FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, NBA, Tebow

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (1-0) played like the top team in the country during their season opener on Friday, fighting back every time they were down and eventually toppling the No. 16 Cal State Fullerton Titans (0-1) 7-3 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Down a run after a throwing error in the top of the second, the Gators tied the game when freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1-4) turned on his first collegiate pitch and belted a homer to left field. Behind 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Florida used another solo shot – this time from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-3) – to even things up again. The Gators’ clutch hitting continued as a four-run seventh inning – including to pair of RBI singles by juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1-4) and first baseman Brian Johnson (2-4) – to jump ahead 7-3 and hold on for the victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the start for UF but gave up three earned runs on five hits with only one strikeout in 5.2 innings for the no decision. Coming on in relief with his team down a run, junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (1-0) struck out three and gave up just one hit in 2.1 innings before senior RHP Greg Larson tossed the final inning to clinch the victory. Florida’s series with Cal State Fullerton continues Saturday and Sunday though neither game is being televised.

2 » No. 1 Florida softball (7-0) continued its hot start to the 2012 season with yet another run-rule victory as the Gators shut out the Michigan State Spartans (1-5) 8-0 in five innings Friday night at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth but crossed the plate five times in the inning to take a 7-0 lead. A RBI single by sophomore left fielder Kasey Fagan (1-2) in the bottom of the fifth wound up being a walk-off hit as it became the game-deciding run. Freshman 1B Lauren Haeger (2-2) led the way for the Gators with four RBIs, and junior C Brittany Schutte supported her with a 3-3 performance and a RBI of her own. Freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3) also plated two runs and crossed home once herself. Continuing to prove her dominance on the mound, sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers (5-0) tossed a complete game one-hitter with four strikeouts and a walk in 5.0 innings. UF will take on Michigan State twice more before the weekend concludes.

3 » It was a big night in the NBA for four former Gators stars. Friday night’s standout performance came from Denver Nuggets guard/forward Corey Brewer, who scored a team-high 26 points (10-of-14 shooting) with five rebounds, a steal and a block in 32 minutes. Joining him at the top of their team’s respective box scores were Golden State Warriors forward/center David Lee with a team-high 23 points (8-of-17 shooting) and eight boards in a team-high 30 minutes; Houston Rockets F Chandler Parsons with a team-high 18 points (8-of-15 shooting), a team-high six rebounds and three assists in a team-high 40 minutes; and Memphis Grizzlies C Marreese Speights with a double-double of 12 points (5-of-8 shooting) and 10 boards with two blocks in 35 minutes.

Parsons also learned Friday that he will be participating in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend as one of three players representing Houston in the Shooting Stars competition.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has officially scheduled his “experience” event at the new D1 Sports Training and Therapy facility in Citrus Park, FL. Tebow will hold a special training session at D1 on March 10 where members and special guests will have the opportunity to train alongside him while checking out the new workout center. For more information on D1 and Tebow’s involvement with the company (he’s a part-owner of two facilities), check out OGGOA‘s post from Jan. 17.

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No. 2 Florida softball owns weekend with 5-0 start

In a weekend that saw some Florida Gators teams falter and others come out on top, No. 2 softball ensured that everyone knew they were for real by winning five games over two days at the USF-Fairfield Inn & Suites Tournament in Tampa, FL.

Florida (5-0) spent Saturday wiping the floor with their competition, shutting out Long Island, Maine and Illinois State in a trio of run-ruled affairs by a combined 27-0.

Sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers threw nine scoreless innings, striking out 14 while giving up just five hits and two walks combined in the first and third games, while freshman P Lauren Haeger earned her first win, shutout and complete game in orange and blue with a three-hit, 11-strikeout performance against Maine.

Haeger struggled a bit in the second appearance of her career, allowing an earned run on four walks and three hits with only three strikeouts against South Florida. Rogers came on to pitch the final 2.2 innings of the affair and helped lead the Gators to a 3-2 extra innings victory. She retook the hill in Florida’s final game Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast, striking out nine while only giving up three hits and walking one in a 5-0 win.

The hot starts of Rogers (4-0) and Haeger (1-0) were only matched by the hitting showcase put on by their teammates behind the plate.

The veteran Gators did their part with junior catcher Brittany Schutte finishing 5/15 with six RBIs, five runs and three walks; sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle powering Florida by going 4/13 with two home runs, seven RBIs, three runs and two walks; junior right fielder Kelsey Horton hitting 7/13 with two homers, five RBIs, four runs and three walks; and senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie ending up 4/12 from the plate with eight runs, three walks and five stolen bases.

Florida’s freshmen played their part in the offensive breakout as well. Third baseman Sami Fagan hit .666 (10/15) with three RBIs, seven runs, two walks and a pair of stolen bases, and Haeger did double duty behind the plate and in the field by hitting 5/16 with a home run, eight RBIs, three runs and two walks while also playing first base.

There is no rest for the weary Gators coming any time soon as Florida will play four home games before the week is up including one against Jacksonville on Wednesday and a three-game series against Michigan State Friday-Sunday. UF will then travel to Palm Springs, CA the following week to participate in the Cathedral City Classic.

Photo Credit: SEC Digital Network

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2012 Florida Gators softball primer: Build it up

Spring is here and No. 2/4 Florida Gators softball is set to begin their 2012 season this weekend by playing five games as part of a three-day tournament hosted by South Florida in Tampa, FL from Feb. 10-12.

The Gators enter the 2012 campaign having lost a number of major pieces that formed the core of last year’s team that went all the way to the championship round of the 2011 Women’s College World Series. However, a strong and dynamic freshman class coupled with a crop of extremely talented players and superb coaching by Tim Walton means that Florida may not be far off from yet another successful season.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators softball primer: Build it up

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FOUR BITS: Macklin, Young, planking, Nelson

1 » Though the story is no longer available on the team’s website due to the NBA lockout, the Detroit Pistons had posted an interesting column focusing on their No. 52 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Florida Gators center Vernon Macklin. Evaluating his performances in workouts, team vice president Scott Perry raved about Macklin’s potential. “The biggest thing is, he didn’t look out of place,” Perry said. “He was physical, strong, could hold his position in the low post defensively, long arms and he competed. That’s what you want to see.”

Macklin also received support from Detroit personnel director George David, who fueled him during the Portsmouth Invitational. “He said, ‘Are you going to be Joakim Noah or his backup?’” Macklin recalls. “After my first game at PIT, he texted me and said, ‘You were Joakim Noah today.’ And he said the same thing at the end of the workout.”

2 » The 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 Team faltered at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships on Wednesday, dropping a 87-85 contest to Croatia. Just a day earlier, the United States was triumphant in an equally close match, defeating Lithuania 107-105 in overtime. The constant in both games was the play of Florida sophomore center Patric Young, who has turned in some dominant performances after getting off to a slow start. Young went 5/7 both from the field and from the line for 15 points with seven rebounds in 26:24 on Tuesday and followed that up by shooting 7/8 from the floor for 16 points with eight boards in 26:19 on Wednesday. Over his last three international games, Young has shot 85.7 percent and averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.

3 » It has been just over a week since Gators redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail went on a planking spree, and OGGOA has had fun following many of Florida’s student-athletes as they take part in the activity. Things seem to have wound down a bit over the last few days and, therefore, we present you with this (potentially final) compilation wrapping up the latest planking attempts. You can view the rest of them here, here and here. The photos below feature Trail and sophomore wide receiver Robert Clark, redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison and softball players Hannah Rogers and Ensley Gammel.

4 » Keeping busy during the NFL’s lockout, Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson was recently in Las Vegas, NV and ended up on stage during a Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood concert. Below is a picture snapped by one of his friends.

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Sun Devils sweep Gators in Women’s College World Series to capture national title

Just two years ago, Florida Gators softball entered the Women’s College World Series and fought their way to the finals before losing in back-to-back games to Washington, the top-ranked team in the country.

Two years later, No. 4 Florida powered themselves back to the WCWS Championship Series but suffered a similar fate, dropping consecutive contests to the No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils and handing another NCAA Championship to a Pac-10 opponent.

The Gators (56-13) fell 7-2 to the Sun Devils (60-6) on Tuesday in the second and final game of the series, ending a spectacular season and great 2011 NCAA Tournament run with a thud at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.

Playing the final game of her softball career, senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (who has decided to retire from the sport after graduation) started the contest for Florida and got out of a tough spot in the first.

Arizona State stranded on a runner on third, but UF made sure not to follow suit in the bottom of the inning. Junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie led off by smacking a stand-up double up the middle, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and crossed the plate two batters later when sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte flied out to deep left. Moultrie’s hit tied the WCWS record for most by a single player in the event (13).

The Sun Devils made up for their missed opportunity, beginning the second with three hits and tying the game on a bases loaded walk. With one out, shortstop Katelyn Boyd singled through the right side, scoring two and giving ASU a 3-1 lead before Brombacher retired the final two batters. Arizona State increased their advantage to 5-1 in the third when designated player Alix Johnson dropped a two-RBI blooper into shallow right.

Brombacher (20-3) was pulled for freshman RHP Hannah Rogers to begin the fourth, and the young hurler got out of the top of the inning unscathed. The Gators hit three balls hard in the bottom of the inning but all resulted in long fly outs near the warning track.

ASU added another run in the fifth, scoring on a two-out RBI single, but a play at the plate ended the frame and left the Sun Devils with a 6-1 lead. Arizona State tacked on one more in the sixth courtesy of a solo homer by RF Annie Lockwood.

UF still went down fighting with senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice hitting a RBI single with two outs in the seventh to score sophomore DP Ensley Gammel, who got on base with a single of her own to lead off the inning.

Sun Devils freshman starter Dallas Escobedo (37-3) led her team throughout the event and once again in the championship series but received plenty of help on Tuesday from Boyd and Johnson, each of whom contributed three-RBI outings at the plate.

Though they posted a record-setting performance in the tournament, Florida failed in their bid to become the first Southeastern Conference team to capture a WCWS title. It was the third time in the last five years that teams from the SEC and Pac-10 went head-to-head for the championship.

2011 NCAA Tournament Honors
Co-Most Valuable Player: Michelle Moultrie
All-Tournament Team: Moultrie, Kelsey Bruder, Brittany Schutte, Cheyenne Coyle

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Sun Devils fork Gators 14-4 in game one

After absolutely dominating No. 2 Alabama on Sunday, No. 4 Florida Gators softball was on the other end of the stick Monday in game one of the 2011 Women’s College World Series Championship Series. The No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils (59-6) scored early and often, plating runs in the first five innings of the game on the way to an 14-4 rout of the Gators (56-12) at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.

Florida was unable to cross the plate in the top of the first, leaving runners stranded on second and third. Arizona State saw UF’s blown opportunity as a positive, scoring their first run of the game by taking advantage of junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie’s fielding error to score a walked batter all the way from first.

Gators freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (36-8) struggled mightily in the second, loading the bags with a two-out base on balls. Catcher Kaytlyn Castillo connected with a single to left to plate two, right fielder Annie Lockwood hit a blooper to right to score one more, and third baseman Krista Donnenwirth connected with a three-run homer to clear the bases and give the Sun Devils a 7-0 lead.

Arizona State increased the pressure on Florida the next inning, scoring thrice more to increase their advantage to 10-0. After the Gators left two on base in the top of the third, the Sun Devils began the bottom of the inning with back-to-back singles and a bunt to load the bases. A fielder’s choice, single to right and sacrifice fly all scored runs for ASU.

Rogers was pulled after allowing nine earned runs on nine hits with four walks (one intentional) in 2.1 innings. Senior RHP Stephanie Brombacher replaced her and retired both batters in the third to get out of the inning before allowing a solo shot in the fourth and both a two-run and solo homer with two outs in the fifth.

UF scored their first run in the sixth when senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder muscled a ball over the wall in center for a solo homer and added three more in the seventh on two more bombs. Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle hit a solo shot to left to begin the inning and Moultrie jacked one to center with two outs.

Moultrie’s homer was her fourth of the WCWS, tying an event record.

While Florida only scored in the sixth and seventh, Arizona State reached home in the first five innings and plated 11 of their 14 runs with two outs. ASU starter Dallas Escobedo (36-3) was lights out for the first six innings and threw a complete game while striking out seven, walking five and scattering five hits including three homers.

The Gators and Sun Devils will go head-to-head again Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the second game of the championship series airing live on ESPN2. Should Florida win, a third and decisive game will be played Wednesday to crown a champion.

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Women’s College World Series Championship Series: No. 4 Florida vs. No. 1 Arizona State

Event: 2011 Women’s College World Series – Championship Series
Location: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium – Oklahoma City, OK [Capacity: 7,300]
Time: 8:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2 / ESPN2HD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(4) FLORIDA GATORS (1) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Head Coach: Tim Walton Head Coach: Clint Myers
Record: 56-11 Record: 58-6
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Pacific 10
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its second appearance in the WCWS in the last three years. The Gators fell in back-to-back games to Washington in 2009 and is looking for revenge against another Pac-10 opponent this time around.
» No SEC team has ever won the WCWS. It is the third time in the last five years that an SEC team will face a Pac-10 team in the WCWS championship series.
» Arizona State is the only team to defeat UF thus far in the WCWS, winning a 6-5 thriller last week with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
» Florida has scored as many runs (41) in the first four days of WCWS play as the rest of the teams in the field (seven) combined.
» The Sun Devils and the Gators boast different strengths. Arizona State leads Florida in batting average (.338-.327), fielding percentage (.984-.974), ERA (1.83-1.90) and strikeouts (400-358). However, the Gators hold advantages in home runs (118-83), RBI (464-431), slugging percentage (.591-.536) and stolen bases (102-53). UF is also out-hitting ASU in the WCWS by more than 40 points (.357-.312).
» Florida on Sunday set WCWS records for runs scored in a single inning (11), home runs in a game (four) and RBI in a game (15).

LAST TIME OUT…

UF and ASU met on Friday and slugged it out in second-round action. Arizona State came away with a hard-fought 6-5 victory on a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh. Florida started the game down 4-0 but scored five runs in the fourth to jump ahead by one before losing it all to right fielder Annie Lockwood, who ended it with a bases loaded single. She finished the game 3-3 with a homer, three RBI and two walks.

KNOW THE OPPONENT

The Sun Devils are the top-ranked team in the country and enter on the back of freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo, a strikeout machine who is getting it done in the WCWS with three wins and a 2.00 ERA in 21.0 innings. Arizona State’s offense has struck out just 13 times in three games and has plenty of power with Lockwood, Katelyn Boyd, Mandy Urfer and Krista Donnenwirth.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder…who has already set a WCWS event record for most runs scored (nine) and has been a catalyst for Florida’s offense all season long. She is hitting .625 (5-8) at the WCWS with a homer, four RBI, nine runs and eight walks.
» Sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte…who set the Gators’ single-season home run record with her 21st and 22nd bombs on Sunday. She has hit five moon shots in eight career WCWS games.
» Junior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie…UF’s speedster leadoff hitter who has hit more home runs (three) in the WCWS than she did the rest of the season (two). Moultrie is hitting .611 at the WCWS and is 11-18 with five RBI and seven runs. She is one homer away from tying the WCWS record.
» Right-handed pitchers senior Stephanie Brombacher and freshman Hannah Rogers…who are sharing duties on the mound for Florida. Brombacher had her best outing in recent memory early on Sunday, and Rogers pitched six shutout innings that evening before being tagged for a pair of runs.
» Escobedo…Arizona State’s dominant pitcher who may start every game in the series unless the Gators prove that they are able to light her up.
» Lockwood…whose stellar performance on Friday eventually won the Sun Devils the game against Florida, sending the Gators to three-straight elimination games.
» Urfer…who leads all batters on both teams in average, hitting .667 (4-6) with two homers, five RBI and four walks through three WCWS contests.

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Gators rip Crimson Tide 9-2, advance to play for national title in WCWS Championship Series

Playing and winning three elimination games on their way through the 2011 Women’s College World Series, No. 4 Florida Gators softball defeated the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide twice on Sunday to advance to the event’s Championship Series beginning on Monday. The Gators (56-11), after dismantling the Crimson Tide (53-11) with their bats by a tune of 16-2 earlier in the afternoon, utilized strong pitching and timely hitting to earn a 9-2 victory in the evening.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (36-7) retired the first 11 batters she faced and threw six shutout innings before allowing a pair of runs. She tossed a complete game, struck out seven and gave up only four hits and one base on balls.

Florida took it to Alabama right out of the gate once again on Sunday. Junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2-4, R) led off with a single to right, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (0-2, BB), and found her way home when senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder stepped up and hit a two-run homer to right-center. Sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte wanted in on the fun and hit a solo shot to right-center to give her team an early 3-0 advantage.

The Gators increased the pressure on the Crimson Tide just two innings later. Bruder reached base after being hit by a pitch, and Schutte (2-4, HR, RBI, 2 R) moved her to second by singling to right. Senior first baseman Megan Bush (1-3, BB) singled to left to load the bases, and freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-3, 2 RBI) hit a ball hard up the middle to score both runners and give UF a 5-0 lead.

The first five runs allowed were all attributed to Crimson Tide pitcher Kelsi Dunne, who gave up six hits and walked one while striking out three in two innings. She was tagged for a total of 11 earned runs in just 2.1 combined innings of action on Sunday.

Looking to extend their lead even further, Florida found themselves with runners on first and second with one out in the top of the fourth. Bruder (2-2, HR, 3 RBI, 3 R) hit a long fly ball to deep right-center that was eventually nabbed, but freshman third baseman Kasey Fagan (1-3, R) used it as an opportunity to tag up and score all the way from second base, putting the Gators ahead 6-0.

With two on and two out in the top of the seventh, UF struck one last time. Senior second baseman Aja Paculba (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) stepped up and sent a ball flying out of the park, hitting a three-run homer and capping another top-notch performance from the Orange and Blue offense.

Rogers kept Alabama off the bases through six but got tagged for a few hits in the seventh. She allowed two runs before closing out the game with a strikeout to cap her stellar showing. Bruder tied a WCWS record for most total runs scored in the event (eight), and Florida as a team has scored as many runs (41) as every other team in the WCWS combined. The Gators’ 41 runs are currently second-most in WCWS history.

Florida advances to the Championship Series and will play for the NCAA Championship for the second time in three seasons. They will take on No. 1 Arizona State (58-6), which earned a 6-5 walk-off victory against UF on Friday, in the three-game series beginning Monday at 8 p.m. live on ESPN2.

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