Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

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Ross hits game-winning RBI in World Series win

Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross, a spot starter for Game 5 of the 2013 World Series, came through in the clutch with an RBI double in the seventh inning that later became the difference maker for the road team on Monday evening in St. Louis, MO.

Tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh, Boston jumped ahead by a run when Ross hit a ground rule double to left to score what would become his team’s game-winning run. He was thrown out at home two plays later after trying to tack on an insurance run for the Red Sox following a single to center by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ross has become left-handed pitcher Jon Lester’s personal catcher and led the hurler, from behind he plate, to a terrific performance on Monday (7.2 IP, 4 H, ER, 7 K).

He only spent one year as a member of the Florida Gators baseball team, joining the program as a junior transfer in 1998 after two seasons with Auburn.

Following the 1998 College World Series (the Gators were the No. 1 overall seed but lost in the first round), Ross decided to forgo his final year of eligibility. He was subsequently selected in the seventh round of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ross has played for seven different teams over his 12-year MLB career and is currently in his second stint with Boston (2008). A .237 hitter who has spent most of his career as a reserve, he played in his 13th postseason game on Monday, seven of which have come this season with the Red Sox.

After the 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Ross was interviewed on the field by FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews, who was a sophomore at Florida in 1998.

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FOUR BITS: Hernandez, Nelson, Young, Yeguete

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who underwent minor shoulder surgery back in April, was originally supposed to miss a few weeks of action before rumors popped up that he could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Instead, according to reporters in attendance, Hernandez was already back on the field catching passes (non-contact) during organized team activities this week. In other words, he should be healthy enough to be fully cleared for practice during training camp over the summer. With teammate Rob Gronkowski looking like he will not be able to start the season on time, Hernandez has the opportunity to once again be a big-time playmaker for New England’s offense.

2 » Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson is also working his way back from an injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that kept him out the entire 2012 campaign. Nelson, signed by Cleveland in early April, will be competing for a roster spot during training camp and told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he will be good to go by the time it opens on July 26.

3 » Florida Gators senior basketball players center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete often participate in charitable work both on behalf of the school and on their own. The duo, which are close friends off the court, recently befriended a three-year-old named Kaedyn Ballew who was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 10 months old. This story from the Florida Times-Union takes a look at the friendship forged between Ballew, Young and Yeguete and how it has extended well past the players’ initial visit. “Some [people] are impressed by our size,” Yeguete told the paper. “Kaedyn is not. He thinks that he’s stronger than us. He’s really confident. That’s pretty cool.” Ballew, who has been given a 50 percent chance at a full recovery, hopes to watch the Gators play in person next season while eating “nachos with lots of cheese.”

4 » OGGOA mistakenly overlooked the start of the 2013 MLB, forgetting to put together a short preview of former Florida baseball players on big league rosters. Therefore, here is a listing of the five Gators playing in MLB on Opening Day and how they have fared just over two months into the season.

Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles): GP (27), W/L (3-0), SV (1), ERA (1.78), WHIP (1.11), K/9 (1.04)
Catcher David Ross (Boston Red Sox): GP (18), AVG (.189), OBP (.283), SLG (.453), OPS (.736) – Hit .125 in May.
Left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde (Los Angeles Angels): GP (3), W/L (0-0), ERA (11.57), WHIP (2.14), K/9 (0.95) – Sent down to the minors.
Second baseman Mark Ellis (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (35), AVG (.270), OBP (.319), SLG (.352), OPS (.671)
Left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (27), W/L (1-2), ERA (2.75), WHIP (0.71), K/9 (1.04)

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FOUR BITS: Evans, O’Day, Taylor, McDonald

1 » Florida Gators senior safety Josh Evans opened up to the New York Post recently about the difficulties he faced after losing his mother over six years ago while still in eighth grade. In fact, Evans had to come to grips with the situation head-on considering he was the only one in the house at the time of his mom’s passing. “I was actually there. My mother had been dealing with cancer for a couple of years, and I had no clue, I didn’t know she had cancer because I was young, my parents didn’t want the baby boy to know that she was sick to that magnitude,” he explained. “It was toward the end of the school year, graduation was coming up, eighth grade, I had a day off from school. So my father went to work and he said, ‘Make sure you check on her every 10-20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I will.’ After he left, 10, 15 minutes went by, I walked back in the room to check on her and that was it. I saw something that changed my life forever.” Read more.

2 » Two former Florida baseball players began the 2012 MLB Playoffs late last week though only one remains past the wild card qualification weekend. Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day has already seen action as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles as the team got past the wild card stage and is now engaged in a five-game series with the New York Yankees. Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross, on the other hand, hit a two-run homer in his team’s game but is now out of the playoffs due to the Braves losing.

3 » Former Florida jumpers Christian Taylor and Will Claye – who took home gold and silver, respectively, in the triple jump at the 2012 London Olympics over the summer (Claye also won bronze in the long jump) – are two of six male athletes nominated for 2012 Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year, an award that recognizes track & field’s best male and female athlete. The award will be officially presented on Dec. 1. with fans receiving the opportunity to vote for their favorite.

4 » San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald may not post the gaudy stats like some of his contemporaries, but he is just as integral to his team’s success as any of the top players at his position in the NFL. Speaking with the 49ers’ team website last week, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio raved about what McDonald brings to the table each day. “He has a tremendous impact on any game and on our defense,” he said. “When teams have a hard time running, he’s right in the middle of that. Whether he’s being credited with a tackle or not is irrelevant.” After playing sparingly as a reserve in his first few seasons, McDonald was signed to a starter’s contract in 2011 (five years, $20 million) and moved into that role last year. He is more than living up to his end of the bargain and could be in line for a raise before his deal expires in 2015.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators defensive end Justin Trattou was cut by the New York Giants on Thursday after missing all of training camp up to this point with a variety of injuries. Trattou was active for a number of games last season and won a ring last season as New York defeated New England 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

» Speaking of the Giants, the team brought former Gators defensive tackle Marcus Thomas in for a visit Thursday. New York is looking to upgrade the interior of its defensive line and Thomas is one of the biggest names on the free agent market after failing to come to an agreement with the Denver Broncos, where he started 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Thomas recently tweeted that he would be willing to play “for practice squad money.”

» The New York Jets are rumored to be one of a handful of finalists bidding for the services of former Florida running back Jeff Demps, so of course quarterback Tim Tebow was asked about the possibility during training camp on Thursday. As expected, Tebow supported the potential addition of Demps but said he would not pressure him to join him with the Jets. “They asked me about him,” he said according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he’s someone that I was proud to play with in college. He did a great job for us, and I feel like wherever he goes, he’ll work hard at and do a good job for that team.”

» ESPN’s Andy Katz spoke with Yale head coach James Jones recently about his team getting an unusual visit from the UF basketball team this season. Jones “credited a Yale administrator who once worked at Florida as well as Gators head coach Billy Donovan” for creating the home-away-home series that gets a high-profile team to visit Yale. “Donovan…isn’t adverse to playing home games for players in odd places,” Katz wrote. “He once played at UNH for New Hampshire native Matt Bonner. This is a ‘home’ game for Rhode Island native Erik Murphy.”

Read nine more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

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Gators to begin MLB season; softball’s draftees

With Opening Day for MLB beginning at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday, the Florida Gators boast six former players on rosters across the league.

2B Mark Ellis – Oakland Athletics
A nine-year veteran, Ellis is Oakland’s opening day starter at second base. He will bat in the lower half of the order seeing as he finished the 2010 season batting .291 with five home runs and 49 RBI in 436 at bats.

1B Matt LaPorta – Cleveland Indians
Praised by the coaching staff for his defensive prowess in the infield, LaPorta is still trying to improve his hitting at the professional level. An offensive force coming out of UF, he only batted .221 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 46 walks in 376 plate appearances in 2010 but will start for Cleveland this season.

RHP Darren O’Day – Texas Rangers
A force for Texas during the playoffs, O’Day struggled with his command this spring. He made a team-high 72 relief appearances last season and will likely be the primary reliever in 2011. O’Day finished 2010 with a 6-2 record and 2.03 ERA in 62.0 innings.

RHP Bryan Augenstein – St. Louis Cardinals
Augenstein pitched in seven games (two starts) for Arizona in 2009. He will likely be St. Louis’ long reliever out of the bullpen in 2011.

C David Ross – Atlanta Braves
A nine-year veteran like Ellis, Ross will be the back-up behind home plate for star catcher Brian McCann. He played in 59 games for Atlanta in 2010, batting .289 with a pair of homers, 28 RBI and 20 walks in 121 at bats.

OF Ryan Raburn – Detroit Tigers
Played at UF as a freshman before transferring.
In his seventh professional season, Raburn will be Detroit’s opening day starter in left field. With the Tigers supporting a large number of outfielders on their roster, Rayburn may not start every day but will be given as many at bats as possible. He ended the 2010 season batting .280 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 371 plate appearances.

Three of Florida’s senior softball players were drafted in the 2011 National Pro Fastpitch Draft on March 18. Left fielder Kelsey Bruder and first baseman Megan Bush were picked in the second round, while second baseman Aja Paculba was selected in the fifth. Bruder (No. 5 overall) will play for the USSSA Pride in Orlando, FL where former Gators outfielder Francesca Enea was picked last year and won a title in 2010. Bush (No. 6 overall) is joining the Akron Racers in Akron, OH, and Paculba was picked by the NPF Diamonds of Hermitage, TN. Florida head softball coach Tim Walton also leads the Pride and won the league’s title in his first season.

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