Florida softball wins six-straight to open season

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 3 Florida Gators opened up the 2014 season with a clean sweep of the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament in Tampa, FL, winning six games over four days including a thriller over a ranked opponent.

Florida (6-0) outscored its competitors 40-13 over the weekend as junior right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger, who was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week on Monday, shined by tossing her first-career no-hitter in the event’s penultimate matchup.

Starting off the season with a win for the eighth time in head coach Tim Walton’s nine-year tenure, the Gators topped the South Florida Bulls in their opening game. Senior RHP Hanna Rogers pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while recording six strikeouts. UF literally weathered the storm – a 25 minute rain delay – with its bats coming alive in the fourth inning.

Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz led the way offensively with a bases-clearing three-RBI single in the fourth inning, which was part of a seven-run fourth for Florida. The Gators, which won 10-3, also benefited from some free passes. “We had 11 walks and five hit-by-pitches – that’s 16 free bases,” said Walton. “We had really solid plate discipline.”

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Jonathon Crawford throws a no-hitter, leads Florida to 4-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford was nearly perfect for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball on Friday, throwing the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament to lead Florida over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 4-0 on the first day of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.

Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament.

Despite his unbelievable effort on the mound, Crawford received tons of help both at the plate and in the field from freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, HR, 4 RBI, R), who registered a career-high four RBIs on the evening and snagged a liner with two outs in the top of the ninth to preserve his pitcher’s no-hitter.

Senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R, BB, SB) led off the bottom of the second with a single, stole second, moved over to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on an RBI single by Turgeon. The Gators, however, got three-straight outs with two runners on base and ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.

Florida had a number of opportunities to plate runners in the next two innings but failed in that mission and was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. UF ended the game 2-for-15 in such situations.

Turgeon provided that second hit with a three-run blast in the fifth though the Gators quickly fell back into the swing of things (or lack thereof) by getting out thrice more with the lead-off runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.

Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in his no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning.

[OGGOA Extra: Mick Hubert calls Jonathon Crawford’s no-hitter]

Florida (43-18) advances to the winner’s bracket of the Gainesville Regional where they will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday at 7 p.m. GT defeated College of Charleston in the regional opener; CoC face Bethune-Cookman (34-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the loser being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, Leak, Parsons, Horford

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (32-10) got back to its winning ways on Wednesday, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (24-18) in the team’s second meeting of the season. Florida won 10-1 behind plenty of hitting and a reassuring start from sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 4.0 IP, 4 H, K). The Gators only hit two homers in the game – a two-run shot by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the sixth and a solo shot by freshman pinch hitter Brandon Sedell (the first of his young career) – but still managed to manufacture seven more runs. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (0/1, 2 RBI, R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, RBI, 2 R) also had big nights at the plate. Florida will conclude its nine-game homestand (4-2) with a weekend series against Arkansas.

2 » Two days after announcing his signing, the AFL’s Orlando Predators finally obtained quarterback Chris Leak in a trade with the Jacksonville Sharks. Leak, who went 21-of-31 for 196 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in the season opener for Jacksonville, was moved to a reserve role the next week in practice and refused to continue playing for the team. The Predators tried to sign him on Monday and make him the “face of the franchise,” but he was still under contract to the Sharks, which refused to cut him outright. Instead Jacksonville and Orlando (with the managing partner of each team brothers with the other) swapped Leak for offensive lineman/fullback Ailao Eliapo to complete the transaction.

3 » A second-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Gators forward Chandler Parsons knew he could impact the Houston Rockets as a rookie but not even he could be sure how much he would be able to do for the team this season. Parsons’s rookie campaign was so impressive that he has landed at No. 7 on Grantland.com’s final list of “best rookies of the NBA season.” Writes Sebastian Pruiti:

Chandler Parsons is another player who was drafted late but who was productive as soon as he stepped on an NBA court. He was best when defending isolation possessions. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons held opponents to 26 percent shooting and a PPP of 0.648 in one-on-one situations, placing him in the top 20 percent of all NBA players. The key to Parsons’s defensive game is his length. His long arms allow him to back off quicker offensive players and contain their dribble penetration while still being able to contest their shots.

Parsons also has the potential to be a very versatile offensive player. I say potential because he struggles in some situations, especially as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays. Parsons just doesn’t have a feel for the pick-and-roll game yet, and he commits turnovers 25 percent of the time in these situations. As he becomes more comfortable as a ball handler and learns to read defenses, he should improve.

4 » Despite telling OGGOA last week that it was “realistic” he would be able to return for the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and mentioning the same thing to media in his local market, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford will indeed miss his team’s series against Boston as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral that has sidelined him basically the entire season. Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to play in his team’s second round series should they make it that far.

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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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Florida softball wins twice, set for regional final

Hosting the Gainesville Regional as part of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, No. 3 Florida Gators softball (49-9) earned a pair of victories over the weekend and advanced to the regional final set for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Pressly Softball Stadium.

Florida got the tournament started by shutting out the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (33-25) 8-0 in five innings on Friday. With senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (18-2) on the mound, the Gators took care of the Wildcats early by rallying for four runs in the bottom of the first inning. Florida added two more scores each in the third and fifth innings to cruise to victory.

Brombacher (5.0 IP, 5 K, 3 H, BB) tossed a gem for the Gators, only allowing three hits while striking out five and receiving plenty of help at the plate from her teammates. Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (2-2, HR, 3 RBI, R) led UF offensively, but the Gators also got stellar performances from junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2-3, 2 RBI, R) and sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte (1-3, 2 RBI, R).

The result was the same on Saturday though the effort to earn it was much greater. Florida stayed aggressive in front of the home crowd and defeated the No. 14 UCLA Bruins (34-18) 4-2.

UCLA led early, utilizing a two-run homer from left fielder B.B. Bates in the first inning to put UF on its heels. However, the Gators responded quickly by scoring single runs in the bottom of the first, second and third to jump ahead 3-2.

Senior first baseman Megan Bush (1-2, RBI, BB) knocked Moultrie (1-2, RBI, R, SB) home in the first, and Moultrie returned the favor in the second with a RBI double to score freshman third baseman Kasey Fagan (0-3, R, SB), who reached on a throwing error before stealing second base. Senior second baseman Aja Paculba (1-1, 2 R, BB, SB) reached on a walk in the third, stole second and advanced to third on an illegal pitch before scoring on a passed ball.

Florida tacked on one more run in the bottom of the fifth as Paculba hit a single with one out and eventually scored on a wild pitch. The Gators notched five stolen bases on the afternoon as freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (31-5) allowed two unearned runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in a complete game effort.

UF will face either UCLA or Jacksonville in the regional final on Sunday.

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Florida drops Bethune-Cookman 7-3 in regional

No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (43-15) looked like their normal selves Friday evening, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (35-21) 7-3 at McKethan Stadium in the 2010 NCAA Gainesville Regional. Freshman starter Hudson Randall (8-3) tossed a stellar 7.1 innings for the win, striking out a career-high 10 batters and not allowing a hit until the fifth inning. It marked his sixth-straight victory.

Florida’s offense provided Randall with plenty of support from the get-go, scoring four runs in the second inning and three more in the sixth. Senior outfielder Matt den Dekker and freshman shortstop Nolan Fontana each went 2-4 from the plate with two RBI and a walk apiece. Freshman catcher Mike Zunino (1-3) added the other RBI.

The Gators will continue Gainesville Regional action Saturday at 7 p.m. in a winner’s bracket game against Oregon State (32-22), which beat Florida Atlantic (35-23) 6-4 on Friday afternoon. The game will air live on Sun Sports and ESPN3.com.

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TWO BITS: Softball wins, m-tennis falls in NCAAs

1 » Though they had to suffer through a two-hour rain delay, Gainesville Regional hosts No. 4 Florida Gators softball (44-8) defeated the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (32-23) 6-0 in the first game of the 2010 NCAA Tournament on Friday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Junior starter Stephanie Brombacher (30-6) rang up 11 opposing hitters over seven innings to earn her 30th win in a complete game effort. In support, junior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (1-3) tallied three RBI and junior outfielder Kelsey Bruder (2-3) nailed her 12th home run of the season (and the team’s 97th) in the second inning. The Gators will face Central Florida (which defeated Florida International 7-1 on Friday) in the first game of the day on Saturday.

2 » On the opposite end of the spectrum is No. 6 Florida men’s tennis (21-5), which ended their season Friday with a 4-2 upset loss to the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs (20-8) in the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA. The No. 8 doubles pair of redshirt senior Antoine Benneteau and junior Alexandre Lacroix, which led the Gators all season, fell 8-3; each player also lost their singles matches. In fact, none of Florida’s ranked players or pairs were victorious Friday. Benneteau and Lacroix will continue competing in NCAA individual tournaments where they will participate without being tied to a team result.

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