Florida advances to Gainesville Regional finals with 6-2 victory over Georgia Tech

A complete team effort including clutch hitting and solid defense led No. 1 Florida Gators (44-18) to a 6-2 victory over the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (37-25) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium and into the finals of the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament set for Sunday at 6 p.m.

Four players drove in runs for the Gators over two innings, and junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall stayed composed and efficient despite being knocked around a bit in his outing. Randall only gave up one earned run but allowed eight hits and walked one batter while striking out five in 5.2 innings.

Florida fell behind early after Randall gave up three-straight singles in the bottom of the second; luckily for UF he was able to induce a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning with just one run being scored. The Gators did not stay down for long, however, as junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit doubled to lead off the third, moved over on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana to tie the game 1-1.

A strange situation then occurred in the bottom of the third when Randall struck out Georgia Tech 1B Jake Davies and UF retired to their dugout. Instead of ending the inning, umpires reversed the strikeout call by pointing out that the ball was tipped by Davies’s bat and hit the ground. Randall returned to the mound and struck out Davies anyway as a raucous home crowd cheered his effort.

Perhaps fueled by what they deemed to be an unfair decision, Florida got right back on the board in the fourth as junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, RBI, R) stepped up to the plate and hit a solo homer to center on the second pitch he saw. The Gators extended their newfound lead to 4-1 thanks to a quick rally including an RBI single by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, RBI) to score senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (0/2, R, BB, SB) and sacrifice fly to left by Ramjit (2/3, RBI, R) to score freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, R, BB).

Another odd incident went down in the bottom of the fifth when Yellow Jackets head coach Danny Hall began arguing with the umpires after Fontana (2/3, RBI, R, BB, SB) slid into second on a double. Hall aggressively argued that the umpires gave Fontana a time out too quickly and was tossed for apparently using explicit language.

Randall remained in the contest until the sixth when he was pulled after registering an important strikeout with runners on the corners and one out. Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez relieved him and forced a fly out to right on his first pitch to end the inning.

Still on in the eighth, Rodriguez gave up a run that may have been prevented had his defense played better but nonetheless allowed Georgia Tech to reduce their deficit to 4-2. He was tagged for a lead-off single that advanced to second on a groundout before allowing an RBI single with two outs. Instead of having a close play at the plate, Florida gave up an easy run as Shafer’s throw from left field was quite short of home.

UF’s offense quickly negated that run by adding a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB), previously hitless on the evening, smacked a two-run bomb out of the park.

Rodriguez (3.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) stayed on for the ninth and retained the four-run lead by retiring the side for the Gators.

Florida will wait to learn their opponent for Sunday night’s regional final as Georgia Tech and College of Charleston must first play an elimination game at noon with the winner advancing in the double-elimination tournament and the loser going home.

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Jonathon Crawford throws a no-hitter, leads Florida to 4-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford was nearly perfect for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball on Friday, throwing the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament to lead Florida over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 4-0 on the first day of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.

Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament.

Despite his unbelievable effort on the mound, Crawford received tons of help both at the plate and in the field from freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, HR, 4 RBI, R), who registered a career-high four RBIs on the evening and snagged a liner with two outs in the top of the ninth to preserve his pitcher’s no-hitter.

Senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R, BB, SB) led off the bottom of the second with a single, stole second, moved over to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on an RBI single by Turgeon. The Gators, however, got three-straight outs with two runners on base and ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.

Florida had a number of opportunities to plate runners in the next two innings but failed in that mission and was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. UF ended the game 2-for-15 in such situations.

Turgeon provided that second hit with a three-run blast in the fifth though the Gators quickly fell back into the swing of things (or lack thereof) by getting out thrice more with the lead-off runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.

Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in his no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning.

[OGGOA Extra: Mick Hubert calls Jonathon Crawford's no-hitter]

Florida (43-18) advances to the winner’s bracket of the Gainesville Regional where they will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday at 7 p.m. GT defeated College of Charleston in the regional opener; CoC face Bethune-Cookman (34-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the loser being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

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Teddy’s Catch: Now the real fun begins…

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.

Now the real fun begins.

Florida Gators baseball team enters the postseason as the number one overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and will open up by once again hosting a regional this weekend. Ask any college baseball player and they will tell you the NCAA Tournament is the highlight of the season, but it takes something special to make a run to Omaha, NE – the site of the College World Series.

As a member of the Florida team that was the national runner-up in 2005, I can tell you that just getting there is the hardest part. Your team has to be at the top of their game every single time they step on the field because one loss can be tough to overcome in a Regional or Super Regional. Mistakes are more costly, errors seem to always lead to bad innings, and fundamentals like bunting and baserunning become extremely important because moving a runner up can lead to an extra run (and most postseason games are tight with that one run making the difference in the final score).

With this much added pressure, it’s important to stay as loose and relaxed as possible. The 2005 team liked to play practical jokes to lighten the mood. The old “Icy Hot in the jock strap” trick never got old. Whatever a team does, whether it be practical jokes, team outings to places like the zoo, card games or anything else for that matter, a team needs ways to lessen the stress of the marathon that is the NCAA Tournament.

Much like that team, this year’s Gators are loaded with pitching, power bats and experience. The 2005 team had four quality starters and a suffocating bullpen; it featured a lineup that had a mixture of speed and power, too. Florida has four legitimate starters, which is a huge advantage in the regional tournaments that can last up to four or five games if a team suffers an untimely loss. Also like the 2005 team, these Gators have a good mixture of guys that have a high on-base percentage like senior outfielder Daniel Pigott and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana as well as power hitters like junior catcher Mike Zunino and senior right fielder Preston Tucker. These similarities in the pitching staff and lineup give me and other scouts confidence Florida should be able to battle their way back to Omaha.

UF just wrapped up a good showing in the 2012 SEC Tournament, reaching the semifinals only to be eliminated by Vanderbilt. While many are disappointed, as a scout, the way the players performed in the tournament provided a glimpse of why Florida not only can but should make a run at the national title.

The first three games saw the Gators starting pitcher absolutely dominate the opposing team. Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford, junior RHP Hudson Randall and junior lefty Brian Johnson each pitched exceptionally well; to have three hot pitchers going into the postseason is extremely valuable. Although sophomore Karsten Whitson struggled in the Gators’ fourth game, the bullpen, especially senior RHP Greg Larson, picked up the slack and shut down the opposing team until junior closer Austin Maddox unraveled in the ninth inning.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Now the real fun begins…

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Teddy’s Catch: Time for Florida to turn it up

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.

The postseason is a different animal compared to anything a team goes through during the regular season. The Southeastern Conference Tournament demands teams play every day (unless you win the first two games) until they lose twice. It has gotten even more difficult by expanding to 10 teams this season.

This means shorter rest for the weekend starters and less time for relievers to recover, but it can also be a positive for hitters as there is less of an opportunity to sulk following a bad game at the plate.

League tournaments test a team’s mental makeup, stamina and depth in the bullpen, areas in which the Gators happen to excel. With the way they ended the regular season, Florida should be able to make a deep run in the tournament.

The 2005 team I was a part of was built for the postseason. That Gators squad had deep starting pitchers with Stephen Locke as the fourth man in the rotation if needed. That’s a freshman All-American as a “just-in-case” starter.

The bullpen had future big leaguer Darren O’Day and a plethora of other future pros. This depth enabled us to make a deep run in the SEC Tournament. Had it not been for a few blown calls, Florida would have won the whole thing.

What really helped the 2005 team was the senior leadership and stability they brought to the table. O’Day, Jeff Corsaletti, Tommy Boss and many others helped keep the Gators on the right track and prevented us from going through any extended losing streaks.

When it came time for the postseason, these guys had been there before, knew the lay of the land and had experience in handling the various situations we would encounter.

The 2012 team is a lot like the 2005 team. Seniors like center fielder Daniel Pigott and right-hander Greg Larson will lead by example. These guys know how to handle a postseason run. Florida also has a plethora of juniors who are likely still sour after falling short of their goal one year ago. Most of the big names will be beginning their last postseason in orange and blue and want to go out on a high note, not as a class that failed to get it done on more than one occasion.

The Gators’ bullpen is deep and the bats came alive at the perfect time in the regular season’s final series. Ironically, Florida will face Auburn in the first round on Tuesday, setting the stage for UF to get off to a hot start in what will be a very long postseason.

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SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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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: Crawford, Pigott picking up slack

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 split their two mid-week games over the past few days, probably not what UF fans wanted to see as part of a long homestand. After losing to South Florida on Tuesday, the Gators beat up on a very weak Bethune-Cookman team Wednesday night. Even in the loss, Florida out-hit USF by collecting 10 on Tuesday; they added 12 more on Wednesday. In other words, the Gators showed signs of offensive life in the former contest. The only thing missing from the national championship equation right now is clutch hitting.

Florida is leaving too many runners on base and scoring opportunities are being missed too frequently. Look for the Gators to employ more hit-and-run plays, straight steals and batters trying to bunt for base hits. UF did have five stolen bases on Wednesday, so look for that to continue. The coaches see the offensive woes just as much as you do and will try to get it going in different ways.

Even throughout Florida’s recent struggles, there have been a few bright spots that deserve attention.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Crawford, Pigott picking up slack

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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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