Florida softball sweeps Gainesville Regional; Gators set to host Super Regional

By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 5 Florida Gators softball (48-11) is one step closer to making its sixth Women’s College World Series appearance in seven years after closing out a sweep of the Gainesville Regional with a victory on Sunday.

Breezing through its first two opponents at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, UF shut out the Central Florida Knights (43-18) in the regional final on Sunday, winning 7-0 and advancing to the Super Regional portion of the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in an eight-year span.

Gators junior right-hander Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 5 H, 5 K) tossed a five-hit shutout in Sunday’s finale to pick up her 10th win of the season and drop her ERA to a team-best 1.57. After giving up back-to-back singles to open the bottom of the first, Haeger calmed down and retired the next 11 batters, only scatting five singles in the contest.

But her contribution to Florida’s win extended much further than the pitcher’s circle. Haeger (1/5, HR, 3 RBI, R) blasted her team-leading 19th home run of the season — a one out, two-run shot in the first inning — which was also her third homer in as many games during the Gainesville Regional.

Continue Reading » Florida softball sweeps Gainesville Regional; Gators set to host Super Regional

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Wilbekin’s career day pushes Florida over UCF

In his third contest back after a three-game suspension, junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin put together a career game for his hometown team, leading the No. 7/8 Florida Gators (5-0) to a 79-66 win over the Central Florida Knights (3-2) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Wilbekin reached career-highs in points (18), rebounds (five) and assists (eight), registering the majority of those numbers off the bench in the first half. He started the second half in place of junior forward Will Yeguete and continued leading the Gators for the duration of the game.

Central Florida took an early 5-0 lead as Florida started 0-for-9 from the field, but the home team ensured that advantage was short lived. The Gators hit 10 of their next 15 shots and pulled off consecutive 8-0 and 11-0 runs to go up 24-12.

Wilbekin made his statement early by scoring 11 of UF’s first 20 points while starting 3-for-5 from downtown. He finished 6-of-12 from the field and 4-of-9 from long range.

Florida increased its advantage to 19 points on consecutive threes from senior guard Kenny Boynton and freshman G Michael Frazier and held on to a 42-24 lead at the half as Boynton was blocked at the buzzer.

The Knights got off to another fast start in the second half, opening up the final 20 minutes on an 11-0 run as the Gators turned the ball over and missed three-straight shots. Florida got its double-digit lead back by scoring six-straight points and used a 7-0 run midway through the half to retake its 18-point lead.

UF eventually extended its advantage to a game-high 21 points and held on for another impressive non-conference home victory.

Boynton led the way for the Gators with team-highs of 24 points and eight boards. He was 4-for-9 from three and a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.

Junior center Patric Young was the only other Florida player in double figures as he chipped in 10 points and five rebounds. Yeguete added four points, five boards and four dimes, and junior F Erik Murphy scored nine on just 1-of-6 shooting from long range.

After missing four games due to multiple concussions, junior G/F Casey Prather returned and had a great all-around game for the Gators. He went 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line for eight points with four rebounds, an assist, a block and a forced turnover.

Four Central Florida players posted double-digit point totals, and UCF used an impressive performance from F Kasey Wilson to outscore UF 42-37 in the second half. Wilson finished 5-of-6 from downtown for a team-high 20 points.

The Gators forced 19 turnovers and gave up just nine, won the rebounding battle 41-27 and outscored the Knights off turnovers (27-11), in the paint (38-18), off the bench (28-0) and on second-chance baskets (21-1).

Next up for Florida is a home game against Marquette that is part of the 2012-13 SEC/BIG EAST Challenge. The Gators will get a six-day break before facing the Golden Eagles on Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. in a game that will air live on ESPN2.

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TWO BITS: Georgetown game, Donnie Jones

1 » The Navy-Marine Corps Classic on Nov. 9 aboard the USS Bataan at Navy Mayport Station in Jacksonville, FL was suspended at halftime after condensation that landed on the court made for unsafe playing conditions. At the time of game stoppage, the Florida Gators led the Georgetown Hoyas by four points. The game itself is currently classified as an exhibition as there was not a victor but that could very well change if an agreement between the two schools can be reached over the next few weeks. “Our school has reached out to Georgetown about completing and finishing the game,” head coach Billy Donovan revealed Tuesday evening. “There are some dates and there are some possibilities of that happening.”

The Gators would likely reimburse the Hoyas for a portion of their travel expenses considering the team would have to fly in to Jacksonville to play in an arena while UF would just have to drive a few hours. Donovan said there are a few dates in early January that work for both teams and the game would be forced to begin where it left off by NCAA rules. USA Today spoke with Georgetown head coach John Thompson III, who said that his team is also interested though nothing is set in stone yet. “I’m not opposed to it. We’ve got to see what happens. A whole lot of things have to fall into place,” he said.

2 » Donovan on Tuesday emphatically defended the character of former Florida assistant coach Donnie Jones, who has been the head coach of the Central Florida Knights since the 2010-11 season. UCF under Jones was recently found guilty of being involved with runners for sports agents and paying recruits. The basketball team received a one-year postseason ban, five years of probation and scholarship reductions; it was also forced to vacate all victories from the 2010-11 campaign. Jones himself was hit with a three-year show-cause penalty and is limited in how he can recruit players this season. Below is what Donovan had to say about the entire situation:

“Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time talking to him. I really personally thought it was really unfortunate. Donnie is a good, good person in this profession. I think the hardest thing that sometimes as human beings you go through is, you go through what he’s going through and all of a sudden people think that, well, he’s not doing his business the right way. That couldn’t be anything further from the truth. I spent a lot of time…obviously with how serious the matter, he couldn’t share a lot with me, but I wanted to spend time on the phone just kind of letting him know I’m there.

“I would tell you this right now: There’s a lot of things in terms of NCAA and decisions that are made. People get show-causes put on them and everything else. I know Donnie Jones. I worked with him for 13 years. He is good for college basketball. He is good for those kids at Central Florida. He’s a great family man. He’s a great father. He’s a great husband. He is the salt of the Earth. There is not a better human being.

“I think some of the things that happened, in my opinion as I look at college basketball, were very, very unfortunate. With that being said, I just tried to be there for him. … He is good for college basketball. There’s a lot of bigger problems in college basketball than Donnie Jones. To me, what happened to him does not reflect who he is as a coach, a person, his integrity, his character and what he stands for. I will stand behind that for as long as the day is because that’s what he is. That whole thing that happened, again, I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happened, but that guy is a quality human being, to me, that got dragged through the mud and it was not deserved.”

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SIX BITS: football, Iverson, Haden, soccer

1 » Florida Gators football held its first fall scrimmage on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and head coach Will Muscahmp told the school’s website that he came away impressed citing how “crisp” it was from a procedural standpoint. Following the scrimmage the team was uprooted from its dorms and apartments and moved into a local hotel, according to GatorZone.com, where they will live for a full week. “It’s training camp,” Muschamp said. “That’s what you do. You bond with your teammates, you find out a lot about guys on the team you’ve never known and their backgrounds. You spend a lot of time together. I think it’s a very important part of the growing experience that you have as a player here.” A number of football players also tweeted early Saturday evening that the team was together on a field trip to go see The Dark Knight Rises.

2 » Could head coach Billy Donovan be ready to add a fourth and likely final member to his stellar 2013 recruiting class? According to SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria, four-star small forward Kuran Iverson (Waynesboro, VA), ranked No. 25 overall nationally by Rivals, may be close to pulling the trigger for the Gators. “Florida’s showing me a lot of love. I think that might be the best choice,” he told SNY on Saturday night. Iverson’s final four also includes Connecticut, Memphis and Syracuse though it will likely be a UF-UConn battle for his services. “I talk to Billy Donovan and the rest of the assistant coaches all the time,” Iverson told Zagoria. “They call me like every day. They say I play my position. The three, I play two sometimes, and the one.”

3 » A stunning report this week that Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden tested positive for Adderall (a drug prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder) and could face a four-game NFL suspension became a bit more clear on Saturday when Pro Football Talk reported via a league source that Haden apparently took the medication “as a ‘pick-me-up’ during an offseason visit to Las Vegas” and was simply unlucky with the timing of the random drug test. PFT does note, however, that Haden has not yet had the opportunity to file an appeal and could avoid missing time this season because “the NFL’s in-house appeals often require months to be processed.”

4 » Haden, who refused to get into detail about the subject, told The Chronicle-Telegram on Thursday that he is someone of high-character and that he hopes his fans do not alter their opinion of him based on this incident. “Everybody knows who I am,” he said. “Honestly, my friends and my family, they know exactly who I am. All the Haden Nation supporters, they know who I am, and you can’t put up a front. So I’m just going to just keep balling, keep looking forward to the next game and keep doing my thing.”

5 » Former Gators point guard Taurean Green and defensive lineman Terron Sanders were two of seven student-athletes to receive degrees this summer, the school announced on Friday. Green (who has been playing professionally overseas since 2008) and Sanders (who is no longer attempting to play professional football) both came back to school to take classes and earn their diplomas.

6 » Taking part in a 105-minute friendly against the No. 12 Central Florida Knights in Orlando, FL on Saturday evening, No. 21 Florida Gators soccer came away with a 2-0 victory and some momentum heading into the 2012 season. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Burke made just one save in her shutout performance while sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun (36’) and senior MF/forward Erika Tymrak (56’) scored a goal each in the match.

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Haeger, Horton combine for five homers to power Gators softball to Gainesville Regional finals

One day after suffering emotional turmoil both on and off the field, No. 5 Florida Gators softball kept their national championship hopes alive by taking down the Central Florida Knights and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in consecutive games on Saturday in the Gainesville Regional at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida (48-12) eliminated Central Florida (39-19) in the afternoon contest and topped Florida Gulf Coast (39-23) in the evening game, winning 7-1 and 6-2 respectively, thanks to solid offensive efforts and efficient pitching performances.

Freshman first baseman/right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger got it done at the plate and on the mound for the Gators, smacking two home runs and tossing the final two innings of the first game before starting the second game on the hill and smacking her third bomb of the day in the latter contest. Haeger combined to go 4/7 with three homers, four RBIs, three runs and two walks and also tossed 7.0 innings giving up three earned runs on six hits with four walks and three strikeouts while picking up her 15th victory.

Florida freshman left fielder Briana Little (2/4, 2 RBI, R) was solid against UCF as was sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers, who improved to 28-7 after striking out five while giving up just four hits and one walk in 5.0 innings.

Rogers returned in the evening game to close out FGCU, allowing one hit and striking out a batter in two innings of work. The Gators also received an offensive boost from junior catcher Kelsey Horton (3/4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R), who smacked two homers of her own and had a big smile on her face both times she crossed the plate.

Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie, who also threw out a runner at the plate to save a run, went 4/4 with two runs scored in the second game

Florida will take on South Florida on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the finals of the Gainesville Regional. UF will have to defeat USF twice in order to move on to the Super Regional round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

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SIX BITS: Noah, baseball, Demps, Speights, Brewer

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah registered his first career triple-double (13 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) on Wednesday in just three quarters of action (and 30 total minutes) against Milwaukee. Noah’s 10 dimes were a career-high and he became the first Chicago center to achieve a triple-double since Artis Gilmore did so in 1977. After a slow start to the year, Noah is averaging almost a double-double per game this season with 9.4 points and 9.8 boards.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (4-1) shut out the No. 19 Central Florida Knights (3-0) on Wednesday for the first time since 1977, outscoring their visitors 8-0 as sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (1-1) picked up his first victory of the season. Crawford (2 H, 3 BB, 4 K) pitched 4.1 no-hit innings before being pulled after five scoreless frames. Sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (2.0 IP, H), freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H) and freshman RHP Ryan Harris (1.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 2 K) finished out the game on the hill. Florida scored in each of the first three innings and five of the eight frames they went to the plate. Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott hit a solo shot in the first and finished 2/3 with two RBIs, two runs and a pair of walks. The Gators rallied for three runs in the bottom of the third, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, RBI, BB) led off a two-run fifth with a solo homer of his own. Tucker’s dinger tied him with former UF All-American Brad Wilkerson (1996-98) for the school’s career RBI record of 214. Florida added another in the seventh and cruised to victory. UF will not get much rest as a series against William & Mary begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with game two and three set for Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., respectively.

3 » Deciding to run track instead of compete for a spot on a NFL roster may be a tough choice for some, but former running back Jeff Demps knows what he is doing. In a feature on Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame, Demps and head track coach Mike Holloway discuss his future in the sport. “At the bottom of my heart, I just love running,” Demps said. “He can become one of the best,” Holloway added. “Jeff believes that or we wouldn’t be doing this.” Holloway, who will also be an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, believes that Demps can go all the way in the sport. “He has that potential down the road. There’s no doubt about that,” Holloway said of Demps potentially medaling at the Olympics. “It’s just a matter of us getting the proper training model and getting the proper steps taken to keep him healthy.”

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford was named the 2012 Sportsperson of the Year by the Atlanta Sports Council on Monday for making a positive impact on sports in the local community. “Playing for the Atlanta Hawks is an honor and has afforded me the opportunity to make an impact on organizations and causes in the Atlanta community that I am extremely passionate about,” Horford said in a statement. “I am committed to these efforts and the individuals that they serve, and I thank the Atlanta Sports Council for recognizing my involvement and dedication.” Horford played in the first 11 games of the 2011-12 season before suffering a torn labrum, which will keep him out of action until the end of April at the earliest.

5 » Memphis Grizzlies F/C Marreese Speights has been on quite a tear recently and is fitting in nicely with his new team. Starting in 26 of the 28 games he has played for Memphis this season, Speights is playing a career-high 23.0 minutes and averaging career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.5) and free throw percentage (.816). He has scored double-digit points in five-straight games and had back-to-back double-doubles on Feb. 15 (20 points, 18 boards) and Feb. 17 (12 points, 10 boards). “It’s been one of the best moves of my life,” he said of getting traded to Memphis, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. “It’s been great. We have a good team and we’re winning. They gave me a chance to come over here and play and show the things that I can do.”

6 » In a similar boat as Speights, it seems all Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer needed was a change of scenery. Since returning to Denver after taking a sabbatical due to the death of his father, Brewer has scored double-digit points in five of seven games (he posted nine points in the other two). He’s been a bright spot for the Nuggets this season and may have finally found a comfortable home after moving from Minnesota to New York and then to Dallas one year ago. He is averaging 9.4 points (a career-high for minutes played) and shooting a career-best 36.0 percent from beyond the arc while grabbing 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

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FOUR BITS: All-SEC, Oliver, Meyer, Jones

1 » The Southeastern Conference announced its coaches’ preseason All-SEC first and second team selections on Wednesday, and three Florida Gators were honored on the lists. Senior point guard Erving Walker and junior guard Kenny Boynton both earned first team nominations, while sophomore center Patric Young was the only UF representative placed on the second team. Walker and Boynton were both on the media’s All-SEC second team, and Young was left off.

2 » Former Florida safety Louis Oliver was one of six people inducted into the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday evening. Fellow former Gators student-athlete Dara Torres was inducted previously. “It is very flattering,” Oliver said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “I am very excited to be in a group that includes a group like [Dan] Marino, Coach [Don] Shula, H. Wayne Huizenga, Michael Irvin and those types of people. Just to be recognized with those people puts me in a category that most people aren’t in. It’s not Canton, Ohio, but it is a really big deal for me.”

3 » With Joe Paterno stepping down from his job as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions at the end of the season, former Gators head coach Urban Meyer is obviously going to be the No. 1 name on the list of the university and fans. Meyer discussed his admiration for Paterno at the 2011 Outback Bowl but has also said on numerous other occasions how much he is enjoying his time off from the game. However, Meyer is not the only candidate as Miami head coach Al Golden and Rutgers top man Greg Schiano could also be in the running for the job. The fact of the matter is that Meyer may very well not be ready to return to college football and could also look at the sport’s landscape (with major violations and legal issues going on at his supposed top two destinations of Ohio State and Penn State) and choose to wait a bit longer.

4 » Central Florida Knights head coach Donnie Jones was suspended three conference games without pay and publicly reprimanded by the NCAA on Wednesday for being aware of contact between a recruiter for a sports agency and student-athletes and not preventing it. The recruiter allegedly paid tuition and travel expenses for some players and recruits. “As the program’s head coach, I accept responsibility for mistakes when they occur,” he said in a statement from the school. A former assistant at Florida under head coach Billy Donovan, Jones took his UCF team to Gainesville two Saturdays ago for an exhibition game against UF.

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FOUR BITS: scrimmage, Sheppard, soccer

1 » Those who follow us on Twitter saw a retweet from CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman Monday morning noting that the Florida Gators basketball team held a “secret” scrimmage against the Central Florida Knights over the weekend. OGGOA inquired about the scrimmage and learned that Florida head coach Billy Donovan was pleased with his team’s effort following the game. The Gators’ starting five consisted of senior point guard Erving Walker, guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Brad Beal, junior forward Erik Murphy and sophomore center Patric Young.

Beal, as noted by Goodman, was the standout performer in the scrimmage, but redshirt junior transfer G Mike Rosario also played quite well. Florida earned a double-digit “victory” at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, a nice prelude to their exhibition game against Catholic University on Thursday.

2 » Eight full weeks into the 2011 NFL season, former Gators cornerback Lito Sheppard was finally signed by a team. The Oakland Raiders picked up Sheppard, who they cut just before the season after signing him as a free agent, on Monday and hope to have him ready to play as soon as this upcoming weekend. Sheppard was one of three notable ex-Florida veterans available on the free agent market. Defensive ends Alex Brown and Bobby McCray remain unsigned.

3 » Every year, the Gators women’s soccer team holds a special practice on Halloween with all of the players going through the motions in full costume. The annual tradition gives the team a boost each year before they begin playing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Florida had an opportunity this past weekend to earn a share of the 2011 SEC regular season title but failed to do so dropping a 2-1 decision to the SEC champion South Carolina Gamecocks. SEC Tournament action begins Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. when UF faces Georgia in Orange Beach, AL.

4 » The Gators soccer team received good news Monday when the SEC announced its women’s soccer awards. Junior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and redshirt junior defender Kathryn Williamson were named to the All-SEC first team, while senior D Jazmyne Avant and junior MF Holly King garnered second-team honors. Florida also had two picked as All-Freshman – MFs Havana Solaun and Annie Speese.

Extra BIT » Below is the Thriller video put together by a number of UF student-athletes for Gator Growl in 2009. Happy Halloween!

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