SIX BITS: baseball, tennis, Haden, Davis, Calathes

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-14, 15-11 SEC) stalled in a big way on Saturday, getting shut out for the second time this season in a 2-0 loss to the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs (31-19, 13-13 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. A late scratch with a hamstring injury, junior left-hander Brian Johnson was replaced by sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford, who did an admirable job as a spot starter. Crawford (4-2, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, HBP, 3 K) gave up single runs in the first and fifth but received no help whatsoever from Florida’s bats in terms of production or run support. The Gators combined to register just three hits on the evening with the first five batters combining to go 0/19 with one walk and three strikeouts.

2 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (23-1) registered yet another shutout in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, defeating the No. 31 Washington State Cougars (19-7) and advancing to the round of 16 for the eighth consecutive season. The Gators topped the Cougars 6-0 (shutouts are normally end at 4-0 but three matches finished simultaneously) and combined to go 76-23 in individual games in the seven matches that were completed. The No. 1 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen registered an 8-1 victory, while the No. 22 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather won 8-2 to clinch the doubles point. No. 1 Will (6-3, 6-1), No. 9 Embree (6-2, 6-3), No. 21 Mather (6-3, 6-2), No. 61 Oyen (6-4, 6-0) and No. 79 sophomore Alex Cercone (6-0, 6-2) all won their singles matches as well. UF will take on Michigan on Thursday at 7 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals.

3 » No. 12 Florida men’s tennis (15-9) began competing in their version of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday and started as hot as their female counterparts did with a 4-0 sweep of the Navy Midshipmen (18-9). The Gators won the doubles point (8-4; 8-3) and were led by their ranked players in singles action. No. 42 junior Bob van Overbeek (6-1, 6-0), No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-0, 6-0) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-0, 6-0) were victorious in their individual matches as No. 48 junior Tripper Carleton and No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman also lead at the time the contest was stopped. Florida will face Harvard in second-round action on Sunday for the chance to move on to the round of 16.

4 » A high school student in Independence, OH needed a prom date after the one she was scheduled to go with bailed at the last minute. Her response? Tweet Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden to see if he will accompany her to one of the biggest events in her young life. To Joyce Grendel’s surprise, Haden accepted her invitation and picked her up Friday afternoon in a white Lamborghini to give her a night that she will undobutedly never forget. Haden told FOX 8 in Cleveland, OH that he never attended his senior prom (because he enrolled early at UF) and was just as nervous as his date. “I [was] nervous, too,” he said. “We were taking pictures with me and her family. I feel this is very legit, like I was getting ready, ‘Does this look cool?’ when I’m getting ready. I feel like I’m very legit. This is my prom, too.” This is not the first time Haden has gone above and beyond to put a smile on the face of one of his fans, which begs just one question: How totally awesome is Joe Haden?

5 » Former Gators linebacker Andra Davis never finished his degree at UF but 10 years later can now call himself a college graduate. Davis completed his bachelor’s degree in social sciences this semester and officially graduated from UNLV on Saturday, achieving a lifelong dream and providing a great lesson to his children. “Stay in school, because academics are one of the most important things in life,” he said, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s easy for me to tell [my children] you need to do this or do that, but if I didn’t finish, they could have been like, ‘Daddy, you didn’t finish school and you’re successful.’” Davis is currently a free agent after spending the last two years playing for the Buffalo Bills and is unlikely to be re-signed by the team. His NFL career may very well be done which is another reason why getting his college degree was so important at this time in his life. “It was like, ‘OK, well, I need to have something to fall back on in case football doesn’t work out,” Davis said. “When I was younger, my first few years, I used to think I was invincible. As you get older, you start to see your skills diminishing, and along with kids and a wife, you start to have a different focus.”

6 » Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting Alvydas Pazdrazdias told EuroHoops.net on Friday that point guard Nick Calathes, selected by Dallas with the No. 45 overall pick in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft, will have an opportunity to make the team this season. Calathes, whose contract with Panathinaikos concluded this season, will be able to compete with the Mavericks’ summer league team. Dallas, which will probably have a hole at point guard heading into the 2012-13 season, could very well use a player like Calathes if he can prove he has upped his game. “I believe he can adapt to our system,” Pazdrazdias said. “He is a good player, from who you don’t expect to score a lot of points, but you can be sure he will take care of all the other things, always for the best interest of your team. He plays for the team and does everything for his team to win.”

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Gator Bites for Thursday, May 10

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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Defensive lineman Brad Culpepper on Wednesday became the second former Florida Gators player in the last three weeks to join lawsuit against the NFL. Culpepper is the lead plaintiff one of two concussion lawsuits (Brad Culpepper et al v. NFL) filed by the Locks Law Firm against the NFL. “The lawsuits are identical to the other suits filed by Gene Locks, asserting counts of fraud, conspiracy to defraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, loss of consortium and seeking declaratory relief and medical monitoring,” according to Paul Anderson. Former Florida offensive tackle Lomas Brown is part of a separate suit against the NFL that cites the recent bounty scandal as evidence that the league did not properly protect its players from concussions.

» Former Gators running back Emmitt Smith admitted this week that, while he appears to be in perfect health now, he is worried that all of the hits he took over his football-playing career may come back to haunt him both physically and mentally in the future. “The evidence is starting to pile up. You are talking to a guy who carried the ball more than anybody in NFL history. So why wouldn’t I worry? I pray about it,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He also spoke about the tragic death of Junior Seau and reuniting with some of his former Dallas Cowboys teammates.

» Former Florida linebacker Dustin Doe has been re-signed by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL after appearing in just three games for the team last season. Doe registered two tackles each on defense and special teams in 2011 but spent the majority of the season on the practice squad. He is hoping to become a permanent member of the active roster this season as he attempts to continue his career.

» Speaking of players looking for new homes, it appears as if defensive tackle Marcus Thomas will be donning a different uniform in 2012. After spending the first six years of his career with the Denver Broncos, Thomas will be moving on to what he hopes are greener pastures, according to The Denver Post, which reports that it is unlikely Denver re-signs him this season. A selection in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has been a productive member of the Broncos throughout his career. However, Denver only wants to bring him back on a one-year deal while Thomas is looking for a multi-year agreement. The Post notes that at least two other teams are interested in Thomas’s services but will likely wait until after June 1 to sign him to a contract.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, May 10

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Gators baseball wins series, falls in finale at UK

No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (35-13, 14-10 SEC) fell just short of their first weekend series sweep in over a month, winning two of three games on the road against the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats (37-11, 15-9 SEC) at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington, KY.

Florida won Thursday’s contest 5-3 and pulled out a late 5-1 victory on Friday before dropping the series finale 2-1 to Kentucky on Saturday. UF faces an uphill battle to defend their conference championship as they are currently behind both South Carolina and LSU in the standings.

The Gators saw their starting pitching return to form over the weekend.

Junior right-hander Hudson Randall improved to 5-1 on with a 6.2-inning outing on Thursday. He held the Wildcats to one run through six innings but coughed up two more before heading to the dugout (6 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) and allowing junior left-handed reliever Steven Rodriguez (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 K) to pick up his first save of the season.

Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson followed Randall’s effort by putting forth his best performance since returning from injury on Friday, holding Kentucky to one earned run over 4.2 innings despite allowing six hits, walking three batters, hitting another, throwing two wild pitches and striking out just two. Whitson was relieved by a trio of throwers including freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, 2 H), senior RHP Greg Larson (W 6-0, 1.1 IP, HBP) and Rodriguez (S2, 2.0 IP, 2 K).

Florida brought junior LHP Brian Johnson out for the finale and saw him work his way through four innings before allowing a run on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the fifth. Johnson (L 5-4, 5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) was replaced by sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (3.0 IP, 3 H, R, 2 K), who would have held the Wildcats scoreless had it not been for two fielding errors in the bottom of the eighth.

Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker powered UF through the first two games of the series, hitting a homer on Thursday and finishing the three-game trip 5/11 with three RBIs, three runs scored and a walk.

Johnson (4/11, 2 RBI) and freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (4/10, 2 RBI) knocked in runs as part of Florida’s two wins though senior center fielder Daniel Pigott was the only player to get on the board in the finale with a solo homer in the top of the ninth. The Gators had the tying run on second but were unable to finish their rally on Saturday.

Florida will look to get revenge against North Florida on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Gainesville, FL before hosting their final home games of the season in a three-game series against Mississippi State Friday-Sunday.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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.

Midseason slumps happen – every team has at least one – though the one Florida Gators baseball went through (losing five of seven games from March 30 – April 7) may have been especially painful for fans.

Florida has seen the light though. As much was obvious over the last two weekends as junior left-hander Brian Johnson helped power the Gators to a series win at Tennessee and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott picked up the offensive slack against Georgia. Florida won both series but did not necessarily do so in the convincing fashion that many fans are accustomed to seeing. This is what SEC baseball is all about.

The biggest issue the Gators have is their offense. It was a question mark to start the season and remains a concern going forward. Their pitching and defense remain outstanding, especially considering the injuries that sidelined sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson and Friday night ace junior RHP Hudson Randall.

During one of my first columns here, I mentioned how Florida had nine players capable of hitting .300. At his point in the season only Pigott, Johnson, junior catcher Mike Zunino, junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (five players) have eclipsed that mark.

The Gators’ lineup has become top-heavy. After these first five hitters, Florida’s lineup is manageable for opposing pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gushue has cooled off from his hot start and Zunino is hitting sub-.250 in SEC play. Every team goes through midseason struggles but to see some of the veterans off of their game is a bit alarming.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did everything they could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six on Saturday but came just short of earning their first national title as the Alabama Crimson Tide edged Florida 197.850-197.775 to win the 2012 NCAA Championship. One of four teams in 31 years to win the national title, Alabama captured their sixth in school history by a 0.075 margin thanks to a stellar 49.500 effort on the balance beam in the final rotation. The Gators led the Crimson Tide by 0.025 heading into the final rotation; however, Florida posted a 49.400 on the floor exercise, allowing Alabama to leap them and earn the championship. All is not lost for the Gators as UF’s individual gymnasts will compete for event national titles on Sunday. Freshman Kytra Hunter already won the NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday.

2 » Looking to carry some momentum from the 16-inning marathon win Friday night, No. 1 Florida baseball (30-9, 10-7 SEC) was not as fortunate Saturday night falling 5-3 to the Georgia Bulldogs (24-16, 8-9 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. UF led 2-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run bomb by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB) but found themselves in a 4-2 hole after UGA rallied for three runs in the top of the third. A solo homer by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, HR, RBI, R) cut the Gators’ deficit to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but Bulldogs’ starter Michael Palazzone and reliever Blake Dieterich combined to no-hit Florida over the final five innings of the game. Georgia’s timely pitching and clutch defense handed the loss to junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-2, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 5 K). UF has not swept a weekend series in over a month hopes to pick up a series win in the rubber match on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

3 » No. 1-seed Gators women’s tennis (20-1) swept the No. 4-seed Ole Miss Rebels (17-8) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday, using a 4-0 victory to propel them into the finals on Sunday against No. 3-seed Georgia. Florida captured the doubles point in entertaining fashion having split the first two matches 1-1 before the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen earned a 9-8 (7-5) victory. Singles action was a more of a breeze for the Gators with No. 23 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 10 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-0) and No. 51 Oyen (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) picking up three wins to end the match. UF, which improved to 25-0 all-time in SEC Tournament quarterfinals action on Friday, is now 23-2 in the semifinals and competing for their 18th conference tournament title.Florida defeated Georgia 4-3 on March 4 in Athens, GA in the teams’ sole meeting this season.

4 » No. 3/4 Gators softball (41-5) completed their sweep of the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-23) with a 7-1 victory on Saturday at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida and FIU were scoreless through four innings with Gators sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers (24-3) holding the Golden Panthers hitless for most of the contest. Florida jumped ahead 1-0 in the fifth on a RBI double by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/3, RBI, BB), but Rogers allowed FIU to even things up in the top of the sixth. Junior RF Ensley Gammel (1/2, HR RBI, R) put the Gators ahead for good in the sixth with a solo homer that spurned a six-run bottom of the inning including two RBIs by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) and another solo bomb by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1/1, HR, RBI, R). Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K) completed the outing and her team’s third-straight weekend series sweep.

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Johnson leads Florida over Georgia Southern

Junior designated hitter Brian Johnson’s hot streak at the plate continued on Monday as the reigning SEC Player of the Week matched a career-high with five RBIs to lead the No. 1 Florida Gators (29-8) over the visiting Georgia Southern Eagles (22-17).

Florida topped Georgia Southern 8-2 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL as Johnson went 2/4 from the plate, hitting a three-run homer in the first and two-RBI double in the seventh to power the Gators to their fourth win in the last five games.

Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson (4-0) picked up the victory on Monday in a short outing, allowing an earned run on four hits while striking out three in 3.0 innings. Four relievers combined to toss seven shutout innings before junior closer Austin Maddox gave up an earned run in the final frame.

UF scored all eight of their runs with two outs and eight of the nine Florida starters registered a hit in the contest. The six Gators pitchers that participated did not walk a single batter in the outing.

Monday’s game was the beginning of a nine-game homestand for Florida. It continues this weekend with a three-game series against Georgia on Friday (7 p.m., CSS), Saturday (7 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (3 p.m., ESPN2).

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FOUR BITS: Pitino, Brown, SEC awards, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators basketball assistant Richard Pitino was named the new head coach for the Florida International Golden Panthers on Monday, signing a five-year, $1.25 million contract. At 29 years old, Pitino becomes one of the youngest head coaches in the country but properly noted that does not mean he is incapable of being successful in his new job. “People say I’m young, but I tell them I may be young, but I’m not inexperienced,” he said. “It may not always be pretty. It may not always be easy. But we’re going to get it done.” Pitino last worked under head coach Billy Donovan two seasons ago, leaving Florida before the 2011-12 campaign to work for his father in Louisville. “It is great to have Richard back in the state of Florida,” Donovan said in a school release. “FIU has hired a tireless worker and an excellent recruiter to build their program. I’m excited for Richard and I’m excited for FIU.” Pitino is the seventh assistant to work under Donovan and eventually be named a head coach joining Anthony Grant (Alabama), Donnie Jones (Central Florida), John Pelphrey (formerly at Arkansas), Lewis Preston (Kennesaw State), Larry Shyatt (Wyoming) and Shaka Smart (VCU).

Pitino on Donovan:: “Working for Billy Donovan was one of the greatest things I could have done. I was an assistant under my father and I really didn’t want to leave home, but Billy reached out to him. When I worked for Billy I learned so much because he wasn’t my father. They have a lot of similarities, but they are really not [the same]. They have completely different approaches on how to do things. For me to work for Billy, who has three Final Fours, and my dad, who has six Final Fours, that’s a combined nine Final Fours and three NCAA Championships. For me to be able to learn under those two guys, I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

2 » One of four players to file a lawsuit against the NFL this week, former Gators offensive tackle Lomas Brown claims – citing the recent bounty scandal surrounding New Orleans – that the league did not properly protect its players from concussions. According to the Associated Press, Brown and the three other players “do not claim in their lawsuit to be victims of [Gregg] Williams’s bounty system but cite it as the latest example of a culture that has left former players with debilitating conditions.”

3 » A pair of current Florida student-athletes – juniors tennis player Lauren Embree and left-handed pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson – picked up SEC Player of the Week awards from the conference on Monday. The Gators baseball program also got another piece of good news as they regained their No. 1 national ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 Poll while receiving nine-of-31 first-place votes.

4 » The Tim Tebow news cycle has not slowed down now that he is no longer in Denver. The latest New York Jets quarterback received a big donation for his charity over the weekend as a married couple pledged $100,000 just to spend a day with him. The auction took place at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, and Tebow himself was extremely touched at both the bid and donation. “It was very humbling, and you don’t necessarily feel worthy,” he said. “That day I feel like I’ve got to do a few extra things to be special, you know? I’ve got to try to be a little bit better.” Tebow was also the subject of a recent look-a-like contest held by the Double-A Jacksonville Sun. The winner was a Jacksonville, FL high school student named Jacob Carter who said that his grandmother suggested he participate in the event.

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No. 4 Florida baseball wins series at Tennessee

Picking up a weekend series victory for the first time since late March, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (28-8, 9-6 SEC) triumphed 2-1 against the Tennessee Volunteers (21-15, 7-8 SEC) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

Florida and Tennessee kept it close in the first two games, but a blowout victory by the Gators on Sunday gave them their first weekend series win since travelling to South Carolina March 22-24. Sunday’s victory was also UF’s largest since March 16.

Trailing 1-0 early on Friday, Florida rallied for three runs in the middle of the game and held on thanks to some solid relief pitching to deliver sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (4-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, ER, 3 BB, 5 K) the victory. Juniors left-hander Steven Rodriguez and RHP Austin Maddox combined to strike out seven in four shutout innings with Maddox picking up his 10th save of the season as UF won 3-1.

The Gators’ pitching was not as solid on Saturday with sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson struggling as he continues to work his way back from injury. Whitson gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits while striking out just one in three innings, leaving his team in a 4-3 hole as he exited the game.

Florida tied it up in the fourth but eventually fell 5-4 despite a solid effort by freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi. Replacing Whitson, Magliozzi (4-1) only gave up one earned run on two hits with two strikeouts over five innings but was on the hook for the loss as UF failed to plate any of the seven runners they got on base.

Sunday’s series finale featured the Gators’ largest margin of victory in a month as Florida got out to an early 4-0 lead and held on to take down Tennessee 8-1.

Junior LHP Brian Johnson (5-1) earned the win by scattering six hits while walking one and striking out four over 6.0 innings. Five UF relievers combined to end the game by tossing three one-hit innings.

Johnson and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana were both dynamite at the plate over the three-game series. The former went 6/12 with a homer, six RBIs and two runs, while the latter finished 5/8 with a RBI, four walks, two runs and a stolen base.

After playing 12 of their last 15 games on the road, the Gators will come home for a nine-game homestand to close out the month of April. Florida will begin their homestand by hosting Georgia Southern on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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