SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.

On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

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Teddy’s Catch: Glimmer of hope for UF baseball

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now attending law school after serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets last season. He joined OGGOA in 2012 as a baseball columnist who will continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

Just a few weeks into the 2013 college baseball season, most fans probably decided to stop following Florida because, let’s face it, the team was playing poorly. While the Gators are still under .500, Florida captured their its SEC series of the year last weekend against a very talented Ole Miss club that was ranked No. 11 going into the series. These past few games have shown signs of improvement from a young and inexperienced team. Though those improvements may not foreshadow a deep postseason run, they do at least shows signs of a bright future.

The Gators have improved in almost every area of the game, but this team is still making too many mental errors, even for a young squad. Against Florida State, the Seminoles loaded the bases with nobody out and Florida was able to respond with two quick outs while keeping the FSU off the scoreboard. Before they could get the third out though, UF walked a run in. While the result is acceptable (one run scored after having the bases loaded with no outs), coaches and scouts notice things like this. Mental toughness is a huge aspect of what they look at when evaluating pitchers for the draft. The good news is that many of these pitchers are young and have another year or two to mature and grow both physically and mentally.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Glimmer of hope for UF baseball

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Florida offense: Quick hitters on Garcia, Jones, Brown, Ajagbe, Andrades and the offensive line

Over the last week-and-a-half of Florida Gators spring football practice, a number of players met with the media to discuss their individual play and the team as a whole. Below are some of the stories, notes and quotes that have fallen through the cracks.

READY AND ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE

A lot has been made over the last two weeks about injuries to the unit, but a huge boon for Florida’s offensive line is newly-eligible redshirt junior Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland who sat out the entire 2012 season and has accepted a position switch from tackle to guard. Garcia was listed as the starting left guard on the Gators’ initial spring practice depth chart and has received nothing but positive views thus far in camp.

Garcia, who missed a few days of practice with a sore back, explained last week that Florida’s depth concerns on the offensive line are legitimate but the players are doing whatever they can to make it work.

“This spring is tough with the numbers that we have. The coaches are telling us we’ve been doing a great job, but at the end of the day, it’s going out there and doing what we need to do. With the O-line, we’re the backbone of the team, so we just got to keep pushing forward and getting the job done,” he said.

Garcia also spoke about why he decided to transfer to the Gators, noting that he is sure he made the right decision. “I’ve had a lot of support with the coaches and the players. That’s the main reason why I came down here, just because of the players that were here, the players I interacted with on my official visit. We got a good O-line, great chemistry, so the transition has been going really well,” he said.

Though he is now fully in the mix, Garcia had to sit out the entire 2012 season, watching the team from afar as it completed an unexpected turnaround under head coach Will Muschamp. He discuss how that affected him as a competitor.

“Honestly, when we were winning, it wasn’t really hard. With a great season, you’re just happy to be part of the team, happy to contribute. It was good getting recognized at the end of the year as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. The hard work didn’t go unnoticed. The coaches did a good job just telling me I’ve been doing well. I was really excited. It wasn’t really a burden on me. I was just happy to be a part of the team.”

“It was tough on the away games sitting in front of the TV, wishing I could be out there trying to help the team. But for the most part we had a really successful season, so it wasn’t really that tough.”

Continue Reading » Florida offense: Quick hitters on Garcia, Jones, Brown, Ajagbe, Andrades and the offensive line

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Florida baseball at 13-16 after tough March

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

The month of March started the way it ended for Florida Gators baseball, with a series victory. Unfortunately for Florida, in between its victories in the Miami and Ole Miss series, the team went 6-8, dropping three-consecutive weekend rubber matches and two midweek contests to in-state rival Florida State.

For the Gators, February ended on a five-game losing streak, including a surprising three-game sweep by Florida Gulf Coast in Gainesville, FL.

Florida opened March with a series against then-No. 21 Miami. UM claimed the series opener 3-2, extending UF’s losing skid to six games. Determined to right the ship, the Gators did just enough on the mound and at the plate to capture the next two games 6-4 and 6-3. The deciding factor of the series was the Hurricanes’ poor defense (seven errors), a problem that frequently plagues Miami in Gainesville.

The positive momentum from the UM series continued when Florida took back-to-back games from Jacksonville. Again, the Gators benefited from an opponent’s fielding issues. This time, UF cashed in on JU’s eight errors over the two games.

Continue Reading » Florida baseball at 13-16 after tough March

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16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Though President Barack Obama‘s official 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket will be released on Wednesday at 9 a.m. on ESPN, the network released his Final Four late Tuesday night. President Obama chose the Florida Gators to win the South Region and also has Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State advancing to the Final Four.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had a hellacious experience during his team’s game on Monday evening. With 5.7 seconds left in overtime and Chicago trailing Denver by a single point, Noah got in perfect position underneath the basket and tipped in what otherwise would have been a missed shot. Though Noah scored the apparent game-winner and the referees did not call interference on the play, they checked the replay and eventually reversed their decision. The problem? Referees are only allowed to use replay to review on-court calls of interference, not to check on non-calls. Take a look at the video below to see what transpired on Monday.

Read 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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FOUR BITS: Mitts, Florida basketball, Zunino

1 » Former Florida Gators defender Heather Mitts, who announced her retirement from soccer in May before the 2012 London Olympics, participated in the games, won a gold medal and has now completed the victory tour with the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Wednesday, Mitts officially ended her career by sending out a long message on her Facebook page. Below is a truncated version of Mitts’s message, which can be read in full by clicking here.

The time has come for me to move onto a new stage of my career. I truly appreciate the women who paved the way, to my friends and dear teammates that I will never forget.

I will miss the little things… the travel by plane, train and mini van, the locker room moments, keeping my teammates on their toes and nothing will ever compare to putting on that US jersey. It’s been an amazing journey with some obstacles but in the very end I feel so fortunate that we were able to close on a golden note. […]

A special thanks to Ohio ODP, my numerous club teams, St. Ursula Academy and the University of Florida. To Becky Burleigh, Vic Campbell & Mark Kirkorian for preparing me to reach the next level & James Galanis for helping me reach my full potential. […]

Its amazing how 28 years of playing a sport I love and always will, can fly by. From my first cap til now, the growth of the sport has been profound. […] I leave with so much gratitude to US Soccer for allowing us the right to play for our country. Lastly the fans. Your constant love and support for the sport and this team is among the best in the world. I look forward to joining you to cheer on this amazing team.

2 » According to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, Florida basketball “saw a modest gain in home attendance” during the 2012-13 season, averaging 10,667 fans in paid attendance as compared to 10,434 from a year ago. The Gators sold out six games (all Southeastern Conference contests) but still finished sixth in the league in attendance behind Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri. All five schools have larger arenas and greater seating capacities than Florida.

3 » The esteemed Ken Pomeroy, who runs KenPom.com and churns out advanced analysis of college basketball, released his “All-kenpom” team for the SEC. Interestingly enough, the team was comprised of all five Gators starters – junior center Patric Young (his Player of the Year), senior forward Erik Murphy, senior guard Kenny Boynton, redshirt senior G Mike Rosario and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He also discusses how Florida’s “lack of success in close games” is over-criticized and provides his projections for the 2013 SEC Tournament.

4 » According to CBSSports.com baseball insider Jon Heyman, the Seattle Mariners are thrilled with how 2013 MLB Draft No. 3 overall pick catcher Mike Zunino is playing but are not prepared to call him up to the major leagues just yet. Seattle will enter the season with Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach as catchers despite Zunino hitting .360 in Single-A and Double-A minor league ball last season. In spring training action, Zunino is just 4/19 (.211) with a homer. His time will most certainly come with the Mariners, but it does not appear as if it will be this season.

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Nelson, den Dekker, Moten

1 » In a piece written Thursday focusing on the Minnesota Vikings and the team’s plans at wide receiver, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported some interesting information about Percy Harvin. Cole takes a look at Harvin’s contract demands and reveals that the 2014 free agent is expecting to receive a deal closer to the $16.5 million per season paid to Detroit’s Calvin Johnson rather than the approximately $11 million being earned by guys like Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson and Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe. “The Vikings fear that the strong-willed Harvin may play the absolute minimum required to get to free agency and that he’ll create such a stink that the last thing the Vikings will consider is franchising him,” Cole reports.

Why the concern? “Harvin threatened to walk out on the team last offseason after hearing that former Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez received a contract extension after only two years.” There is no doubt that Harvin is a top-tier talent – if he was not as injury-prone, an elite-level contract is not something he would need to fight to receive – but he is doing himself absolutely no favors from a professional standpoint with the attitude he has displayed since joining the NFL.

Read three more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Harvin, Nelson, den Dekker, Moten

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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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