Haeger leads Florida over LSU in SEC Tournament

In the first postseason start of her young career, freshman Lauren Haeger pitched a gem for No. 7 Florida Gators softball, which used a late run to take down the LSU Tigers 1-0 in the first game of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Haeger allowed two hits while striking out eight in her complete game outing for Florida (45-10) with her only flaw being the five walks she scattered over seven innings. She was not alone in allowing free passes on Thursday as LSU (34-22) starter Brittany Mack was also generous, giving up three walks and hit four batters in her five innings.

The pitchers’ duel between Haeger and Mack lasted 4.5 innings. Mack was nursing a no-hitter until the bottom of the fifth when she walked freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro (0/2, BB) and gave up her first hit of the game three batters later to freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (1/3, RBI, SB). Fagan’s RBI single scored freshman Brianna Little (who pinch ran for Castro) from second for the only run of the game.

The Gatos advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals where they will face either two-seed Tennessee or seven-seed Auburn on Friday at 2 p.m. live on ESPNU. Three-seed Florida must win that game to compete Saturday in the SEC Tournament final for the first time since winning the event in 2009.

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships on Saturday by winning the NCAA Raleigh Regional title with a team score of 197.325. Florida took down Ohio State (196.225) to win the event and also surpassed N.C. State (195.975), Penn State (196.650), North Carolina (194.025) and Kent State (193.575); finishing second, OSU also earned an opportunity to compete for the title. Four Gators won five total event titles on Saturday with junior Ashanée Dickerson posting a season-best 39.65 to claim the all-around for herself. Dickerson shared the vault (9.95) and uneven bars (9.90) titles with sophomore Alaina Johnson and cheered on as junior Marissa King picked up the balance beam (9.925) title and freshman Kytra Hunter won the floor exercise (9.95). Johnson (second), King (fourth) and Hunter (sixth) all finished high in the overall standings, and Florida posted the highest team total in every individual event as well. The victory was UF’s 12th regional title overall and their eighth in the last nine years. The NCAA Championship will be decided from April 20-22.

2 » Likely to lose their top ranking on Monday, No. 1 Gators baseball (25-7, 7-5 SEC) has continued its slide by dropping a home series over the weekend to the No. 7 LSU Tigers (25-7, 8-4 SEC). Florida has now lost five of their last seven games including consecutive three-game series for the first time since 2008. The Gators scored six or more runs in all three games but struggled with their pitching and defense in both the opener and series finale. Florida fell 7-6 to LSU on Thursday as junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (4-1) gave up six earned runs on seven hits with a walk and just two strikeouts in four innings. The Gators rebounded with a 7-0 win Friday thanks to a great performance from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (3-1, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K). Sunday’s game started on a positive note with UF leading 7-2 through three innings. However, Florida’s bullpen gave up six unanswered runs over the final six innings to drop the heartbreaker. Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson started but only lasted an inning after hitting two batters, giving up two hits and allowing two runs (one earned). The Gators bullpen combined to allow six earned runs on 13 hits as the Tigers fought back for the victory. Already having won the series’ first two games, Florida will look to close out Florida State on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, FL.

3 » No. 6 UF softball (35-4, 15-2 SEC) had a much more successful weekend, sweeping the Ole Miss Rebels (16-21, 3-11 SEC) to extend their winning streak to six games. The Gators got it done on the mound and at the plate, outscoring the Rebels 28-4 in the three games. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (20-2) started the first two games and posted a pair of solid performances by allowing just one earned run on four hits with four walks and nine strikeouts in 11.0 innings (including a complete game effort on Friday). Freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (5-0) concluded the weekend for the Gators by giving up three earned runs on three hits but registering five strikeouts in five innings. Though Florida’s pitching was dominant, the plate work of freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro was even better. Castro combined to go 4/7 with three home runs, eight RBIs, five runs and three walks. She hit two bombs on Sunday including her first career grand slam while registering a career-high seven RBIs. UF will travel to face Central Florida on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Orlando, FL.

4 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-1, 10-0 SEC) continued their march to the postseason while clinching at least a share of the 2012 SEC Championship for the regular season with a pair of 7-0 sweeps over the weekend. Florida took down the No. 40 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10, 2-7 SEC) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (11-10, 4-5 SEC) on Sunday with their players winning all 30 sets they competed in over the weekend. UF has now swept four consecutive opponents and 13 of 18 this season. The Gators will look to win the SEC regular season title outright on Saturday at South Carolina. No. 9 Florida men’s tennis (13-8, 6-4 SEC) was not as successful as their female counterparts, taking down Arkansas (14-10, 1-8 SEC) 7-0 on Friday before falling 4-2 to No. 27 LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC) on Sunday. The Gators won 15 of 16 sets and were successful in a pair of tiebreakers in the former contest but were beat handily to close out the weekend. UF will host USC on Saturday at 1 p.m. to end the regular season.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, gymnastics, Leak

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (17-1, 1-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 15 games on Friday by toppling the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-11, 0-1 SEC) 10-2 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-0, 6.2 IP) matched a season-high with six strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on six hits. Behind 2-0 through 4.5 innings, Florida rallied for a five-run bottom of the fifth as eight batters stepped to the plate. The Gators added four more runs in the bottom of the seventh and another in the eighth to pull away for the decisive victory. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/5, 3 RBI, R) and freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (1-4, 2 RBI) led the way offensively but junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4, RBI) and senior outfielder Daniel Pigott (3-5, RBI) each crossed the plate twice for Florida. Game two against the Commodores is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday (CSS), and the Gators will conclude the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. (FSF).

2 » No. 4 Florida softball (24-2, 5-1 SEC) got back to their winning ways on Friday with 9-1 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-10, 2-4 SEC) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (13-1) put together a complete game in a run-ruled five-inning outing, giving up one earned run while striking out two, walking two and scattering four hits. Freshmen 1B Lauren Haeger (2-3) and designated hitter Bailey Castro (1-1, HR, R, 2 BB) each notched three RBIs to help fuel the Gators’ offense. UF will wrap-up their three-game series USC by hosting them twice more on Saturday (Sun Sports) and Sunday at 1 p.m.

3 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics (11-1) posted the second-highest total in the nation this season to conclude the 2012 regular season with a 197.900-196.475 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes (7-3) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville. Sophomore Alaina Johnson captured event titles in the vault (9.90), uneven bars (9.95) and balance beam (9.925) while also winning the all-around (39.675). She split two of her titles with teammates as juniors Ashanée Dickerson (uneven bars) and Marissa King (balance beam) matched her scores. King also split the floor exercise event title with freshman Kytra Hunter (9.95). The Gators will next compete in the 2012 SEC Championships on March 24 before moving on to the NCAA Regionals on April 7.

4 » In his first game as starting quarterback of the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak completed 21 of 31 passes for 196 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Jacksonville, the league’s defending champion, scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to pull away for a 52-28 victory.

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2012 Florida Gators softball primer: Build it up

Spring is here and No. 2/4 Florida Gators softball is set to begin their 2012 season this weekend by playing five games as part of a three-day tournament hosted by South Florida in Tampa, FL from Feb. 10-12.

The Gators enter the 2012 campaign having lost a number of major pieces that formed the core of last year’s team that went all the way to the championship round of the 2011 Women’s College World Series. However, a strong and dynamic freshman class coupled with a crop of extremely talented players and superb coaching by Tim Walton means that Florida may not be far off from yet another successful season.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators softball primer: Build it up

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FOUR BITS: Tebow fulfills a wish, signed book special offer, Vogelbach gone?, Tucker back

1 » Former Florida Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is one of a handful of athletes who recently participated in ESPN’s collaboration with the Make-A-Wish Foundation titled My Wish. These segments, which will air on SportsCenter, feature athletes fulfilling the wishes of ill children by meeting them, hanging out and sometimes participating in an activity. Tebow’s segment, in which he meets up with 16-year-old Adam Hubbs (“who suffers from a rare immunodeficiency disorder known as MonoMac”) will air on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Below is a preview of Tebow’s segment:

2 » Speaking of Tebow, HarperCollins, the publishers of his memoir Through My Eyes, got in touch with OGGOA to make you all aware that there is currently a contest being run in which 10 lucky fans can enter to win a limited edition signed copy of Tebow’s book. All you have to do is click here and enter your e-mail address! Head over and let us know if you are one of the lucky winners. Contest concludes July 20.

3 » According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Cubs are making a push to pluck first baseman Daniel Vogelbach from the Gators. A second-round pick by Chicago in the 2011 MLB Draft, Vogelbach has already signed with Florida to play college baseball next year should he not work out a professional contract. However, the Tribune reports that the team’s scouting director “normally likes ultra-athletic players, but he fell in love with the 5-foot-11, 240-pounder’s big-time power and was impressed that he dropped about 40 pounds from his junior to senior year.” The Cubs may end up paying Vogelbach nearly $1 million more than recommended for a player drafted at his position in the second round.

4 » Former Gators six-time All-American and four-time Southeastern Conference track champion Erin Tucker (1994-99) has been hired by the University of Florida as an assistant under head coach Mike Holloway. “It’s kind of surreal,” Tucker said in a school release. “When I was at Florida in 1994 it was definitely not the team that it is now. During my time working with athletes at other schools I have seen the program grow and I’d like to think that I had a little something to do with that as an athlete in terms of the ideas that we left when we were done running and helped set the foundation. It is like a dream come true, but I’m hesitant to say that because I know that ‘once a Gator, always a Gator’ and I’ve never not been a Gator. It feels really good to come home again and do what I love.”

Extra BIT » Four members of Florida’s impressive 2011 softball recruiting class will be participating in the Under Armour All-American Game this weekend in Orlando, FL. Pitchers Alyssa Bache and Lauren Haeger will be joined by third baseman Bailey Castro and infielder Jessica Damico as four of 30 players invited to the game.

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SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

1 » The No. 2 Florida Gators baseball and softball programs found out Thursday that each would have four games featured live on the ESPN family of networks during their respective 2011 regular seasons. Florida baseball – which will be featured on ESPNU’s Thursday Night Baseball Game of the Week with their contest at Arkansas on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. – will also face Georgia (away) on April 16 at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, Alabama (home) on April 23 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, and Arkansas (away) on May 7 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Gators softball will have four home games aired live. Their back-to-back games against Alabama on April 23 (4 p.m.) and April 24 (1 p.m.) will air on ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively, while their consecutive contests against Tennessee on May 7 (12 p.m.) and May 8 (3 p.m.) will be featured on ESPN and ESPNU. All games airing on ESPN or ESPN2 will also be simulcast on ESPN3.com.

2 » Florida softball also found out Thursday that their incoming 2011 recruiting class has been ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN/RISE. The Gators are bringing in six freshmen including pitcher Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, FL), third baseman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, FL), infielder Jessica Damico (Gray Summit, MO), shortstop Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, FL), utility player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, AZ), UTL Brianna Little (Middleburg, FL) and SS Katie Medina (Downey, CA). Wrote ESPN: “The Gators had a lot of pressure to bring in a dynamic recruiting class with the group they have leaving this year, and they certainly pulled it off. They bring in a big class of seven athletes that includes two dominating pitchers in Lauren Haeger and Alyssa Bache, power at the plate with big hitters like Bailey Castro and Briana Little, and speed in the infield with tough players like Jessie Damico, Sami Fagan and Katie Medina. The Gators have the best recruiting class of the year, hands down.”

More on Tim Tebow, UF basketball and Jacoby Brissett…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

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Florida receives nine letters of intent Thursday

Between softball, women’s basketball and gymnastics, the University of Florida was honored to receive nine letters of intent on Thursday from future student-athletes who hope to become big parts of their respective Florida Gators teams.

Softball picked up six commitments for its 2011 signing class including pitcher Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, FL), third baseman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, FL), infielder Jessica Damico (Gray Summit, MO), shortstop Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, FL), utility player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, AZ) and SS Katie Medina (Downey, CA).

“To say we are excited about this year’s signing class is an understatement,” head coach Tim Walton said. “Each one of these student-athletes brings a tremendous amount of talent individually. Collectively, they’re one of the best classes in the entire country. We look forward to great things out of this group. We’ll be losing an extremely talented senior class this upcoming season – arguably one of the best Florida softball classes ever. We are excited about coaching this talented incoming class, which we expect to step in right away and replace some Gator greats.”

The basketball team added point guard Carlie Needles (Highlands Ranch, CO) and center Viktorija Dimaite (Gainesville, FL by way of Lithuania), both of whom could have a big impact on the program. “I’m excited about the type of people that they are and what they bring to our team,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “They are all-around winners and are definitely championship-caliber people.” Dimaite is 6’4” and helped lead The Rock School to the 2010 Class 1A girl’s basketball state championship, while Needles comes from a high school program that has produced WNBA-caliber players.

Gymnastics head coach Rhonda Faehn scored another major signing for her program by bringing in Kiersten Wang (Colorado Springs, CO). Wang was runner-up on vault at the 2009 Level 10 Junior Olympic Championships and has excelled at every level of competition she has attempted. “Kiersten contains the perfect all-around package. She has a tremendous amount of quickness, power and talent. She is an exceptional talent who is extremely determined and loves to perform. Kiersten will contribute immediately to this team,” Faehn said.

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