FOUR BITS: Baseball’s wins, tennis, Horn, Proctor

1 » No. 4/5 Florida Gators baseball (36-12, 19-7 SEC) took a pair of 4-3 victories from the Georgia Bulldogs (14-35, 3-21 SEC) over the weekend in their final home series at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL for the 2010 season. Friday night, freshman catcher Mike Zunino won the game for the Gators with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning. Sophomore Alex Panteliodis earned the start but was pulled after giving up three earned run in five innings; classmate Greg Larson (3-1) came on to finish out the game, shutting the Bulldogs out the rest of the way while striking out three. Freshman designated hitter Brian Johnson (2-4) pulled in an RBI to go along with the two Zunino added over the course of the evening.

2 » Looking to capitalize Saturday, Florida won in similar fashion. Sophomore catcher Ben McMahan led off the bottom of the ninth with a solo homer to break the 3-3 tie and help his team edge Georgia. Sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker (2-4, one run) and senior outfielder Matt den Dekker (1-4, two runs, RBI) led the way for the Gators offensively, with junior Kevin Chapman (3-0) picking up the relief win in 1.2 innings of work. Freshman Hudson Randall started the game, tossing 5.2 solid innings with five strikeouts and two earned runs.

Florida is tied with South Carolina atop the Southeastern Conference standings but has two more games to play (Sun. vs. Georgia, Tues. vs. North Florida) before traveling to Columbia, SC, for a three-game SEC-deciding series to close the regular season.

3 » Like it’s women’s counterpart, No. 6 men’s tennis (20-4) – which also holds the sixth seed in the event – swept the South Carolina State Huskies (11-11) 4-0 in first-round action in the 2010 NCAA Tournament at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL, on Saturday. The No. 8 doubles pair of junior Alexandre Lacroix and redshirt senior Antoine Benneteau took their doubles match; No. 7 Lacroix also won his singles contest, as did Benneteau and the rest of UF’s squad. Second-round action continues Sunday.

4 » Gators sophomore decathlete Gray Horn and senior jumper Shara Proctor each defended their titles, taking home the 2010 SEC Outdoor Championships in the decathalon and long jump, respectively. Competing at Tom Black Track in Knoxville, TN, Horn turned in a career-high 7,652 – the second-best decathalon score in UF history. He is the ninth person in conference history to win the title back-to-back and first since 1974. Horn is also the only Florida track & field athlete to win an SEC decathalon title. Similarly, Proctor won her second-straight title on the same track and became just the sixth multiple winner of the event with a victorious jump of 6.69m/21-11.50 (+1.4) – the best of her college career.

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TWO BITS: Toledo returns to mound in UF win

1 » No. 4/6 Florida Gators baseball (34-12) topped the Florida Atlantic Owls (31-19) 7-3 Wednesday night, but the story of the game was the return of sophomore pitcher Tommy Toledo from a serious injury sustained on March 14. Toledo, who broke facial bones after taking a line drive off the face two months ago, tossed a scoreless inning without trepidation. Senior Jeff Barfield (3-0) got the win after four innings of work as the Gators added three home runs behind him from freshman shortstop Nick Fontana (2-3, three runs), senior outfielder Matt den Dekker (1-3, two RBI) and freshman third baseman Austin Maddox (1-4, two RBI). Maddox’s blast tied Florida’s single-season record for homers by a freshman (16).

2 » The Gainesville Sun’s reigning two-time golfer of the year, J.D. Tomlinson (Gainesville, FL), has committed to join the Gators’ 2011 recruiting class, according to the paper. The 10th-ranked golfer in the nation, Tomlinson can officially sign with Florida on Nov. 10. “It is amazing, I have grown up wanting to play golf at the University of Florida and I had worked really hard to make that happen,” he told the Sun. “I am really glad my hard work has paid off.”

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TWO BITS: Larson’s future, Johnson’s nomination

1 » Roosevelt High School head coach Lee Taylor, who has been teaching Florida Gators 2010 three-star forward commitment Cody Larson for the last few years, spoke with the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday afternoon about the player, calling him a “terrific human being.” Taylor told the Sentinel’s Jeremy Fowler that Larson is aware of his mistakes, has learned from them and takes the entire situation as a growing experience. “I think Cody understands this whole process will make Cody a better player and a better person,” Taylor said. “He’s a smart, terrific kid who does well in the classroom. Getting away and going to Florida will really help him move forward.” OGGOA’s Story

2 » Florida baseball’s left-handed starting pitcher and designated hitter Brian Johnson has been named to the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award watch list, according to the University of Florida. He is on one only 25 players to be recognized on the list and could receive it on July 2. Johnson, in his short career, is already a two-time SEC Freshman of the Week who is 4-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 53 innings. In the batters box, he is hitting at a .385 clip with 10 RBI and a grand slam.

Extra Bit » Former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray, who won Super Bowl XLIV as a member of the New Orleans Saints, sat down for a wide-ranging interview with SportingNews. McCray touched on winning the big game, playing for defensive coordinator Gary Williams and what he would like to do when his NFL career is over.

Extra Bit II » Check out this video of Larson from one of his local news stations:

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Tied with six left, Florida baseball hopes to rise up

The weekend served as a primer for No. 4/6 Florida Gators baseball (33-11, 17-6 SEC), which had hoped to take control of the Southeastern Conference with a sweep of the Alabama Crimson Tide (28-19, 9-14 SEC). Instead, Florida only took two of three games, leaving themselves tied with South Carolina atop the SEC standings.

After earning a 9-3 win Friday, the Gators clinched their sixth-straight series with a 14-8 victory in the second game of the three-game weekend at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL. It was Florida’s season-high seventh-straight win and the first time any SEC Eastern Division opponent had defeated Alabama at home since 2004 (just the second time since 1995).

Freshman designated hitter Brian Johnson (2-3) scored two runs while jacking a grand slam; freshman catcher Mike Zunino (2-4) nailed a three-run homer, and sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker (3-5) added a solo shot with two RBI. Sophomore starter Alex Panteliodis (8-2) tossed six innings for the win.

The Gators were unable to put away the Crimson Tide on Saturday, allowing Alabama junior shortstop Josh Rutledge (3-5) to power his team with a career-high six RBI for their only victory of the series. Sophomore reliever Anthony DeSclafani (2-3) picked up the loss for Florida, but Johnson’s start and subsequent six runs allowed in 3.1 innings of work was the main reason for the loss.

UF and USC (36-11, 17-7 SEC) will now duel it out over their last six conference games (two series) to determine who will take home the regular season crown. And considering the two teams will face-off in the final three games of the season in Columbia, SC, there is a possibility that the championship may be played for in the season finale on May 22.

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TWO BITS: Baseball takes Bama, Wright inspired

1 » No. 4/6 Florida Gators baseball (32-11, 16-6 SEC) handled the Alabama Crimson Tide (28-18, 9-13 SEC) on Friday on the road at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, coming away with a 9-3 victory on the heels of freshman starter Hudson Randall’s seven shutout innings. Randall (6-3), cleared way for the Gators’ bats to get to work, and the lineup responded with every single player getting a hit. Freshman catcher Mike Zunino (2-4) led the way with three RBI; freshman third baseman Austin Maddox (2-5) attempted to match him with two RBI and two runs of his own. Florida faces Alabama the next two days before returning to Gainesville, FL, for a five-game home stand.

2 » A day before Mother’s Day, it is good to hear a nice mother-son story prominently featuring a former Florida football player. For new Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, his mother Andrea Eluett has stood as a major part of his life, which is the reason why he gave her his 2009 BCS National Championship ring last year as a present. “She’s been a big inspiration in my life,” Wright said. “Growing up, we didn’t have it all. Everything wasn’t going right for us. But she’d always be there for us no matter what it took. Her [returning to school for a pharmacy degree] showed our family that we could go to college and be productive and get great jobs. It let us know that we could do all things and not to let anything hold us back.” Read the rest: ChicagoBears.com

UPDATE » Four former Gators started competing in The PLAYERS Championship on Thursday, but only one remains after two rounds of action. Camilo Villegas (143), Brian Gay (144) and Mark Calcavecchia (147) all missed the cut while Chris Couch will continue competing with a two-day 142 (-3).

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TWO BITS: LaPorta struggling, Harrison caught

1 » Former Florida Gators baseball star Matt LaPorta, now a starter with the Cleveland Indians, is struggling mightily in his first full season in MLB. The two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2005, 2007) batted .254 with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 52 games his rookie season (2009) but is not coming close to that pace this year. In 20 appearances, LaPorta is hitting .214 with no homers and only a single RBI to his name. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft was expected to be a source of power in the major leagues but has yet to live up to the expectations he had garnered. Cleveland acquired LaPorta as part of the trade that sent now-New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago.

2 » Fellow former Florida baseball player Ben Harrison is also struggling, but he is facing a very different type of conflict. On Friday, Harrison – who is currently a free agent in the minor leagues – was suspended 100 games for violating MiLB’s drug program. He was caught buying and using amphetamines, which were outlawed in MLB beginning in 2006. During his University of Florida career, Harrison hit 40 home runs and 192 RBI, ranking him second all-time in both categories behind arguably the best player in school history, the now-retired Brad Wilkerson.

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SIX BITS: Nelson, Cunningham, softball, lax, UK

1 » On Feb. 1, OGGOA reported that former Florida Gators safety Reggie Nelson could be cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars if he does not show significant improvement by the time training camp concludes. Nelson owned up to ESPN about his issues in 2009 and has figured out why they occurred. “I had mistakes last year, I did,” he said. “I’ve watched film since I’ve been here in February and I can own up and say, ‘Yes, I did blow some coverages. Yes, I did miss tackles.’ That’s something I’ve looked at. I have to correct them. You’ve got to look at it: I played safety, corner, nickel, so many different positions. Most players would be like, ‘Oh, no, I’m not doing that, y’all drafted me for this.’ That’s not me, I want to win. I took that challenge, I played corner, I played nickel. I am a competitive guy. [...] They made their decision and I’ve got to live with it.” Nelson also said he will not do the same thing in 2010 – if it is up to him. “The way things happened last year, I don’t think I’d do it,” he said. “I will not do it. I tried that last year. It didn’t work. I don’t think it was fair to me. I would not go back. You live and you lean. It’s their decision, regardless. The only thing I can do is show up and play football.”

2 » The New England Patriots want former Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham to replace recently released outside linebacker Adalius Thomas – this much is known. How he will progress in the transition remains to be seen, but head coach Bill Belichick is just as confident as Cunningham is in himself. “It’s all football. I’m a football player,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to study the playbooks and just do whatever it takes to get better, and keep on getting better. […] I’m a hard worker and fundamental technician. […] Left or right, just get to the ball.” For what its worth, Cunningham has also taken to giving a name to the influx of former Gators with the Patriots – “Gator Nation North,” he calls it.

Four more BITS on softball, lacrosse, baseball and Kentucky basketball posting the lowest average GPA in the SEC…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Nelson, Cunningham, softball, lax, UK

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Florida baseball sweeps three-game series vs. LSU

No. 4/6 Florida Gators baseball (31-11, 15-6 SEC) swept three home games against the defending National Champion No. 24/15 LSU Tigers (32-13, 11-10 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, over the weekend. Area weather prevented the games from running smoothly, but the Gators did not let that deter them from three somewhat dominating victories.

The series opener on Friday night was suspended in the bottom of the fifth inning (rain) as Florida held a 7-0 lead; it would end with LSU piling on some runs but the Gators coming out on top 8-5 on Saturday. Sophomore Alex Panteliodis (7-2) got the start Friday, tossing five shutout innings with two strikeouts. Junior closer Kevin Chapman (S8) finished the job late Saturday, striking out two in 2.2 scoreless innings for the save.

Sophomore outfielder Tyler Thompson (3-3) and junior second baseman Josh Adams (1-3) each tallied three RBI, Adams’ coming off a three-run homer in the second inning.

In the middle of the opening game, Florida completed its first official win of the series with a 7-3 victory early Saturday afternoon. Freshman starter Hudson Randall (5-3) threw a career-high seven strikeouts in eight innings of work, though his first pitch of the game marked the 11th home run of the season for Tigers’ OF Mikie Mahtook (2-4). Senior OF Jonathan Pigott (1-2) led the way with two RBI for UF.

Sunday’s finale was all about power for the Gators. Senior OF Matt den Dekker (5-5) and freshmen third baseman Austin Maddox (1-3) and starting pitcher Brian Johnson (2-4) all hit moon shots, with Johnson recording his first career grand slam while picking up his fourth win of the season (4-2) in 6.1 innings. Both den Dekker and Johnson totaled four RBI on the day with Maddox picking up three of his own.

Though Florida remains one game back of No. 3 South Carolina (34-9, 16-5 SEC) in the Southeastern Conference standings, it has won five consecutive games against top-10 opponents and is now a sterling 23-3 at home in 2010. The Gators have won six of seven SEC series this season, winning five straight for the first time since 2005.

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