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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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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TWO BITS: baseball falls again, softball splits

1 » Falling to 8-8 in their last 16 games dating back to March 30, No. 2/5 Florida Gators baseball (31-10) was edged 5-3 by the South Florida Bulls (28-14) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday. Florida fell behind 2-0 in the top of the second after a fielding error by sophomore third baseman Cody Dent allowed the inning to continue and two runs to eventually score. Freshman right-hander Johnny Magliozzi (4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 K) was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson in the fifth but things did not get any better for the Gators on the mound. Gibson gave up solo homer in the sixth, but Florida immediately answered with a pair of dingers from juniors shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R) to tie the game 3-3. However, Gibson (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB) allowed a lead-off walk in the seventh that eventually scored and registered as the game-winning run. USF added another bomb in the top of the eighth to increase their lead to two runs and UF faltered late offensively by stranding six runners on base over the final three innings (Zunino grounded out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth).

2 » No. 2/4 Gators softball (42-6, 19-3 SEC) split a Tuesday doubleheader with the LSU Tigers (33-16, 14-8 SEC), winning the afternoon contest 2-1 in eight innings before dropping the evening game 1-0. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (25-3, 8.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 5 K) went the distance in the extra innings affair that saw Florida fight tooth and nail for a victory. The Gators trailed 1-0 after Rogers allowed a run to score in the top of the seventh but evened things out in the bottom frame when junior right fielder Ensley Gammel (1/3, HR, RBI, R) homered to right. Rogers then forced three ground balls in the eighth with her defense completing a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning and give the offense another shot. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2/4, RBI) responded to the opportunity, doubling down the left field line to knock in the game-winning run. The latter contest was a true pitchers’ duel with freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-3, 7.0 IP, 6 H, ER, 3 BB, 9 K) and LSU’s Brittany Mack (7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K) both tossing complete games. The Tigers scored after a triple was driven home in the second and the Gators’ offense stalled just like the baseball team’s did down the stretch by stranding five runners on base over the final two innings.

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2012 Florida Gators baseball: Just win, baby.

Though basketball has national title aspirations and both softball and lacrosse are getting started on what should be a pair of exciting campaigns, no squad is more hyped entering this season than the unanimously top-ranked Florida Gators baseball team.

Florida went all the way to the 2011 College World Series championship series a year ago before falling to South Carolina, a team they will go back-and-forth with throughout the 2012 Southeastern Conference slate. With so many starters returning to the team and an exceptional freshman class signed to fill in the gaps, the Gators have only one true goal in 2012 – win a national championship.

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Roth silences Gators as Gamecocks sweep College World Series with 5-2 victory Tuesday

After a pair of throwing errors cost them the opening game of the 2011 College World Series Championship Series on Monday, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball hoped to reverse their fortunes on Tuesday with a second crack at the defending champion No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks. Instead, an error in the third propelled a three-run inning and played a large part in South Carolina (55-14) defeating Florida (53-19) 5-2 to win their second-straight NCAA National Championship.

The Gamecocks captured the final national title played at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010 and earned the first contested at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE as the Gators moved to 0-4 in the CWS Championship Series in school history (0-2 vs. Texas in 2005).

South Carolina also won their 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament game dating back to 2010 and improved to 4-1 against Florida in 2011.

Junior right-handed pitcher Michael Roth (14-3) earned the start for USC and was absolutely stellar in his outing, allowing only two earned runs in 7.2 innings while giving up five hits and two walks, hitting a pair of batters, and striking out six.

UF countered with freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-1), who hoped to match Roth pitch-for-pitch and succeeded through the first two innings before struggling mightily with his command in the third.

Whitson started the inning by giving up a stand-up double down the left field line to South Carolina shortstop Peter Mooney, who advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. He was then plated when second baseman Scott Wingo hit a sacrifice fly to right.

With two outs and runners on first and second, first baseman Christian Walker smacked a chopper to the left side that Florida sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana flubbed, scoring another for the Gamecocks. South Carolina added one more in the inning as an infield single by designated hitter Brady Thomas plated the second unearned run of the inning, putting the Gamecocks ahead 3-0.

Having retired eight-straight batters, Roth was tagged for a solo homer cranked to left by Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino in the fourth, reducing Florida’s deficit to 3-1.

UF looked to even things up in the fifth after getting runners on first and second with nobody out. Freshman third baseman Cody Dent was sent to bunt the runners over but fouled out into a strikeout on a 1-2 count; senior center fielder Bryson Smith followed by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning without the Gators plating a run.

USC hoped to increase their lead in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases after Whitson (4.2 IP, 3 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 HBP, 4 K) allowed a pair of two-out singles and hit a batter. He was then pulled for junior RHP Tommy Toledo, who struck out the next batter to save the inning and leave the bases full.

Florida tried to get things going in the sixth, once again getting their first two batters on board. However, a strikeout and consecutive ground outs stranded the runners on second and third in scoring position to conclude the frame.

South Carolina added to their lead in the latter portion of the frame, as Mooney hit a solo homer off Toledo by sending a rocket to right.

The Gators had one more chance in the top of the eighth when Zunino hit a one-out double to right-center and advanced to third on a ground out. Senior second baseman Josh Adams singled to right to score Zunino and reduce the Gamecocks’ lead to 4-2. Unfortunately for UF, junior pinch hitter Tyler Thompson struck out looking to end the frame, stranding Adams on first.

USC tacked on one more run in their final frame, sending a lead-off single from first-to-third on an infield grounder and wild pitch before plating him with a single to right. Head coach Ray Tanner then brought on closer Matt Price, who earned his 20th save of the season and second in as many days.

Florida concluded the 2011 season with a school single-season record 53 wins while also reaching the CWS Championship Series for just the second time in school history. The Gators also won the Southeastern Conference regular season championship and tournament title while boasting the league’s Player of the Year in Zunino.

2011 CWS All-Tournament Team
Third baseman Cody Dent
Center fielder Bryson Smith

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Errors doom Gators as Gamecocks win 2-1 in 11

The No. 2 Florida Gators maintained a one-run lead for most of the game but a combination of clutching hitting and excellent defense from the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks, along with a pair of throwing errors from Florida, propelled South Carolina to a 2-1 victory in 11 innings on Monday in game one of the 2011 College World Series Championship Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

The Gamecocks (54-14) trailed for the first 7.2 innings of the game but scored a run in the eighth and another in the 11th to hand the Gators (53-18) their second loss of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. South Carolina thwarted multiple opportunities Florida had to score, getting out of a bases loaded, no-outs jam and completing a play at the plate to maintain a tie and ultimately earn the victory.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the call for the Gators and was nearly flawless in his outing, tossing 7.2 shutout innings before giving up a run in the top of the eighth. He struck out six (in the first six innings), gave up three hits and walked one; at one point, Randall retired 18 of 19 batters (including 10 in a row).

The Gamecocks rolled out freshman Forrest Koumas, who was impressive striking out four in 5.2 strong while allowing three hits and a walk. He was replaced by Tyler Webb and John Taylor (8-1), who combined to pitch 4.1 shutout innings in his stead.

Florida got on the board first, manufacturing a run in the bottom of the third. Junior left fielder Tyler Thompson led off with a walk to start the inning, advanced over to third base on a ground out and wild pitch, and scored when freshman third baseman Cody Dent flied out to left on a sacrifice.

It took South Carolina five innings to respond, but the Gamecocks created a similar scoring opportunity of their own. Randall walked shortstop Peter Mooney, the first batter he faced in the eighth, and found him on third after a sacrifice bunt and fly out to right-center. Second baseman Scott Wingo followed with a hard single up the middle to tie the game 1-1 and send Randall to the showers.

The Gators found themselves with a prime opportunity to win the game in the final frame of regulation. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino got on with a walk to start the ninth, and Florida loaded the bases on a single and intentional walk with no outs. However, the Gators hit consecutive groundouts to Wingo to end the inning without plating a single run. Thompson’s grounder resulted in a force out at home plate, and junior right fielder Daniel Pigott hit into a 4-2-3 game-saving double play to end the ninth.

Both teams had a chance to put things away in the 10th but ultimately failed. South Carolina got a pair of runners on base via two singles, but junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde recorded the final two outs of the inning. Dent singled for Florida in the bottom of the inning but was ultimately thrown out at home on a hard hit single by Zunino to left.

After a line out to start the 11th, Maronde (0-1) gave up a single to first baseman Christian Walker. When he was replaced by junior RHP Greg Larson, Walker attempted to steal second and succeeded after Zunino threw the ball into the outfield. Trying to get Walker out at third, senior center fielder Bryson Smith committed the second throwing error of the play, allowing the batter to score and the Gamecocks to take a 2-1 lead.

South Carolina called on closer Matt Price and, just two days after throwing 95 pitchers over 5.2 innings, Price (S 19) retired three of the four batters he faced.

The Gators and Gamecocks will go head-to-head in game two of the CWS Championship Series on Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN). Projected Starters: Florida – Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43 ERA), South Carolina – Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA)

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Gators fight to top Commodores 6-4, advance to College World Series Championship Series

The No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores were evenly matched all season long. Though Florida held the head-to-head wins advantage, Vanderbilt made them fight for each of them and did the same on Friday, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie before the Gators (53-17) pulled away from the Commodores (54-12) and advanced to the 2011 College World Series Championship Series with a 6-4 victory after more than three hours at TD Ameritrade Park.

Florida beat Vanderbilt five of the six times that the two (of three) Southeastern Conference champions squared off in 2011 including twice in the CWS and thrice overall during the postseason. The Gators advanced to the school’s second-ever championship series, having last played for the national title in 2005.

After getting the first two outs of the game, Florida junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis allowed Vanderbilt first baseman Aaron Westlake to power a homer to right to put the Commodores ahead a run early in the game.

The Gators stranded two in the bottom of the second, and VU did the same in the top of the third, helping Panteliodis get out of a jam. UF freshman third baseman Cody Dent helped take some weight off his shoulders in the bottom of the inning, smacking a lead-off, stand-up triple to right-center.

Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana walked to put runners on the corners, and junior 1B Preston Tucker dribbled a ball down the first base line to score Dent from third even though he was tagged out.

Florida took the lead in the bottom of the fourth with a small rally. Senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-3, R, BB) and junior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-4, R) hit one-out singles to left, and Dent was walked to load the bases. Fontana, stuck in a 0-17 hitting slide, hopped the ball up the middle to score two, giving the Gators a 3-1 lead.

Sophomore right fielder Daniel Pigott kept the momentum going in the sixth, starting the inning off for Florida with a double. The bases were then loaded with no outs after Dent was walked and Fontana had a bunt bobbled; a subsequent 6-4-3 double play scored Pigott from third and put the Gators up 4-1 through six.

Before the seventh could begin, Panteliodis (6.0 IP, ER, 3 H, HBP, 3 K) was replaced by junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo. Panteliodis concluded his outing by retiring the last eight batters he faced and 11 of the final 12 Commodores who stepped to the plate. He also had three 1-2-3 innings on the afternoon including the fifth and sixth.

Toledo (0.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H) stepped in and allowed one-out and two-out singles to put runners on the corners before a single to left reduced Vanderbilt’s deficit to 4-2. With two down and runners on first and second, he was replaced by junior LHP Nick Maronde, who walked consecutive batters to load the bases and let another run cross the plate. Stuck in a pickle with the bases loaded, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to the bullpen again and brought out junior RHP Greg Larson, who immediately forced a fly out to right to end the inning.

Florida went down in order in the bottom of the inning, and O’Sullivan went to the bullpen again, bringing in sophomore LHP Steven Rodriguez. After striking out Westlake, Rodriguez gave up a single to center and a chopper up the middle to put the tying run on second and the potential winning run on first.

Trying to stop the bleeding, O’Sullivan made yet another pitching change and called upon sophomore RHP Austin Maddox, who had not pitched since May 29 after injuring his foot. Commodores third baseman Jason Esposito legged out an infield single to short to load the bases, and Maddox hit the following batter on the foot to keep the bases loaded and tie the game up 4-4.

Fontana saved more runs from scoring by diving to his left to grab a liner for the second out of the inning, and a ground out just one batter later stopped the bleeding.

The Gators got things going again in the eighth. Pigott (2-4, 2 R) led off with a single, and Florida loaded the bases on picture perfect bunts from Dent and Fontana (2-3, 2 RBI, BB) – both down the third-base line. At that point, Vanderbilt decided to pull starter Sonny Gray (12-4, 7.0 IP, 5 ER, 12 H, 5 BB, 8 K) and dip into their bullpen.

Senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-5) popped out, but Tucker (1-5, 2 RBI) followed by hitting a floater to deep left, scoring one and keeping the bases loaded. The next batter, sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (1-5), went down on strikes, but a wild pitch strike three allowed Dent (2-2, 2 R, 2 BB) to steal home, giving the Gators a 6-4 lead and continuing the inning.

Maddox returned for the final three outs of the ballgame and got the first two batters out before allowing Westlake to double to right-center, putting the game-tying run at the plate. However, just a few pitches and a fly out later, Maddox (3-0, 1.2 IP, 2 H) clinched the championship series berth for Florida.

UF will face either No. 1 Virginia or No. 4 South Carolina in the College World Series Championship Series beginning Monday at 8 p.m. Game two is set for Tuesday at 8 p.m. and game three (if necessary) for Wednesday at 8 p.m. All three contests will air live on ESPN and ESPN3.com with full coverage here on OGGOA.

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Gators open CWS by defeating Longhorns 8-4

Though power has been their trademark all season long, the No. 2 Florida Gators beat the No. 7 Texas Longhorns at their own game Saturday, using a combination of strong pitching and clutch hitting to win the second game ever played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE. The Gators (51-17) came back from a three-run deficit to beat the Longhorns (49-18) 8-4 and advance to the winner’s bracket of the 2011 College World Series.

Texas took advantage of consecutive errors by Florida to get on the board first in the third inning. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and junior first baseman Preston Tucker allowed the first two batters on after bobbling easy outs, and the Longhorns utilized a RBI single and two sacrifice flies to score a trio of unearned runs and take an early 3-0 lead.

The Gators got a similar opportunity in the bottom frame, starting off with consecutive walks. A single to right by senior center fielder Bryson Smith and a passed ball with Tucker at the plate scored freshman third baseman Cody Dent and Fontana (0-5, R), respectively, reducing UT’s advantage to a single run.

Drawing a two-out walk one inning later, sophomore left fielder Tyler Thompson moved to second on a wild pitch and scored as junior right fielder Daniel Pigott hit a double to deep right. Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, BB) was rewarded by Dent (1-3, RBI, R, BB), who smacked another two-out double down the left field line to put Florida ahead 4-3.

Smith again got things rolling for the Gators in the fifth, taking first base after getting hit by a pitch. Tucker powered a gapper to deep right-center to plate him and give his team a 5-3 lead, but not before forcing Texas starter Taylor Jungmann into his shortest outing of the season. Jungmann (13-3) left after allowing five runs (four earned) on three hits with four walks, a hit batter and a pair of wild pitches while striking out three.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (11-3), who started on the hill for Florida, was terrific throughout the evening, tossing four 1-2-3 innings (including three in a row) and retiring 13 consecutive batters at one point. He was pulled after allowing a RBI double to left in the seventh, finishing the contest having given up four runs (one earned) on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings.

The Gators answered the Longhorns immediately in the seventh. Smith walked with one out and advanced to second after Tucker (1-4, RBI, R) ran through an infield single hit after the pitcher balked. With two outs, sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson (1-4, 2 RBI) hit what should have been a three-run homer to right-center but was instead ruled a two-RBI double off the top of the wall due to the inability to utilize instant replay.

Florida would end up earning that run the next inning when, with runners on first and second, Smith (2-2, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) hit a liner to center to score Thompson (1-3, 2 R, BB) and give the Gators an 8-4 lead.

Junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson struck out the only batter he faced in the seventh, and junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde came on to toss the final two innings of the contest, striking out three batters without allowing a single hit.

With the victory, Florida improves to 41-3 this season when out-hitting their opponent, 44-2 when scoring four or more runs and 44-0 when leading after seven innings. The Gators’ 51st victory of the year ties a single-season record.

UF will face No. 6 Vanderbilt (53-10) in the winner’s bracket on Monday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. Florida is 3-1 against their Southeastern Conference Eastern division rival in 2011 with all four games played away from home.

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