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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Vanderbilt swipes victory from Florida baseball, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Down one with three outs to go, the Vanderbilt Commodores (33-25) rallied to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth inning and pulled off an 8-6 win over No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (42-18) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded for Florida after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vanderbilt to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze.

Unfortunately for the Gators, it only got worse from there.

The Commodores attempted a double steal and advanced a runner to third with another being thrown out at second. Vanderbilt then hit an infield single (the runner stole second on the play) to go up 5-4 and loaded the bases following an intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk. With the bags full, the Commodores pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single followed to give Vanderbilt an 8-4 advantage and increase Florida’s suffering.

The Gators allowed more stolen bases in one frame (seven) than had ever been executed in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event.

VU scored two runs off of sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson in the top of the first and sent him off after a rough 2.1 innings. Whitson gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and no strikeouts in his outing.

Florida responded with a run in the bottom of the first and tied the game at 3-3 in the third when junior designated hitter Brian Johnson (4/5, 4 RBI) hit a two-run double to right center scoring junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, 2 R) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, 3 R).

The Gators achieved what they thought would be the game-winning run in the fourth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, RBI, BB) singled to score junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, R) and added two more runs in the ninth though the late offensive outburst was too little too late for Florida.

Though Whitson and Maddox both struggled for the Gators on the mound, Florida’s middle relief – senior RHP Greg Larson (4.0 IP, H, BB, 3 K) and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (1.2 IP, H, K) – was fantastic.

Despite UF’s struggles on Saturday, the Gators have shown signs of hitting their stride over the last two weeks. Florida has scored six or more runs in five of seven games and lost two contests by just one run.

The Gators will remain a top-ranked team on Monday when they learn of their seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament; Florida will find out whether or not they are one of 16 regional host sites for the event on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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Florida tops Auburn in SEC Tournament opener

No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (41-16) continued their winning ways over the Auburn Tigers (30-27), outscoring their opponents 6-1 in the opening round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Tuesday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Florida just concluded the 2012 regular season with a three-game series at Auburn last Thursday-Saturday. The Gators picked up two wins over the Tigers and outscored their hosts 20-6 over the three-day period.

UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford was excellent in his outing, improving to 5-2 by allowing just one run (unearned) on two hits with four walks and a career-high nine strikeouts in 5.2 innings. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez, senior RHP Greg Larson and junior closer Austin Maddox combined to toss the remaining 3.1 innings, allowing a single hit while striking out two and walking one.

Freshmen batters provided most of the offense for Florida on Wednesday. Left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4) drove in three runs (two in the second, one in the sixth), and second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, R) smacked a two-run double in the sixth. The Gators also got a RBI from junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4), whose two-out double extended UF’s lead to 6-1 in the seventh.

Florida will have a day off before facing a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Thursday.

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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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FOUR BITS: baseball, Hunter, Every, Parsons

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (31-9, 11-7 SEC) won their second-straight weekend series on Sunday with a 6-3 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs (24-17, 8-10 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won the series opener 3-2 in 16 innings on Friday before dropping Saturday’s contest 5-3 and needing a victory Sunday to clinch the series. The Gators started with a 1-0 lead via a solo homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/4, HR, RBI, 2 R) in the bottom of the second, tied the game 2-2 in the fourth thanks to a RBI double by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott and fell behind 3-2 in the top of the sixth after the Bulldogs rallied. However, Florida would match and exceed that rally in the bottom frame, scoring four runs including three coming from a homer to right by Pigott (3/3, HR, 4 RBI, R, BB) to take a 6-3 lead.

Junior right-hander Hudson Randall (3.0 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, K) got the start for the Gators but struggled with his command in the fourth. Florida’s bullpen allowed two more earned runs over the next 2.2 innings but was able to close out the contest with 3.1 scoreless innings including junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez striking out three of the five batters he faced. Senior RHP Greg Larson improved to 6-0 with the victory, and junior RHP Austin Maddox notched his 11th save of the season.

2 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics may have come up just short of winning the overall national championship on Saturday but that did not stop freshman Kytra Hunter from picking up her second individual 2012 NCAA Championship on Sunday. Hunter, who won the NCAA all-around title (first in school history) on Friday with a final score of 39.725, captured the NCAA vault title on Sunday with a score of 9.8750. Hunter also came within a hair (0.0125) of taking the floor exercise championship as well.

3 » Speaking of heartbreaking losses, former Florida golfer Matt Every (-7) finished two spots back of Ben Curtis (-9) in the 2012 Valero Texas Open on Sunday, losing out on the title and a $1.116 million championship purse. Every did, however, bring home $545,600 for tying for second place and was not the only former Gators golfer to win big money as Brian Gay (-5) tied for fourth and banked $244,125 and Billy Horschel (+14) came in 75th and won $12,090.

4 » Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons – averaging 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists while starting 56-of-62 games as a rookie so far – was recently profiled in the video below. Hours after this initial posting Parsons posted one of the best lines of his young NBA career, scoring a personal-best 23 points (on 10-of-13 shooting) with six rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, gymnastics, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (30-8, 10-6 SEC) prevailed in a 16-inning marathon on Friday, defeating the Georgia Bulldogs (23-16, 7-9 SEC) 3-2 in the teams’ series opener at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida gave up a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth as Georgia tied things up but neither team posted a run in the following 16 frames. Finally the Gators ended the game by forcing the Bulldogs to commit the first error of the contest for either team. Junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved over to third thanks to a wild pitch. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana stepped up to the plate with hopes of driving Ramjit home but struck out swinging; however, Fontana’s third strike was dropped and an error by the catcher (a bad throw to first) allowed Ramjit to cross the plate. Right-handed relievers junior Austin Maddox and senior Greg Larson tossed the final 8.2 innings of the game. Maddox struck out five and allowed four hits in 5.2 innings, but Larson (5-0) earned the win after striking out two in three no-hit innings to conclude the contest. Friday’s game was the longest UF has participated in since 1996.

2 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics finished second in Session II of the 2012 NCAA Championships on Friday, advancing to the 2012 NCAA Super Six for a chance to win the first national title in team history. UF finished with a final score of 197.650, just 0.025 behind session winner Alabama. Freshman Kytra Hunter also captured the NCAA all-around individual national title – the first in team history – with a 39.725 in the event. The Gators will compete for the team national championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. (streamed live on ESPN3.com) and the rest of the individual titles on Sunday.

3 » No. 1-seed Florida women’s tennis (19-1) swept the No. 8-seed Tennessee Volunteers (14-12) in 2012 SEC Tournament second-round action on Friday, advancing to the semifinals where they will face No. 4-seed Ole Miss on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Gators easily won the doubles point and got three quick wins from sophomores No. 68 Alex Cercone, No. 51 Sofie Oyen and No. 121 Olivia Janowicz to end the contest relatively early. Florida will participate in the semifinals for the 25th time in school history, continuing their undefeated streak (25-0) in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The No. 4-seed Gators’ men’s tennis team (14-9) was not as fortunate, falling 4-1 to the No. 5-seed Ole Miss Rebels (13-7) and eliminating themselves from the event.

4 » No. 3/4 UF softball (40-5) swept a doubleheader against the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-22) on Friday and will look to close out the series with a victory in game three on Saturday. Florida won the early contest 7-4 behind the offense of freshman left fielder Briana Little (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) and closing ability of freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (S2, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 K). The Gators used the strong arm of freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-2, CG, 5.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 4 K) to help them coast to a 9-0 shutout victory in the evening game. Haeger (1/4, HR, R), freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2/3, 2 R, BB), sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/1, HR, R, 2 BB) and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1/3) contributed two RBIs each in the contest.

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