Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2012 (check out Sunday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 On the Field Moments of the Year.

12 » MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
If there was a theme to Gators athletics in the spring it was Florida teams falling short of their goals. In addition to men’s indoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and men’s swimming & diving all just coming up just short of winning major titles, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse and softball all gave valiant efforts but faced immense disappointment in the end. It all started with the Gators basketball team, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year and once again choked away a late lead and failed to advance to the Final Four. Up 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, Florida was outscored 18-3 down the stretch by Louisville, which held on for the 72-68 victory. The Gators hit just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14 while also going 1-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch and 0-for-9 from downtown over the final 20 minutes. Gymnastics did just about everything it could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six in late April but came just short of earning the first national title in program history, falling 197.850-197.775 to Alabama and losing by 0.075 points. Next up was softball, which looked primed to return to the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series for the third time in the last four years. Instead, Florida got upended 10-1 by eventual national champion Alabama in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament and was eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament due in part to suspensions levied against three key players. It was the first time since 2006 that UF did not at least advance to the Super Regional. A controversial finish led to another tough loss for lacrosse (see No. 9), leaving one sport to provide the ultimate disappointment to Gators fans in 2012.

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Gators fans was seeing a baseball team that was the national title favorite from the very start of the season fall fast and finish the campaign without a single title. Cruising along in the SEC Tournament with a one-run lead and three outs to go in the championship game, Florida baseball collapsed against Vanderbilt, allowing its opponents to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and hold on for the title. Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vandy to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze. It only got worse from there. The Commodores accomplished a double steal, hit an infield single, loaded the bases (intentional walk, double steal, intentional walk) and then pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single put the nail in the coffin as the Gators allowed more stolen bases in a single frame (seven) than had ever been given up in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event. With horrible memories of the SEC Tournament behind them and the NCAA Tournament upcoming, Florida hoped to use the experience to improve as a team. The Gators did advance to the College World Series but were swept right out of it with consecutive losses. Florida fell 7-3 to South Carolina in its first game before allowing an unranked Kent State team to register a 5-4 upset victory in the second game. The Gators coughed up four unearned runs, committed two errors and failed to plate runs despite having numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. With so much talent on the roster and a track record of success – the team got to the championship series just one year earlier – Florida baseball legitimately blew a great national title chance.

[Read: The Silver Lining - "Failure" is not a dirty word]

11 » FLORIDA SWEEPS FSU IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL

For the first time in school history, the Gators swept the Seminoles in football, basketball and baseball (5-0) in a calendar year. Florida State having a historically successful baseball team has stood in the way of Florida’s ability to accomplish this feat in the past, but Gators baseball completed its first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 1958 by earning a 9-2 victory in Gainesville, FL, 4-1 victory in Jacksonville, FL and a 6-3 win on the road in Tallahassee, FL. Florida football bounced back from consecutive losses to FSU with a 37-26 beat down in Tallahassee, and UF basketball matched the football team’s intensity with a 72-47 rout on the road.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player inducted into College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first Florida Gators player to receive the prestigious honor.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson is first in school history to this day in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224); he is second in home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson was selected with the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft and following three years in the minor leagues spent eight playing in the majors. He earned Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hit 32 home runs in 2004, smacked the last home run in Expos team history, jacked the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hit for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hit three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson also played for the Texas Rangers (2006-07) and spent time as a member of both the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. He signed a minor league contract with Boston in 2009 but quickly decided to retire before attempting a comeback in 2010 with Philadelphia that only lasted one month.

Wilkerson is a member of the seventh class of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, and was inducted in a ceremony that took place Saturday in Lubbock, TX. He is one of four members of the 2012 class, which also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SIX BITS: Beal, Olympics, Cup awards, Crawford

1 » Could Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal be the decided target of the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on June 28? That appears to be the case after Washington completed a trade on Wednesday that sent a small forward Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to New Orleans for SF Trevor Ariza and power forward/center Emeka Okafor. By adding two talented, starting-caliber frontcourt players, the chances that the Wizards would select a forward like Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (if he was even available) have been reduced significantly, meaning Beal could very well be the top player on their board with the draft just over a week away.

2 » Speaking of Beal, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla wrote Wednesday about what weakness Beal needs to improve on ($) in order to have a productive NBA career.

Beal’s screen-and-roll ability in Billy Donovan‘s screen-and-roll-oriented offense was average at best. Often when challenged by the screener’s defender (usually a big man), Beal was not able to take him on and beat him off the dribble. Ultimately, Beal shot just 35 percent in the screen-and-roll, and his overall points produced for himself or his teammates was a paltry 0.7 points per possession.

Part of the reason Beal struggled in the screen-and-roll is that he is a straight-line driver. I don’t doubt that he has been working hard on his ballhandling creativity. If he is going to be more than a one-dimensional jump-shooter, he’ll be handling the ball a lot, especially because the NBA’s 24-second shot clock demands it.

3 » The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track & field begin Friday in Eugene, OR with 17 total current and former Gators hoping to earn the opportunity to compete in the2012 London Olympics. Among those participating in the trials over the next 11 days are 10 current Florida student-athletes including: senior/junior Dwight Barbiasz (high jump), junior Omar Craddock (triple jump), junior/senior Jeff Demps (100-meter dash), freshman Marquis Dendy (long jump), freshman Dedric Dukes (200-meter dash), sophomore Ebony Eutsey (400-meter dash), sophomore Eddie Lovett (110-meter hurdles), sophomore Cory McGee (1,500-meter run), junior Tony McQuay (400-meter dash) and junior Jeremy Postin (hammer throw). Former Gators set to compete include: Hazel Clark (800-meter dash), Will Claye (long jump, triple jump), Kerron Clement (400-meter hurdles), Gray Horn (decathlon), Calvin Smith (400-meter dash), Wes Stockbarger (discus throw) and Christian Taylor (triple jump).

4 » The University of Florida athletic program finished No. 2 in the nation in the 2011-12 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. Twelve Florida programs finished among the top 10 of their respective sport nationally including women’s tennis (No. 1), men’s indoor track & field (No. 1), men’s outdoor track & field (No. 1), gymnastics (No. 2), lacrosse (No. 3), men’s basketball (No. 5), volleyball (No. 5), baseball (No. 7), men’s swimming & diving (No. 8), women’s indoor track & field (No. 9), men’s tennis (No. 9) and women’s swimming and diving (No. 10). It is the fourth-straight year that the Gators have finished in the top four of the Cup’s final rankings and second time in the last three years (2009-10). Florida has never won the Cup but has finished in the top 10 in each of the 29 years it has been awarded. Stanford won for the 18th time, outscoring UF 1448.25-1314.00 in the final standings. Only 20 sports count for each school toward their final total, but the Cardinal have 35 to choose from while the Gators currently support 21 total sports.

5 » With just a handful of game remaining in the 2012 College World Series, which Florida was eliminated from on Monday, the end of the athletic season is nearly here which means the final standings for the 2012 Capital One Cup will be official shortly. As of press time, the Gators lead the men’s standings with 89 points (baseball has not been counted yet). The only way that Florida can lose their top spot is if Arkansas (currently ranked 17th with 39 points) wins the entire CWS (adding 60 points to their total) and UF is ranked eighth or worse when the final poll. In that scenario, the Gators would finish second by one point (99-98).

6 » The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team announced Monday that Florida sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford has been selected to play for the squad this summer. Crawford is one of six Southeastern Conference players to earn placement on the team, which consists of freshmen and sophomores from some of the nation’s top programs. He finished the 2012 season with a final record of 6-2 along with a 3.13 ERA and the team’s first solo no-hitter for in 21 years.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Silver Lining: “Failure” is not a dirty word

It appears to be difficult for some to say these words but considering they are neither profane nor mendacious, they will be published right here: Florida baseball failed.

It really is as simple as that.

“Failure” is not a dirty word or an insult to effort. It is a factual result.

When someone or something does not meet a set objective – in the Gators’ case that was bringing home the program’s first national championship (read: title or bust) – they failed in their mission. That’s what happened on Monday – whether you like it or not.

“Failure” a word you use to describe a circumstance such as when the most talented and consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country for the preseason, much of the regular season and heading into the postseason not only gets swept out of the College World Series in two games but also falls short of capturing either their conference regular season or tournament crowns in the same year.

It is how you characterize a season that was supposed to change the shape of the program forever (making national titles an expectation, not an aspiration) but instead provided yet another depressing memory on the sport’s biggest stage.

Florida’s junior class has done a lot of great things for the program, but it did not transform it. UF had advanced to the CWS and lost on numerous occasions before they ever committed to the team. Their challenge was to win the program’s first national championship. That’s not a challenge conquered, it is one that remains unobtained.

None of this is to say the Gators did not have a nice season but since when is success determined in Gainesville, FL by anything other than conference and national titles?

Florida won 47 games this year, swept Florida State and Miami, and was dominant both through their first 21 games (20-1) as well as in Gainesville Regional and Super Regional action (5-0) to earn a spot in the CWS.

But UF also concluded the regular season on a 20-15 stretch, lost the SEC Tournament by imploding in the ninth inning (giving up five runs with a 4-3 lead against Vanderbilt) and had the rug pulled out from under them in their first two CWS games.

Gators fans have seen other teams fail at the mountaintop this athletic season. Florida gymnastics came within 0.075 points of a national title and lacrosse came within two stick checks of one as well. That’s what happens sometimes. One team wins; the rest lose. One succeeds; the rest fail. There are no participation medals at this level.

UF baseball never got the chance to suffer a heartbreaking loss like those two programs. South Carolina owned them in the CWS opener Saturday, and Kent State capitalized on every single opportunity that was presented to them on Monday.

Question head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s decisions over the two games all you want. Would the Gators have maintained their lead against South Carolina if he pulled junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson before he imploded in the fifth inning on Saturday? If he left Johnson in to bat in the top of the ninth with two on and no one out on Monday, would he have hit into a double play or tied/won the game for Florida? What if he went with his ace all season long, junior righty Hudson Randall, in the opening contest – a 9 p.m. night game that he would not have left early due to heat-related symptoms?

Decisions have to be made in sports – in the dugout, on the bench, on the field and on the court. You never know if they’re right or wrong until after you make them and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind.

Give this team credit though: The Gators fought hard until the final pitch of the game.

Florida had their opportunities to save their season on Monday. The Gators had six of nine lead-off hitters get on base including three-straight to end the game but struggled mightily both with runners on the bags and those in scoring position.

UF committed early errors, lost their starter due to a health issue and saw his replacement give up eight hits and throw two wild pitches, the latter of which scored what wound up being the game-deciding run in the fourth inning. Yet Florida’s bullpen was stellar down the stretch and gave the Gators a chance to get back in the game.

Florida was also dealt their share of bad luck in addition to the aforementioned issue with Randall. UF may have been the top-ranked team, but they also found themselves in the toughest bracket and opened the CWS against the two-time defending national champions. The Gators saw home runs fall as fly outs, line drives get caught by diving Golden Flashes and obvious balls get called as strikes at home plate.

But that’s how it goes. Them’s the breaks

Sometimes the ball rockets out of the park; sometimes the wind forces it back a foot. Sometimes the umpire sees a call as clear as day; sometimes you wonder if he’s watching another game entirely. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.

Sometimes you succeed; sometimes you fail.

That’s how baseball works.

That’s how sports goes.

That’s life.

Tags: , , , ,

Teddy’s Catch: Florida’s worst-case scenario

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.

Florida’s baseball season has ended earlier than anyone expected. While it is a bit disappointing that the Gators did not make a deeper run in the College World Series, it is still an achievement to just get to Omaha, NE and perform against the top teams in the country. While many may be quick to point fingers at players, coaches and umpires, let’s take a deep breath, step back and evaluate the two games UF played before jumping to conclusions. Florida could not buy a break – and sometimes that’s just the way baseball goes – but there are some things that could have been done to help the team get through both games without suffering losses.

In the South Carolina game, UF was cruising along, leading USC midway through the game. Then in the fifth inning, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson completely lost his usually good control. While that is hard to predict in the middle of the game, it is an easier fix than most people thin…and no, I’m not talking about taking him out of the game. Johnson couldn’t locate his fastball, but his curveball still effective; he could have gone to that and his changeup and hoped to find his fastball later. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and junior catcher Mike Zunino continued to call fastballs during the inning and Johnson kept serving them up over the middle of the plate. Zunino also stayed put and did not take charge of the situation, heading out to the mound to try and straighten out Johnson. Showing leadership when your pitcher is struggling is key to being a good catcher, and it is something that Zunino usually does with great success.

There are plenty of things to point your finger at throughout that game other than Johnson’s bad fifth inning. The Gators made too many errors, failed to sacrifice bunt runners over, and struggled with the basic catch-and-throw fundamentals they are usually so good at doing. Those things happen in baseball, though usually not all in the same game for the top team in the nation. Sometimes you can’t help those things but that’s not to say that nothing could have been done to give Florida a better chance.

Read the rest of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida’s worst-case scenario

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kent State outlasts No. 1 Florida baseball 5-4, eliminates Gators from 2012 College World Series

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-20) was swept out of the College World Series for the third time in team history after falling 5-4 to the Kent State Golden Flashes (47-19) on Monday in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

After losing 7-3 to No. 8 South Carolina on Saturday, Florida fell to Kent State by giving up four unearned runs, committing two errors and missing numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall started on the hill for the Gators but did not last long due to a health scare. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford replaced him and picked up the loss despite not being expected to see the mound on Monday.

After suffering some bad luck in the top of the first, things got worse for Florida in the bottom portion of the inning. A throwing error by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/4, R, BB) allowed Kent State to get a runner on base; he soon came around to score unearned after Randall gave up consecutive singles. There was then a delay in action as Randall (1.0 IP, 2 H, R, K) was spotted breathing heavily on the mound. He was treated for dehydration but remained on the hill to get the final two outs before calling it quits for the day with heat-related symptoms.

A fielding error by Gators freshman third baseman Josh Tobias gave the Golden Flashes life again in the second. Kent State plated their second run of the game three batters later after Tobias was unable to field an infield single and added two more immediately afterward thanks to a pair of singles up the middle. KSU registered four unearned runs on six hits with two errors committed by UF in the first two innings alone.

Florida got one back in the third as junior catcher Mike Zunino plated Tobias from second with a single up the middle, reducing their deficit to 4-1. Tobias (0/3, R) was on base after being hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.

The Gators gave the four-run lead back to the Golden Flashes one inning later, however, after Crawford (3.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R [1 ER], 3 K) threw a pair of wild pitches to allow a runner to score all the way from second.

Despite hitting numerous balls hard early in the contest, Florida had plenty of bad luck go their way as most found the gloves of Kent State defenders. UF was able to cut KSU’s lead down to three runs again in the sixth after a two-out RBI double by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer scored senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, R), who reached base earlier in the frame on a single to left.

The Gators loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh courtesy of a base on balls and a pair of singles. Zunino hit an RBI single to score one run, and junior designated hitter Brian Johnson helped one cross the plate by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play that cut Florida’s deficit to just one run.

Senior left-hander Greg Larson (2.2 IP, 2 H, BB, K) filled in nicely for the Gators but was pulled for junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.1 IP) after placing runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. Maddox went the rest of the way.

Florida freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon began the eighth with a single, but the Gators ended the frame by stranding two on base after Fontana lofted a ball to short, putting elimination three outs away.

UF began the ninth in similar fashion with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, 2 BB) walking on four-straight pitches, the sixth time that a lead-off runner got on base for Florida in the contest. Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI, BB) followed by also getting on board via four-straight balls (split over two pitchers), and sophomore Cody Dent (0/0) was called upon to pinch hit for Johnson and advance the runners. With one out, the game-tying run 90 feet away and go-ahead run on second, Turgeon (1/5) struck out on two questionable pitches and Shafer (2/5, RBI) hit his first pitch into right to end the game with a fly out.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan falls to 3-6 in his three-straight CWS appearances with Florida being swept both in 2010 and 2012; UF’s only two losses in 2011 came in the Championship Series to eventual national champion South Carolina.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 Page 1 of 6  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »