Gators baseball takes series from Gamecocks

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (22-2, 5-1 SEC) traveled to Columbia, SC face the defending NCAA champion No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5 SEC) over the weekend and came away from the three-game series with a victory after coming from behind to win the final two contests.

Florida was hoping for a measure of revenge on South Carolina, a team that swept them in the finals of the College World Series one year ago. The Gators looked to have cracked under the pressure with a late loss on Thursday but fought back to earn victories on Friday and Saturday to take the series from their rival.

USC triumphed 9-3 in Thursday’s series opener, breaking out of a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and holding on for the victory. UF rallied for a run in the third but was lapped 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth after junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K) gave up a two-run homer. Florida rallied again to tie things up in the top of the sixth, and Randall exited with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom frame.

Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (3-1, 0.1 IP, H, ER, K) came on in relief; however, after getting out of the sixth, he gave up a single in the seventh that wound up scoring after junior RHP Austin Maddox replaced him and imploded. Maddox let Rodriguez’s batter to score along with three others, giving up two hits and two walks while allowing three earned runs. South Carolina piled it on with three more runs in the bottom of the eighth and held on for the win.

The Gators played an all-around better game on Friday, posting five runs in the opening frame and pinching lights out for the duration of the contest to earn an 8-2 victory. A three-run homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) was backed up immediately by a solo shot from junior LHP Brian Johnson (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R), who made an impact before he even got a chance to take the mound. Johnson (4-0, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) stared the game off with three scoreless innings and added a second RBI in the top of the next inning to give his team a 6-0 lead.

Junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R), a replacement during the game, added a pair of homers (one in the sixth and another in the ninth), finishing the contest with the most impressive offensive performance of the evening. UF’s relievers closed things out by pitching three one-hit innings to clinch the win.

Saturday’s rubber match was a fight to the finish even though Florida never fell behind in the contest. The Gators got out to an early 3-0 lead thanks in part to a pair of solo homers in the third by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and Zunino (1/3, HR, 2 RBI, R). South Carolina erased that deficit over the following two innings, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) for three runs though only one was earned as the others were attributed to an error in the outfield.

Rodriguez (2.1 IP, BB, 3 K) replaced him in the sixth and Maddox (2-0, 1.2 IP, H, ER, BB, 2 K) came to close out the game even though he struggled once again by throwing two wild pitches in the eighth. Florida retook the lead in the top of the ninth after junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-RBI triple to right center, but Maddox allowed a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to bring the score to 5-4 before forcing two more outs to end the game.

The Gators’ school-record 18-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday, but Florida hopes that it has started a new one which they will look to keep up as they play a neutral site game against Florida State in Jacksonville, FL on Tuesday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on Sun Sports.

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No. 1 Florida takes down No. 6 Florida State 9-2

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (16-1) extended their winning streak to 14 games on Tuesday evening (tying a school record) with a 9-2 victory over the No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (14-2) in Gainesville, FL.

The first of three games to be played between the schools over the course of the season (a home-and-home and one neutral site match-up), Tuesday’s contest also set a school record as 6,005 fans entered the gates of McKethan Stadium.

Florida State scored a pair of runs off an error in the top of the third, sending Florida’s freshman left-handed starting pitcher Bobby Poyner (2.2 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K) to the bench early. However, the Gators responded immediately in the bottom of the inning as senior right fielder Preston Tucker smacked a three-run homer to put his team in front.

UF scored another run in the fourth, got on the board with a solo shot from junior shortstop Nolan Fontana in the sixth, plated another in the seventh and put the game out of reach by rallying for three more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Tucker (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led the way, but Florida also got two RBIs each from senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) and junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-2, 2 BB).

Senior right-hander Greg Larson (3-0) came on for Poyner in the third and earned the victory after just 1.1 innings of work. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 2 K) did the heavy lifting down the stretch, and junior RHP Austin Maddox (S6, 1.1 IP) closed things out by striking out one of the four batters he faced.

The Gators will head back to McKethan Stadium on Wednesday to take on the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Florida will then have one day off before opening conference play with a three-game series against Vanderbilt on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (1 p.m., FSF) in Gainesville.

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No. 1 Florida completes weekend sweep of FGCU

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (15-1) swept a three-game series for the third time this season, taking down the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-8) over the weekend at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida topped FGCU 4-2 in the series opener thanks to a four-RBI night by junior catcher Mike Zunino, who hit a pair of two-run home runs in the bottom of sixth and eighth to propel the Gators to victory. The Eagles got on the board first with a two-run bomb in the top of the fourth, but junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K) lasted into the eighth without giving up another run.

Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (3-0, 0.2 IP, K) had gotten UF out of the top of the eighth before Zunino (2-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) hit his second blast of the game, and junior RHP Austin Maddox tossed the final frame, striking out three of four batters to pick up his fourth save of the season.

Florida had an easier time scoring on Saturday, rallying for four runs in the bottom of the first and defeating Florida Gulf Coast 8-3. Junior LHP Brian Johnson (2-0, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 6 K) got the start and picked up the victory as Zunino (2-5, R) and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 BB) each drove in a pair of runs.

The Gators had to claw their way to a victory Sunday with sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford on the hill for his third start of the season. A two-run homer by freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) in the bottom of the fifth put Florida ahead 2-1, but FGCU rallied for a run in the top of the sixth to tie the game and force Crawford (5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, BB, 3 K) off the hill.

It took four more outs for the Gators to get back on top in the seventh as freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R) hit his fourth bomb of the season to put Florida ahead for good. Maddox picked up his fifth save by pitching a hitless final frame.

UF will host Florida State in the first of three games scattered throughout the schedule on Tuesday. The Gators will then play an exhibition game against the Ontario Blue Jays on Wednesday before opening up Southeastern Conference play by hosting Vanderbilt in a three-game series from Friday to Sunday.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, tennis, Young, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball improved to 13-1 this season by defeating the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-5) Friday night in the first of a three-game weekend series. FGCU right-hander Ricky Knapp held Florida in check through five innings, giving the Eagles a 2-0 cushion thanks to a two-run homer by catcher Andrew Valencia in the top of the fourth inning. Junior RHP Hudson Randall (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K) got the start for the Gators and held on just long enough ensure he did not suffer a loss as junior C Mike Zunino knotted the game with a two-run bomb of his own in the bottom of the sixth. Zunino doubled up with another two-run homer in the eighth, knocking in all four of Florida’s runs on the evening and earning a win for junior left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (3-0, 0.2 IP, K). Junior closer Austin Maddox grabbed his fourth save of the season, striking out three of four batters in the final frame.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (9-1, 3-0 SEC) won the team’s 100th consecutive home match at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex on Friday night, defeateing the No. 22 Vanderbilt Commodores (10-5, 2-1 SEC) 6-1. Florida, which holds the longest active home winning streak for a NCAA Division I women’s sports program, has not fallen on their home court since 2004. The No. 13 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen and the No. 31 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather each won their matches to earn the doubles point for the Gators. Florida also won five of six singles matches with No. 1 Wil, No. 18 Mather, No. 23 Embree, No. 39 Oyen and junior Caroline Hitimana pulling out victories while No. 49 sophomore Alex Cercone fell in a match that lasted over two hours. No. 9 Gators men’s tennis (9-4, 2-1 SEC) also beat the Commodores (5-7, 0-3 SEC) 6-1 on the road in Nashville, TN.

3 » Florida sophomore center Patric Young said after Friday’s game against Alabama that he will return for his junior season in orange and blue, according to a conversation he had with Matt Watts, the sports editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Young, however, told Watts that he was not sure what freshman guard Bradley Beal planned to do about his future. Beal is currently projected by many analysts as a potential top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft even though his shooting numbers have been suspect for the Gators this season.

4 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-2, 2-1 SEC) dropped their second game of the season on Friday, falling 1-0 to the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols (15-3, 1-0 SEC) due to a defensive miscue in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-1, 6.2 IP, 5 H, R, 2 BB, 4 K) was tagged for her first loss of the season as Tennessee’s Ellen Renfroe outdueled her, only allowing three hits and one walk while striking out 15 Florida batters. The Gators will look for revenge against the Lady Vols and hope to win the series with back-to-back victories on Saturday on Sunday.

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

The end of the Miami series is an appropriate time to take a step back and look at what the No. 1 Florida Gators baseball team has accomplished up to this point early in the season. The Gators have lived up to expectations thus far, passing every test and checking in with a 10-1 record, the sole blemish being a loss in a Sunday game after a series was already clinched to then-No. 16 Cal State Fullerton.

The Gators opened up against the season without the usual cupcake series people are used to seeing in many sports and still walked away by winning two of three games at home. Since their loss to the Titans that first Sunday, UF has reeled off eight-straight wins, including last weekend’s sweep at then-No. 8 Miami.

The reigning SEC Player of the Year, junior catcher Mike Zunino, has kept up his offensive dominance by batting .425 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Florida has eight or nine players capable of hitting above .300, and this consistency throughout the lineup is important as it makes every inning a stressful one for opposing pitchers.

On the mound, junior closer Austin Maddox is making the most noise and looks to have turned into the dominant closer the Gators desperately need. He has already amassed 17 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings.

It should be a relief for fans to see the Florida bats heat up Friday and Saturday down in Miami as they struggled a bit opening weekend against Cal State Fullerton’s quality pitching. The usual suspects like Zunino, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, senior right fielder Preston Tucker, senior left fielder Daniel Pigott and junior first baseman Brian Johnson powered the Gators throughout the weekend but there was also a new face who stepped into the lineup and produced in a big way.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

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No. 1 Florida shines in sweep of No. 8 Miami

In their second three-game series against a top 25-ranked opponent this season, No. 1 Florida Gators baseball swept the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, FL thanks to a come-from-behind victory in Sunday’s finale. Florida (10-1), extending their winning streak to eight games with the three victories, has now won 11-straight contests over Miami (8-3) dating back to 2010.

The Gators defeated the Hurricanes 7-5 in the season opener, scoring in five of nine innings and never falling behind once in the game. Florida rallied for single runs in the top of the first, second, third and fifth and used a solo homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino to spark a three-run fourth inning. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (2-0) earned the victory in 5.1 innings, striking out six while allowing four earned runs on seven hits and one walk.

Zunino (4-5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-3, 2 RBI) each knocked in a pair of runs, while junior first baseman/closer Austin Maddox (3-3, RBi, R) was dynamite from the plate and on the mound, notching his third save of the season with seven strikeouts in 3.1 innings.

Miami took the early advantage in Saturday’s contest, hitting a two-run homer off of left-hander Brian Johnson in the bottom of the first and taking a 3-0 lead through three innings. Johnson got a measure of revenge in the top of the fourth, smacking a two-run bomb to right; UF first baseman Taylor Gushue immediately followed with a solo shot, knotting the game at 3-3.

The Hurricanes regained the lead in the bottom of the inning by hitting another two-run dinger of Johnson, who was quickly pulled for senior RHP Greg Larson. The Gators turned up the intensity from there, rallying for five runs in the top of the fifth and crossing the plate at least once in every remaining inning.

Gushue (3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) homered for a second time in the fifth and was matched hit-for-hit by Johnson (4-5, 5 RBI, 2 R). Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-5) crossed the plate three times, and Pigott (4-5) and Zunino (1-6) each scored two runs as well. Larson (1-0) picked up the win in the 13-5 victory by striking out four Miami batters on 51 pitches in 4.2 no-hit innings.

Having already clinched the series with consecutive victories, Florida found themselves in danger of floundering in the finale on Sunday afternoon. Though the Gators got on the board first by plating a run in the top of the second, the Hurricanes bested them with three runs in the bottom of inning, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford for four hits in the frame. Crawford, starting the first game of his career, regrouped and struck out eight in 4.2 innings but also gave up another earned run (four total) on seven hits with a walk in his appearance.

A solo homer by Fontana reduced Florida’s deficit to a single run in the top of the fifth, but Miami rallied for a matching run in the bottom frame. The Hurricanes repeated that process in the seventh, negating another Gators’ run with one of their own to maintain a two-run advantage heading into the top of the ninth.

With starter Bryan Radziewski already out of the game for UM, E.J. Encinosa entered in the eighth to close out the final 1.2 innings. UF left two on base in the eighth, seemingly putting a major dent in their chances of making a comeback as only three outs remained.

Fontana walked on five pitches to lead off the inning, and Pigott (1-4, RBI, R) soon joined him on base after being hit by Encinosa. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-5) grounded out and advanced the runners, who were both sent home to tie the game when Zunino cleared the bases by doubling to center. Encinosa then imploded even further, advancing Zunino to third on a wild pitch, hitting Gushue on a 3-2 count, allowing Gushue (1-3, R, BB) to move to second and Zunino to score the game-winning run on another wild pitch, and finally walking Maddox (0-4, BB) before being pulled.

Florida crossed the plate twice more before the frame ended, scoring five runs to take an 8-5 lead. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (1-0) earned the victory in 1.0 inning of work after coming on in the seventh with two outs, and sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson picked up his first save by striking out the final batter of the game. Zunino (1-4, 2 RBI, BB) and Fontana (2-5, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) led the way for the Gators at the plate on Sunday, concluding an impressive three-game performance for each player.

Florida will begin a 10-game homestand spanning two weeks by hosting Florida Atlantic on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. The Gators will face six non-conference opponents (including Florida State in the first of three scattered games and the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition contest) before beginning their SEC slate against Vanderbilt on March 16.

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Tucker sets Florida career RBI record as Gators baseball earns first series sweep of 2012

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (7-1) cruised over the weekend to their first sweep of a three-game series in 2012, defeating the William & Mary Tribe (2-5) by a combined score of 14-5 from Friday-Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida did not trail for a single frame in the series’ first two games, scoring in the bottom of the first inning on Friday, adding a solo home run in the fifth by senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2-4, RBI, R) and rallying for two more runs in the eighth to pull away with a 4-1 victory. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-3, R, 2 SB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (0-3) added a RBI each, and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, R) and freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (2-3, R) also had impressive outings at the plate.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) picked up his first win of the season by striking out four and allowing just one earned run on five hits in 6.1 innings. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S2) came on in the seventh to close out the game, fanning four batters of his in the final 2.2 innings.

The Gators picked up where they left off the next day with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, 2 R, SB) hammering a solo shot in the bottom of the third. He became Florida’s all-time RBI leader with the dinger, amassing a school record 215 runs batted in over 205 games played (at that point). Tucker received a standing ovation from the home crowd, a highlight moment in the young season.

He continued his stellar outing by singling to lead off the bottom of the sixth, following it up by stealing second and eventually coming around to score thanks to a one-out double by Gushue (1-4, RBI, R), who earned his first start at first base. Turgeon (2-3, 2 RBI, R) concluded Florida’s three-run inning with a two-run homer, the first round-tripper of his career in orange and blue.

Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (1-0, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 2 K) pitched six innings of shutout ball but was relieved shortly after giving up a solo bomb in the top of the seventh. Senior RHP Greg Larson pitched the final 2.2 innings in relief, striking out three and walking just one to clinch the victory for Johnson.

Florida fell behind early on Sunday as sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson took the hill to start the game and looked a bit out of sorts. He gave up an earned run on two hits and a walk while only registering two outs before being pulled by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2-0) and freshman RHP Jonathon Crawford came on in his stead and combined to earn the win by striking out seven and walking two while allowing three hits and two earned runs in the final 5.0 innings of the weather-shortened game.

Tucker (1-3, RBI, R) and Fontana (1-2, 2 RBI, R, BB) each homered in the contest, and the Gators also got solid performances at the plate from freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2-2, 2 RBI, R) and junior 1B Austin Maddox (2-3, R).

UF faces a tough test next weekend, travelling to Coral Gables, FL to take on Miami in a three-game series from Friday-Sunday. Florida will follow that series up with an 11-game home stand, playing from March 6-20 in Gainesville.

Photo Credit: Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

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SIX BITS: practice, Leonard, baseball, Spikes

1 » The Florida Gators announced Monday that spring football practice will begin on Wednesday, March 14 and conclude as always with the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 at 1 p.m. Unlike the 2011 season, when all of Florida’s spring practices were closed, the Gators will open two sessions to fans this year on Friday, March 16 (4:25-6:35 p.m.) and Saturday, March 17 (12:55-3:00 p.m.).

2 » Florida freshman tight end A.C. Leonard, arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery on Feb. 15 and indefinitely suspended from the team by head coach Will Muschamp one day later, entered a “not guilty” plea in Alachua County court on Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Being represented by Gainesville, FL attorney Huntley Johnson, Leonard is not allowed to have any contact with the woman he allegedly hurt by judge’s orders and had to find a separate place to live at least until the court makes a final judgment on his case.

3 » No. 1 Gators baseball (3-1) pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory at home on Tuesday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (2-2) 8-6 at McKethan Stadium. Florida threw a trio of freshmen pitchers over the first 6.2 innings, beginning with right-hander Johnny Magliozzi who earned the first start of his career. Magliozzi allowed three earned runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 3.2 and was followed up by left-hander Bobby Poyner and RHP Justin Shafer. The duo gave up three earned runs combined on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts in 3.0 innings. By the time Shafer left the hill, the Gators were down 6-5 after previously having leads of 4-1 through three innings and 4-3 through four innings.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to get Florida on the board, and the Gators rallied in the bottom of the third and fourth as four more runs crossed the plate. Zunino (2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led off the seventh the same way he did the second, with another solo shot to tie the game 6-6. With junior RHP Austin Maddox (1-0) taking over to hold Bethune-Cookman to six runs, Florida again rallied in the eighth and took the lead with a RBI single by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-5). Junior first baseman Brian Johnson (1-4) had a two-RBI night for the Gators, and both senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, RBI, 2 R, BB) and freshman catcher Taylor Gushue (2-5, RBI) knocked in runs on Tuesday.

4 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes underwent surgery on Monday. The Boston Herald reports that the surgery was performed on his right kene and done in order to “clean out some cartilage.” A source told the paper that the procedure “went very well.” Spikes, who returned late in the season after spraining his MCL, was a tremendous contributor for New England on defense in 2011 (when he was on the field).

5 » Florida is attempting to secure a sixth year of collegiate eligibility for offensive lineman James Wilson, ESPN reported on Monday. Wilson, who has broken his foot twice and had four knee surgeries in the last five years, has played in 38 games for the Gators and is talented enough to potentially start for Florida in 2012 if he is able to return. What may hurt his chances at a NCAA waiver is the fact that he played in 11 games in 2011, his redshirt senior season. ESPN notes that the Gators expect to have an answer sooner than later.

6 » North Texas Mean Green head coach and former Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney was released from the hospital on Feb. 16 after suffering a stroke and being rushed to the emergency room four days earlier. McCarney has since returned to work and is expected to continue coaching the team beginning with spring practice in March.

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