South Carolina downs Florida 7-3 in CWS opener

An explosive five-run fifth inning for the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks‘ offense erased an early lead by No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-19) and allowed South Carolina (46-17) to top Florida 7-3 on Saturday night in both teams’ first game of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

With the loss, UF fell to 27-6 when scoring first and move on to the loser’s portion of the double-elimination tournament where they will have to win four-straight games in order to advance to the Championship Series for the second-straight season, something that has happened only six times dating back to 1988.

Gamecocks left-handed pitcher Michael Roth (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) earned the victory despite giving up the most earned runs of any of his CWS appearances. Gators LHP Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) got out of jams in the first four innings but came apart at the seams in the fifth.

South Carolina threatened first by loading the bases in the opening frame thanks to an error, single and walk, but Johnson struck out the side to save Florida. The Gamecocks squandered another opportunity to score in the third but failed to score a runner from 90 feet away following a lead-off double and sacrifice fly.

It was the Gators that got on the board first with a rally in the third. Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4, R) and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit singled to start the inning, but Florida found themselves with runners on the corners following a failed bunt and groundout. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker then stepped up and cleared the bases with a two-out, two-RBI double to deep left, giving UF an early 2-0 lead.

The Gators were in another tough situation in the fourth after Johnson allowed the first two batters on via a single and walk, but Florida’s deft defense registered three-straight outs to get out of the frame.

UF was not as lucky the next inning as Johnson started by loading the bases without recording an out. He then gave up a bases-clearing triple followed by double to deep right, allowing USC to take a 4-2 lead before being pulled. Senior LHP Greg Larson (1.0 IP, 2 H, K) replaced him and got the Gators out of the jam but not without giving up another run and allowing the Gamecocks to extend their lead to 5-2.

Florida cut into South Carolina’s three-run lead in the bottom of the fifth as a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Mike Zunino scored freshman third baseman Josh Tobias, who had moved over to third after getting on base with a lead-off single.

The Gators threatened again in the bottom of the seventh but came up empty after Ramjit (2/3) and Tobias (2/3, R) led off the frame with singles. The duo moved over to second and third on a sacrifice bunt but never made their way home. Florida ended the inning with Tucker (2/5, 2 RBI) flying out to shallow left and Johnson (0/4) hitting a hard line out to right after Zunino (0/2, RBI, 2 BB) was intentionally walked to load the bases.

UF sophomore right-hander Keenan Kish (3.0 IP, H, ER, BB, 3 K) kept USC at bay but walked the lead-off batter in the ninth, who eventually came around to score after advancing via a ground out and a pair of wild pitches, the second of which came from junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (0.1 IP, H, R, K). One out away from ending the frame, the Gators committed two fielding errors and gave up an infield single in between, allowing the Gamecocks to add another insurance run and increase their lead to 7-3.

Florida will face Kent State (46-19) on Monday at 5 p.m. in an elimination game that will air live on ESPN2. The winner will take on either Arkansas or South Carolina (Monday at 9 p.m.) in another elimination game on Wednesday.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators primed for CWS (Part II)

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 serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Below is the second of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series. Part one of Teddy’s Catch was published Thursday morning.

On an extremely positive note, many of the freshmen on this Florida baseball team have continued their solid seasons and gained some much-needed confidence and experience down the stretch. The Gators have seen some solid postseason play from freshmen infielders Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias. Tobias has made a number of spectacular defensive plays at third base but also had two extremely clutch hits on Sunday (lead-off double in the ninth and the RBI single in the 10th to pad the lead).

It may have only been one measly double, but it was huge for his confidence as a hitter since he has struggled at the plate this year. Turgeon at second base joined Tobias at the bottom of the order with some clutch hits of his own and has also been playing quite well in the field. You can see him getting more and more comfortable at the plate not only game-to-game but also at bat-to-at bat.

These two freshmen are getting it done but Florida has also seen some fantastic outings from their young pitchers including sophomore starter Jonathon Crawford and a number of their bullpen arms. These guys are crucial to UF succeeding in Omaha.

One youngster who has been the odd man out lately as it pertains to the Gators’ weekend rotation is sophomore righty Karsten Whitson. It has been a tough season for Whitson who battled injuries early in the season and lost his spot in the rotation to the red-hot Crawford. Whitson, however, kept his head and confidence up and came through with what I think was the MVP performance of the Super Regional. He came into the game in the ninth with runners on base, struck out two, preserved the tie and extended the game into extra innings.

A former early first-round pick, Whitson showed exactly why he earned that designation on Sunday. He was pitching between 92-94 mph with an incredible slider and even mixed in a changeup or two that made the left-handed hitters look foolish.

Some scouts have been concerned about Whitson’s health and have said in recent weeks that they would be hesitant to draft him in the first round again next season. If he can stay healthy and pitch next year like he did against N.C. State in a short relief outing, he will be one of the first college pitchers taken in the MLB Draft – guaranteed.

Florida will open up against two-time defending national champion South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks will likely throw their ace, southpaw Michael Roth, who was a ninth-round pick in the MLB Draft this year but is nonetheless extremely talented. He rarely throws harder that 86 mph, but his movement and repertoire of pitches is impressive, much like former Gators lefty Stephen Locke.

Junior lefty will take the mound for Florida and make his first start since the SEC Tournament. Johnson has experience both pitching in the CWS and against South Carolina. While he may have been the second- or even third-best starter in the Gators’ weekend rotation, he will be the first pitcher used this time around and for good reason: Johnson has won both games he started against the Gamecocks this year. The most recent decision was a complete game win in which he only gave up two earned runs in a nine-inning masterpiece.

Johnson’s ability to throw his fastball in the low 90s and mix in a slow curveball and deceptive changeup make him an easy choice to keep USC’s power hitters off-balance. South Carolina’s big slugger is first baseman Christian Walker, who struggles with left-handed pitchers’ change-ups. In the end it was a relatively easy choice for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and not much of a surprise at all. Should Johnson continue his dominance of USC, the Gators’ pitching staff will be set up great for a deep run.

UF will have to beat one of the best teams in the country to stay in the winner’s bracket and must do so against their best pitcher and with the team’s collective chest out as they have not lost a postseason game in more than two years. It will be tough, but Florida has the better team on paper. It is time to put up or shut up and for O’Sullivan and the boys, there is no time like the present.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators primed for CWS (Part I)

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 serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Below is the first of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series.

Florida Gators baseball is back in the College World Series. While everyone expected Florida to return to Omaha, NE this season riding the bats of junior catcher Mike Zunino and senior right fielder Preston Tucker and the arms of juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson, the Gators have also relied on youth both at the plate and on the mound to fill in some important gaps.

Playing in the CWS in unlike anything else a player will experience in college baseball. It pales in comparison to playing Florida State in Tallahassee, FL or even against Miami down in Coral Gables, FL. The stands are packed with 20,000-plus fans and the field is bigger than most that you play on during the year. Preparing for the event is nearly impossible if you’ve never been there before as a player.

My freshman year, the Gators defeated the Seminoles in the Super Regionals for the opportunity to head to Omaha, and it was crucial that we had an experienced senior-laden team to keep everyone grounded and focused. Fans should feel confident when cameras showed Zunino rallying the troops in the ninth inning against N.C. State; that leadership and ability to take control of the team not only by his words but by what he does on the field is immensely important.

Florida will be going to Omaha for the third-straight year, so their abundance of experience should play a critical role in keeping the younger players focused and hungry for that elusive championship. Your first trip to Omaha as a player is overwhelming, but this tournament is all business for the Gators as they strive to finally bring home the national title that has eluded the program for so long.

While everything may seem positive heading into the CWS, there is an issue with one of Florida’s most important players that has drawn my attention both as a scout and fan. Junior closer Austin Maddox again blew a ninth-inning lead in the second game of the Super Regional – his second destructive outing this postseason. While it was not anywhere near as statistically concerning as what he did against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, it was still tough to watch as someone whose years of experience have allowed him to develop a sense about pitching prospects.

Maddox has struggled mightily for two reasons. First, he has slowly lost velocity on his fastball as the season has progressed. Initially pitching between 92-94 mph, Maddox was hitting around 89-92 mph against N.C. State. While this might seem like a minimal dropoff, this small difference is enormous at the plate and makes it easier for hitters to handle fastballs, especially inside pitches that become easier for hitters to react to and turn on. Second, Maddox’s slider has been downright horrendous. He bounced one behind a hitter at one point and hit a batter another. He could not locate his slider and therefore was forced to throw his now-average-velocity fastball over the heart of the plate because his slider had put him behind in the count so often. He may have simply been gripping the ball too hard or too tight when trying to throw the slider, hoping to give it more break and bite, but “choking” the ball also leads to less control.

Maddox is not injured, at least not to anyone’s knowledge, but his being overused this season has caused him to wear down the further the Gators go into the postseason.

Hopefully head coach Kevin O’Sullivan can tinker with Maddox’s slider grip and give him a few extra days of rest before he is called on to pitch in the CWS because he is one of the Gators’ most important players. Otherwise UF may have a major question to answer: Who can/would/should be called on to get them to the finish line in close games?

Part two of Teddy’s Catch will be published Friday morning!

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No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-18) advanced to the College World Series for the third-straight season after completing a 9-8 victory in an extra-inning affair on Sunday against the No. 16 N.C. State Wolfpack (43-20) in the second game of Super Regional action at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida swept the Super Regional from N.C. State after picking up a 7-1 victory on Saturday but needed seven pitchers, three clutch home runs and 10 full innings to register the come-from-behind win on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford started on the hill for UF and threw 17 pitches in his first two innings of work before a weather delay forced the teams off the field. He wound up returning following a 2:23 delay though his opponent, ace Carlos Rodon, ended his day with three strikeouts over three no-hit innings.

Upon returning to the mound, Crawford gave up a lead-off double to end a streak of 14.2 innings without allowing a hit dating back to May 22. He was then hit for an RBI double two batters later as the Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead through three innings.

The Gators did not waste time taking back control of the game as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, RBI, R, BB, SB) led off the top of the fourth by turning on the first pitch he saw and sending it out of the park to tie the contest. The onslaught continued against N.C. State reliever Anthony Tzamtzis as Florida juniors catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Brian Johnson hit back-to-back doubles to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon followed two batters later with an RBI single to right to score Zunino, giving UF a 2-1 lead and sending Tzamtzis to the showers. The Gators added two more runs to increase their advantage to 4-1 with freshman left fielder Justin Shafer hitting a sacrifice fly to center that scored Johnson, and Turgegon coming around to score after stealing a base and being knocked in via an RBI single to left by junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1/5, RBI).

The Wolfpack similarly responded by tagging Crawford (3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB, 5 K) for three-straight two-out hits in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second, RF Brian Austin smacked a two-RBI double to deep center that reduced his team’s deficit to 4-3 and brought senior RHP Greg Larson out of the bullpen.

Read the rest of the Florida-N.C. State game story…after the break!
Continue Reading » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators, O’Sullivan hot right now

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.

Florida baseball is heating up again, and it could not be coming at a better time for the Gators. After cruising through the Gainesville Regional, Florida learned it would have a few days off before they take on N.C. State in Super Regional action beginning on Saturday. However, before that could occur, many of the team’s players had their minds slightly preoccupied as the 2012 MLB Draft was held Monday-Wednesday. Nine Gators were selected in the first 20 rounds, all of which are likely to leave the team before next season. With this life-changing event now behind them, Florida’s most talented players can now focus on what lies ahead – a potential College World Series berth.

UF’s attention has turned to N.C. State, which defeated Southeastern Conference powerhouse Vanderbilt in the finals of the Raleigh Regional. Despite that impressive performance, the Wolfpack is unlikely to be able to similarly stop the Gators. Sophomore right-hander Johnathon Crawford is coming off an impressive no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman and juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson both had strong outings. Randall will begin the Super Regional on the hill for Florida, which also has an extremely solid bullpen that has continued to build its confidence.

It is also good to see the Gators’ offense back on track. Florida had sputtered offensively at times this year but putting up 15 runs against a solid Georgia Tech team in their last regional game is certainly promising. The return of freshman third baseman Josh Tobias has also been a lift for the Gators because that pushes junior Cody Dent, a massive offensive liability, out of the lineup.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino continued his dominance of college pitching with another pair of homers, and Florida’s lineup finally appears to be both balanced and healthy. This is especially important for the Gators because it makes the practice of “pitching around players” (walking them instead of throwing pitches in the strike zone) a waste of time for the opposition in most circumstances.

To quote my old friend Joakim Noah: “The Gator boys are hot right now!”

Read the rest of the latest edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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SIX BITS: Larson, Siler, Beal, Harvin, Mather

1 » Florida Gators senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson became the ninth member of his team selected in the 2012 MLB Draft when he was chosen on Wednesday with the No. 631 overall pick in the 20th round by the Boston Red Sox. Larson is the third Florida thrower to be picked by Boston in the draft after the Red Sox chose junior lefty Brian Johnson with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round and junior righty Austin Maddox with the No. 118 overall pick in the third round. It is the second time in team history that Boston has picked three players from UF (1979).

2 » Former Gators linebacker Brandon Siler signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 with hopes of proving that he could be the full-time starter and deserved a multi-year contract. Unfortunately for Siler, he tore his Achilles and never stepped on the field for the team in a regular season game; fortunately Kansas City decided to give him a second chance and signed him to a one-year extension in January. “It’s been frustrating,” Siler told the team’s website following the Chiefs’ seventh organized team activity practice. “My momma brought it to my attention that I haven’t been out of football this long since I was seven years old and that kind of puts everything in perspective. Football is what I do. […] It’s my job to go out there and do what I do, and I can’t do that right now, so I shouldn’t be talked about. I plan on getting back out there and showing what I can do. […] I’m just going to keep working with the trainers and follow what they have me doing. I want to get back out there immediately, of course, but they have a plan for me and I’m just going to follow that.”

Read four more BITS (and watch a video interview)…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Larson, Siler, Beal, Harvin, Mather

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Red Sox nab Gators LHP Brian Johnson with No. 31 overall pick in first round of 2012 MLB Draft

Round 1 – No. 31
Brian Johnson, LHP
Boston Red Sox


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 235 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Junior

A two-way player who has made a major impact on the Florida Gators both on the mound and in the batter’s box, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson became the team’s second player selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday when the Boston Red Sox chose him with the No. 31 overall pick.

It is the first time in school history that Florida has had two players selected in the first round of the same regular June draft with junior catcher Mike Zunino also going No. 3 overall to the Seattle Mariners. The Gators had a pair of players picked in the first round of the secondary June draft in 1983 (Robby Thompson, Rich Rice).

Johnson is UF’s eighth first-round draft choice to be selected in the regular June draft and 14th first-round pick overall* in team history.

Though he can be extremely productive both as a pitcher and designated hitter, Johnson will primarily be a hurler at the next level. He has the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter and can throw four pitches for strikes. Johnson possesses solid breaking stuff along with a fastball around 90 mph.

He was a unanimous Freshman All-American in 2010 and a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team both as a pitcher and designated hitter. During his sophomore season he was a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year award and Dick Howser Trophy, also earning a first-team All-SEC nod for his work at the plate.

Johnson is the first Florida player to be selected by Boston since first baseman Matt LaPorta in 2006 (he did not leave school) and would be the first player to sign with the Red Sox (should he choose to do so) since outfielder Jeff Corsaletti in 2005.

He is 8-4 on the mound this season with a 3.56 ERA and 68/15 K/BB ratio in a team-high 86.0 innings. Johnson is also hitting .310 with five homers, 40 RBIs and 10 walks.

* Burke was selected with a first-round pick twice (1991, 1992). Florida has also had six players selected with first-round picks in “secondary” MLB drafts held only for previously-drafted players, which have been discontinued since 1987.

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Preview: Florida Gators in the 2012 MLB Draft

Though it may be to less fanfare than its football and basketball counterparts, the 2012 MLB Draft officially begins Monday night at 7 p.m. live on MLB Network. One year after the Florida Gators saw a school-record 11 team members selected, Florida may have more players picked in the first round than ever have been previously in a single draft.

The MLB’s first-year player draft consists of 40 rounds and is open to both high school players and juniors and seniors in college. Round one (including compensatory selections) will take place Monday with rounds 2-15 occurring Tuesday beginning at noon and Rounds 16-40 concluding the draft on Wednesday beginning at noon. High school players and juniors in college have the opportunity to decline their rookie contracts and continue playing amateur baseball should they choose to do so.

Thirteen members of the Gators baseball team (five seniors, eight juniors) are eligible to be selected this year including some of the most talented players in the program. OGGOA, with some help from baseball columnist and New York Mets scout Teddy Foster, takes a look at where they might wind up and what their future holds.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino
Projection: First round, pick 1-10
Rankings: No. 3 overall by MLB, No. 6 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: The consensus best catcher in the draft of any age, Zunino has proven he can do it all at any level by playing stellar defense (.994 fielding) and hammering home runs on offense. Originally selected in the 30th round of the 2009 draft, Zunino instead decided to attend Florida and became just the second Gators baseball player to be named SEC Player of the Year, earning the honor in 2011. He was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award in 2011 and also named an All-American that year, garnering first-team honors by three of five voting bodies. Still not having completed his third year with the team, Zunino already holds the UF career record for sacrifice flies (17) and is having a solid junior campaign with team-highs of 18 homers and 60 RBIs along with 50 runs scored, 28 walks, a .316 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage. There is no questioning Zunino’s potential; the only thing left to figure out is his draft slot.

Junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson
Projection: First round, pick 20-supplemental
Rankings: No. 36 overall by MLB, No. 28 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: Though he will get looks as a batter, Johnson’s true value (both in the draft and long-term in pro baseball) will likely come from his work on the mound. He will likely wind up a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher as he can throw four pitches for strikes and has good breaking pitches in addition to a fastball around 90 mph. “Johnson is just too good on the mound and has too much potential to not focus on pitching,” Foster wrote in April. “He is not the first and certainly will not be the last two-way player to end up on the mound. Johnson knows his destiny is as a pitcher.” A 27th round selection in the 2009 draft, Johnson was unanimous Freshman All-American who made the SEC All-Freshman Team as both a pitcher and designated hitter. During his sophomore season he was a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award and Dick Howser Trophy and earned a first-team All-SEC nod for his work at the plate. This season he is 8-4 on the mound with a 3.56 ERA and a 68/15 K/BB ratio while pitching a team-high 86.0 innings. Johnson is also hitting .310 with five homers, 40 RBIs and 10 walks.

Continue Reading » Preview: Florida Gators in the 2012 MLB Draft

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