to once again tie the match 6-6 and force a tiebreaker round.

In the meantime, Janowicz won her match 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, tying the contest 3-3 and putting all eyes on the tiebreaker between Embree and Burdette.

Burdette took an early 2-0 advantage, but Embree won four-straight points to retake the lead. Her opponent answered with back-to-back points to knot the tiebreaker at 4-4. Embree once again took a two-point advantage and had double championship point with a 6-4 lead, but Burdette was able to muscle her way to another tie at 6-6.

With the home crowd and history against her, Embree forced Burdette into two more errors and watched the ball sail long as she won the third set 6-6 (8-6) and clinched the title for Florida.

The clutch play of Janowicz and Embree extended each of their respective winning streaks; the former has now won 19-consecutive singles matches, while the latter has defeated 23-straight opponents.

The Gators women’s tennis program’s five national titles are more than any other team in school history after previously being tied with men’s golf (four). It is Florida’s second NCAA Championship for the 2010-11 athletic season (men’s track and field).

Order of Finish
Doubles
(45) Embree/Oyen, UF d. Gibbs/Li, SU – 8-3
(37) Hitimana/Mather, UF d. (74) McVeigh/Tan, SU – 8-3* (UF 1-0)
Singles
(3) Barte, SU d. (7) Will, UF – 6-2, 6-4 (UF 1, SU 1)
(18) Gibbs, SU d. (91) Oyen, UF – 6-4, 7-5 (SU 2-1)
(43) Tan, SU d. (42) Mather, UF – 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 (SU 3-1)
(54) Cercone, UF d. Li, SU – 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 (SU 3-2)
(53) Janowicz, UF d. McVeigh, SU – 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1 (UF 3, SU 3)
(17) Embree, UF d. (22) Burdette, SU – 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(8-6)* (UF 4-3)

2011 NCAA Women’s Tennis All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Embree
Singles: Embree, Cercone
Doubles: Embree/Oyen

Photo Credit: University of Florida; Video Credit: NCAA/ESPNU

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