Florida baseball completes season sweep of FSU

Despite entering Tuesday’s game having lost five of their last seven games, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (26-8) completed the season series sweep of the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (27-6) for the first time since 1958 with a big 6-3 victory on the road at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, FL.

Florida came from behind to defeat Florida State in all three of their games in 2012, taking down their in-state rivals 9-2 on March 13 in Gainesville, FL and 4-1 on March 27 in a neutral site game in Jacksonville, FL. With Tuesday night’s victory, UF has now swept FSU and Miami in the same season for the first time in school history.

After going down in order to start the game, Florida found themselves in an early hole as Florida State took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first off a solo homer by second baseman Devon Travis. The Gators loaded the bases with one out in each of the next two innings but stranded all six base runners and failed to get on the board.

The Seminoles made their visitors pay in the bottom of the third, jumping ahead 3-0 after a throwing error by UF junior catcher Mike Zunino and a sacrifice fly by FSU C Stephen McGee allowed two runs to cross the plate.

Florida would not stay down for long, however, finally getting on the board in the next frame. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana walked to lead-off the fourth, moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a looper double to right by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, RBI, BB).

The Gators tied things up in the fifth when freshman 2B Casey Turgeon singled up the middle and Zunino (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R) followed by smacking a two-run homer to left. It was not long before Florida took and increased their lead on Florida State. UF loaded the bases again in the sixth though only Fontana scored after Turgeon (3/5, RBI, R) singled to left with two outs. Fontana (2/3, HR, RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) continued his stellar offensive performance the next inning with a solo shot to right in the seventh to give his team a two-run cushion.

Though the Gators undoubtedly got the help of some clutch hitting in the middle innings, the pitching in relief of junior left-handed starter Brian Johnson (3.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 4 K) was perhaps even more impressive.

Freshman right-hander Ryan Harris forced eight ground ball outs and registered one strikeout in three no-hit innings, and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez followed by striking out the side (all looking) in the bottom of the seventh. Junior closer Austin Maddox then came on to finish things up, registering the final five outs of the ballgame.

Florida will look to build on Tuesday’s victory when they travel to Knoxville, TN for a three-game weekend series against Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.). Saturday’s contest will air live on FOX Sports Florida.

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No. 1 Florida tops No. 4 FSU 4-1 in Jacksonville

A three-run sixth inning led No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (23-2) to a 4-1 victory over the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (21-4) in front of 10,751 fans on Tuesday night at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL. The win was Florida’s second against their in-state rival this season and clinched the three-game season series that is spread over 27 days in three separate locations.

The Gators defeated the Seminoles 9-2 on March 13 and will travel to Tallahassee, FL on April 10 to play the final game of the series.

Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson got the start for UF and began the contest on fire by allowing just one hit over his first three frames. However, Larson (3.2 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 4 K) encountered some resistance in the top of the fourth as a lead-off double came around due to some solid base running and questionable fielding decisions. He was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (1.2 IP, H, 2 BB, K), who got the final out of the inning to limit the damage.

Florida stranded pairs of runners on base in the fourth and fifth. Gibson struggled in the top of the sixth, giving up a leadoff walk and a single before throwing two passed balls and an intentional walk to load the bases. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi entered the unenviable situation but was able to force a grounder that the Gators’ defense turned into a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the inning unscathed.

The momentum appeared to swing at that point as Florida capitalized in the bottom of the inning. With two on and two out, freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, 2 RBI, R, BB) lofted a ball just over the center fielder’s head and legged it out into a triple to score both base runners. He reached home one batter later when junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (2/4, 2 RBI) hit a sharp single to right to give the Gators a 4-1 lead.

Magliozzi (3-0, 0.2 IP) earned the victory as junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 2 K) and junior closer Austin Maddox (S8, 1.0 IP, 2 K) shut the door on FSU.

The victory marked UF’s first over Florida State in Jacksonville since 2007. It was also the first time the Gators had defeated the Seminoles in a regular season series since 2009. Turgeon and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4) each registered their first career triples in the contest.

Florida now has 13 come-from-behind victories in 2012 as well as a 10-2 record against ranked opponents (7-1 against top-10 teams).

The Gators are now halfway through their eight-game road trip and will pick it up on Friday for the beginning of a three-game series against Ole Miss in Oxford, MS.

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No. 1 Florida takes down No. 6 Florida State 9-2

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (16-1) extended their winning streak to 14 games on Tuesday evening (tying a school record) with a 9-2 victory over the No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (14-2) in Gainesville, FL.

The first of three games to be played between the schools over the course of the season (a home-and-home and one neutral site match-up), Tuesday’s contest also set a school record as 6,005 fans entered the gates of McKethan Stadium.

Florida State scored a pair of runs off an error in the top of the third, sending Florida’s freshman left-handed starting pitcher Bobby Poyner (2.2 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K) to the bench early. However, the Gators responded immediately in the bottom of the inning as senior right fielder Preston Tucker smacked a three-run homer to put his team in front.

UF scored another run in the fourth, got on the board with a solo shot from junior shortstop Nolan Fontana in the sixth, plated another in the seventh and put the game out of reach by rallying for three more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Tucker (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led the way, but Florida also got two RBIs each from senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) and junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-2, 2 BB).

Senior right-hander Greg Larson (3-0) came on for Poyner in the third and earned the victory after just 1.1 innings of work. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 2 K) did the heavy lifting down the stretch, and junior RHP Austin Maddox (S6, 1.1 IP) closed things out by striking out one of the four batters he faced.

The Gators will head back to McKethan Stadium on Wednesday to take on the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Florida will then have one day off before opening conference play with a three-game series against Vanderbilt on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (1 p.m., FSF) in Gainesville.

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FOUR BITS: Pro Day, Tim Tebow, tennis, WBK

1 » Though the date has been set for at least a few weeks now, the Florida Gators officially announced this week that the team will hold its Pro Day on March 13. Free and open to the public, Pro Day will feature a number of draft-eligible Gators working out for NFL scouts and coaches from around the league right on Florida Field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida also announced that seven players who graduated in 2011 – quarterback John Brantley, defensive end William Green, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, defensive back Moses Jenkins, running back Chris Rainey and wide receiver Deonte Thompson – are scheduled to participate. Also in attendance to work out for scouts will be former Gators including DT Troy Epps, DT Lawrence Marsh, DB Dorian Munroe, DB Wondy Pierre-Louis and WR Justin Williams.

2 » EA Sports announced via their Facebook page that QB Tim Tebow is one of two Denver Broncos players representing his team in the online voting for cover athlete for the Madden NFL 13 video game. Voting begins March 7; after the field is cut down to 32 players, head-to-head votes will take place until the final cover athlete is picked. Tebow, who was on the cover of NCAA Football 11 two years ago, may actually want to avoid winning this contest due to the dreaded and much-publicized Madden curse.

3 » No. 15 Florida women’s tennis (6-1) swept the Florida State Seminoles (5-4) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex for the team’s 99th consecutive home victory. The Gators, now 52-1 all-time against the Seminoles, beat their in-state rivals 7-0. The No. 13 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen won 8-2, leading the way for three doubles victories. No. 1 Will (6-1, 6-2), No. 39 Oyen (6-2, 6-1), No. 18 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 23 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-2) and sophomore Olivia Janowicz (6-4, retired) all won their singles matches as well in the rout. Florida will compete in back-to-back road meets against Tennessee on Friday and Georgia on Sunday before returning to Gainesville, FL looking for their 100th straight win at home next Friday against Vanderbilt.

4 » Eight-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) is set to begin action in the 2012 SEC Tournament by taking on the nine-seed Auburn Tigers (13-16, 5-11 SEC) on Thursday at 1 p.m. With the game airing live on FOX Sports Network, fans can watch as Florida tries to pull out a victory for the opportunity to square-off with one-seed Kentucky on Friday at 1 p.m.

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DE Dante Fowler makes the big switch to Florida

A Florida State Seminoles commitment since Dec. 5, 2010, five-star defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) surprised many during National Signing Day on Wednesday by switching his pledge to the Florida Gators.

Expected to play Buck linebacker for the Gators, a position of high importance in the defensive system of head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Fowler was heavily pursued by Florida throughout the year and visited the school a half-a-dozen times unofficially.

Though he said he remained solid to Florida State following those visits, he admitted that he had some thinking to do after much of the coaching staff met him in his home last week (see picture above). One day later, Fowler again reiterated that he was “100 percent” going to commit to the Seminoles.

At 6’3” and 232 lbs., he is considered the No. 28 overall player in the nation and the third-best at his position according to Rivals. ESPNU ranks Fowler as a four-star recruit, the No. 71 player in the country and 10th-best defensive end.

He is the eighth defensive lineman to join the Gators’ 2012 class but is just the third expected to be in line for a shot at the Buck linebacker position with three-stars Bryan Cox, Jr. (Fort Lauderdale, FL) and Alex McCalister (Clemmons, NC) also vying for a spot on the depth chart.

Fowler becomes the 23rd member of the Gators’ 2012 signing class and is the second player to join the team on this year’s National Signing Day.

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FOUR BITS: Fowler, Haskins, lacrosse, Miller

1 » Five-star defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL), who the Florida Gators have continued to pursue even though he has been committed to the Florida State Seminoles since Dec. 5, 2010, hosted five Florida coaches at his house Thursday night. In attendance were head coach Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, linebackers coach D.J. Durkin , cornerbacks coach Travaris Robinson and tight ends coach Derek Lewis. According to The Gainesville Sun, the Gators coaches gave him plenty to think about. “I don’t know where I’m going,” he told the paper after saying last week he was still 100 percent committed to Florida State. “Not yet. I need this week to think about it. It’s gonna be pretty hard. I’m making a decision that’s gonna stick with me for the rest of my life.” Even though Fowler has remained committed to FSU for over a year, he has visited UF unofficially on a number of occasions.

On Thursday he also took the picture above wearing the Gators’ No. 6 jersey. With a family mostly full of Seminoles fans, Fowler previously felt pressure (especially from his father) to go to Tallahassee, FL for college. Now he knows it is all up to him. “My family really doesn’t care which one I go to now,” he said. “I’m making this decision on my own. My parents and coaches already talked with me, so now it’s my time to make the last call. It’s up to me. I finally get to call some shots.” Fowler will announce his decision on National Signing Day at 10 a.m.

2 » As noted Tuesday evening, Florida has hired Jon Haskins as the team’s new director of player personnel. UF senior writer Scott Carter has since composed a feature on Haskins, who explained what his role will be with the Gators and how he can impact the program from the office. “At the end of the day the head coach is the one who pulls the trigger on who he wants to bring into this program,’’ Haskins said referring to his assistance in recruiting. “We set the table. What really matters is that two days into camp, our coaches feel like, ‘that kid is going to be really good here.’ And then a year later you really have an idea of how he is going to fit long term in your program. When people think about recruiting, they think it’s the sexy stuff – the meet-and-greets and the visits. In reality, in my opinion, it’s more of an interview process. It’s really trying to give our coaches what they want however they want to attack recruiting.”

3 » Though it was only an exhibition match, No. 5 Florida lacrosse absolutely routed England 17-2 on Thursday with the team’s freshmen scoring 12 goals in the contest. Junior attacker Gabi Wiegand scored five goals on seven shots and also had two assists on the evening. Freshman midfielder Nicole Graziano scored four times on five shots, and junior A Kitty Cullen scored thrice on nine shots. The Gators will begin regular season action on Feb. 11 at North Carolina.

4 » Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller is set to sell his oceanfront mansion in Hillsboro Shores, FL to the highest bidder in a Feb. 25 auction. The property, which was once worth $12 million, will go on sale with a suggested opening bid of $4.5 million. How ridiculous is the home? The three-story mansion has six bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, two half-bathrooms, two gourmet kitchens, a home theater, a ventilated and climate-controlled wine/cigar room, a game parlor, a wet bar, an elevator, a swim-up bar with a grill, a hot tub, a fire pit and an outdoor entertainment lounge with dual waterfalls, a large plasma TV and a second summer kitchen. The entire property is nearly 13,000 square feet. Interested in learning more and placing a bid? First donate some money to OGGOA and then click here to view the listing. (Thanks to OGGOA reader Charlie B. for the heads-up.)

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Florida vs. Florida State post-game notes

The No. 11/12 Florida Gators wound up pulling away after a first-half slugfest with the Florida State Seminoles, defeating their in-state rivals 82-64 on Thursday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media and shared his thoughts on the victory.

ESPN HIGHLIGHTS

OFFENSE DEFENSE vs. DEFENSE

Heading into the contest, much of the focus was on whether Florida’s offense or Florida State’s defense would be the victor. Donovan, confident in the Gators’ ability to score, had his team focusing on defense all week, noting that if they could improve on that end a win against their rival would be likely.

“There was a lot of talk in the game about who was going to win out – our offense or their defense. I felt like the key in the game for us was how well we could defend and rebound. I told the guys that the game is not going to come down to whether or not they can stop us or not. It’s going to come down to how well we guard,” he said.

Even though Florida is somewhat of a smaller team overall, Donovan was confident in his team’s toughness against a rough group of FSU players.

“We have a pretty tough group physically. We may be undersized, but they’ll get in there and bang. They’ll physically compete. They’ll put their bodies in plays,” he said. “It was really important for us to have that physicality in the game from start to finish.”

He also said that the Gators’ defensive effort plays into his mantra that defense can setup offense, something Florida has plenty of this year. “The two hardest things to do in basketball defensively is to transition defense back … and to close out and guard the dribble,” he said. “When we get stops and we can rebound the ball, we’ve got a lot of offense coming down the floor and it’s hard to match up.”

YOUNG’s BLOCK; PLAYER EVALUATIONS

Sophomore center Patric Young’s insanely athletic block in the second half undoubtedly provided a great deal of push for the Gators. It was a play that turned a back-and-forth battle into a big-time victory, and Donovan felt the impact of Young’s block immediately. “It was a great play and it fueled our team and it gave us momentum, it gave us energy. And Pat athletically has the ability to make plays like that,” he said.

Donovan also praised Young’s entire performance on Thursday and how he really took lessons he learned in practice this week to heart. “I was really impressed with him because we watched a lot of film on how he was going to be guarded. I told him he can’t get frustrated because it was going to be hard to get the ball,” he said. “I said, ‘You got to keep posting up the whole entire game. You may only get it three times, four times, five times. But when you get it – you may have to work 50 times just to get it [once].’ And he did. He kept great composure. He was 7-for-7 from the field and you want to get it to him more and you try to get it to him more.”

On freshman guard Bradley Beal and his improved shooting: “When he’s open, he shoots it. He got some more shots up tonight. I thought our guys found him. He had a couple good drives to the basket. He rebounded the ball. He had some good looks from the three-point line. He’s got freedom to do that. Like anything else, he’s just the kind of kid that never wants to come across as being selfish. And he’s not selfish. He’s probably feeling more and more comfortable. It’s not so much that we’re asking him to do more or he feels like he needs to do more, he’s just understanding where shots need to come from.”

On senior point guard Erving Walker’s shooting struggles: “He took one that he knew was bad. He came down on the break and he kind of let it really go. We were on a run, and I think we were up 13, and I could tell he looked down to see if I was upset. And I was. He had some decent looks but the one thing that he did do is he constantly puts pressure on team’s defenses because he’s coming down the lane for a layup and you do have to account for him. The biggest thing for him is him making the next decision which sometimes has been hard because of his size, but he did a better job tonight. [...] But 1-for-7 beats 3-for-15. He’s got to understand, and I think he did make one three and he took a couple tough shots, but overall he really played a pretty good floor game in my opinion.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On shooting well from the line in the second half after starting 0-for-7: “Our guys have such a high opinion of how well they think they should shoot the ball. When it doesn’t go in, they lose a little bit of focus or they get down, they get disappointed. In the first half, our focus was not where it needed to be from the free throw line. In the second half we did a much better job. We rebounded pretty well in the second half and – thank God – made some free throws.”

» On when Florida will go from great spurts to playing a complete game: “It’s hard to play a complete game that you want to play because you’re playing other good teams. You’re up by 25 against A&M, you know they’re going to come out and compete and fight and battle. You know Florida State is going to compete and battle and fight for 40 minutes. [Playing against] good players, you’re going to have some moments you don’t look great and you need to get better.”

» On the health of redshirt junior G Mike Rosario (back): “I’m concerned from the standpoint that he’s going home and he’s not going to have any rehab for Christmas. Right now I would say he’s probably doubtful for Rutgers – that would be my guess. Just because he’s not going to be around the medical staff and be able to do treatment and rehab and the things he needs to do. We’re going to come back and practice on the 26th. We’ll see how he is, but I would be shocked if he plays right now with the way it is against Rutgers.”

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Young powers Gators to 82-64 win over Noles

What started out as a slugfest at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL turned into an impressive victory for the No. 11/12 Florida Gators (10-2), which used a picture-perfect performance by sophomore center Patric Young to upend the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles (8-4) 82-64 Thursday evening.

Young played 31 minutes for the Gators and was 7-for-7 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing four rebounds while also executing monster takeaway block that shook the O’Dome with excitement.

Florida State got on the board first but suffered through an 0-for-11 scoring drought that lasted 7:50 and saw Florida post 14 unanswered points to take an early 14-2 advantage. However, FSU eventually fought out of their rut and went on an 11-0 run over 1:42 to reduce UF’s advantage to a single point.

The Gators continued the game of runs by opening up an 11-2 scoring stretch capped by a three-pointer from junior guard Kenny Boynton in transition off of a blocked shot by freshman G Bradley Beal to take a nine-point lead with 3:57 left in the first half.

The Seminoles answered by scoring seven-straight points and cutting their rival’s lead to a single basket, but Florida scored four-straight to end the half and took a 32-24 lead on Florida State into the locker rooms at the break.

UF hit consecutive threes early in the second half to retake a 10-point lead and – following a quick 8-0 run by FSU – exploded on a 15-2 run of their own to jump ahead 53-38. The Gators never looked back.

A trey by junior forward Erik Murphy increased Florida’s advantage to a 19 points, and two free throws by senior point guard Erving Walker gave the Gators a game-high 21-point lead with less than three minutes left in the contest.

Florida, which had been much improved from the free throw line over the last two games, started 0-for-7 from the charity stripe but finished by hitting 16 of their final 17 attempts, shooting 66 percent on the evening. The Gators also hit 10 threes and outrebounded their opponent 32-31, marking the 10th time in 12 games this season that Florida has achieved either feat.

Beal led the Gators with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting and hit 3-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc to go along with six rebounds. Boynton (14 points), Murphy (12 points, six boards) and Walker (11 points, 8-of-10 from the line) also scored in double digits as sophomore F Will Yeguete led Florida with eight rebounds.

UF registered 12 steals during the contest with Beal and Yeguete each grabbing three; Boynton and Walker each took the ball away from FSU twice.

During the contest, Walker became the 12th player in school history to surpass 1,500 career points. The Gators awarded head coach Billy Donovan a ball for his 400th win prior to the game and honored the Voice of the Gators Mick Hubert at the first media timeout for calling his 1,000th career Florida football or basketball game.

UF will have a week off for the holidays before travelling to face Rutgers on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2 and will be the second-to-last one the Gators will play before the new year.

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