No. 25 Florida baseball bests No. 4 South Carolina in dramatic fashion; Gators lead SEC East race

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 25 Florida Gators baseball (23-13, 9-6 SEC) sits atop the Southeastern Conference East division after coming through big over the weekend by taking two of three from the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (28-7, 8-5) in dramatic fashion on the road at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, SC.

Florida jumped out to a 1-0 advantage in the first inning of the series opener, but it was the only run it could muster against South Carolina lefty Jordan Montgomery, who struck out eight batters. A one-out walk issued in the fifth by UF freshman right-handed pitcher Logan Shore (7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, BB, 2 K) snowballed into a three-run inning for USC, which added an insurance run in the seventh and held on for the 4-1 victory.

The Gamecocks looked to be on their way to securing a series win during game two on Saturday, but the Gators turned things around in a major way with just six outs to go.

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2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

The unanimously top 25-ranked Florida Gators are hoping to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw the team go 29-27 in the regular season and get bounced out of both league and national postseason play without winning a single game.

UF also lost five players to the 2014 MLB Draft – including three top pitchers – and enters 2014 with a young but talented roster filled with up-and-coming prospects.

In the offseason, seventh-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan signed a top-notch 2014 recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. The 15-member class makes up 43 percent of Florida’s roster, which features two fourth-year players (redshirt juniors) but not a single senior.

One year ago, the departures of nine MLB draft selections loomed large on opening night. This Friday, when UF begins the 2014 campaign with a three-game home series against Maryland, the most notable absence from the lineup card will be a current Gators outfielder in sophomore Harrison Bader. Bader was indefinitely suspended after police suspected alcohol played a role in a Feb. 2 scooter accident. Without him, Florida lacks its best hitter (.312) and one of only four designated outfielders.

Here’s what O’Sullivan (252-132) has to work with as the Gators open the 2014 campaign looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointments and begin moving in the right direction toward another College World Series berth.

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Florida baseball quickly knocked out of regional

Florida Gators baseball was knocked out of the Bloomington Regional round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament in quick order over the weekend, losing late leads in both games and seeing its season end during regional play for the first time since 2008.

The Gators (29-30) finished the 2013 season with a sub-.500 record for both the first time since 2007 and first time under the leadership of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

Trailing the No. 21 Austin Peay Governors 1-0 through five innings on Friday, Florida took a lead in the top of the sixth as sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, R) came through with a big three-run homer.

Unfortunately for the Gators, which got a solid start from junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (6.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 4 BB, 5 K), sophomore RHP Ryan Harris could not hold on to the lead in the eighth. Harris (1.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 K) coughed up a three-run dinger to designated hitter Michael Davis that gave the Governors a 4-3 lead and sent UF down to the Bloomington Regional loser’s bracket.

Florida matched up against the Valparaiso Crusaders on Saturday in an elimination game and once again looked to have the upper hand.

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Florida baseball falters, drops series to Auburn

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

With the season is winding down, Florida Gators baseball (28-25, 13-14 SEC) is limping to the finish line rather than charging towards it the way head coach Kevin O’Sullivan had envisioned. UF dropped two of three games to the Auburn Tigers (31-20, 11-16 SEC) in its last home series of the regular season and once again fell below .500 in conference play. Florida has now come up short in six of its last seven Southeastern Conference contests, dropping back-to-back series to LSU and AU.

The Gators struggled to hit consistently all weekend, falling behind early in all three games. In Friday’s series opener, the Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 lead, notching three runs apiece in the fourth and fifth innings. A four-run seventh helped UF get back in the game but ultimately did not change the outcome as AU held on for a 7-4 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) did not have his best stuff in the series opener and Auburn took advantage. O’Sullivan yanked Crawford early, hoping his bullpen could tame the Tigers, but the move did not work.

AU busted the game open, scoring three more runs to extend its lead to 6-0. Florida fought back, but the deficit proved to be too much. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/5, RBI) and freshmen outfielders Harrison Bader (1/4, RBI, R) and Richie Martin (1/4, RBI, BB) knocked runners home in UF’s four-run seventh, but the Tigers kept the Gators off the board in the other eight innings.

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Florida baseball continues rise; 6-2 in last eight

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

No. 19 Florida Gators baseball (25-20, 12-9 SEC) has continued its upward momentum, going 6-2 (with two series victories) since it swept South Carolina in mid-April. Over the last two weeks, Florida has gone 3-1 both at home and on the road.

Following a big three-game sweep over a Southeastern Conference powerhouse like No. 15 USC, many teams might suffer a letdown game against a non-conference foe on the road…but not the Gators. Florida had plenty of motivation to pick up a revenge victory in Fort Myers, FL against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles after having been swept by FGCU in Gainesville, FL back in February.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner tossed 5.1 innings, a career-high, allowing only one run in UF’s 5-3 victory on April 16 before sophomore closer Johnny Magliozzi got the job done with a five-out save. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) smacked a double to help fuel a three-run seventh inning. Redshirt senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, RBI) and sophomore outfielder Justin Shafer (2/5, R) also contributed to the hit parade.

Junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford overcame a rough beginning to his Friday start on April 19 to earn his third win in an 8-6 victory over the Missouri Tigers. Crawford allowed four hits in a four-run first but settled down for the next 4.2 innings and left the game with a 6-4 lead. The Gators’ offense was not done, however, scoring two more runs on four hits to spot the relievers four runs. Magliozzi picked up another five-out save, securing a much-needed series-opening win on the road for Florida.

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Florida baseball sweeps No. 8 South Carolina; Gators above .500 for first time since Feb. 20

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

It has been a season of ups and downs for Florida Gators baseball (19-18, 8-7 SEC), but the home team was able to end the week on a major high note by completing a three-game sweep of the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The series sweep was Florida’s first of the season. Saturday’s victory pushed the Gators above .500 for the first time since Feb. 20 while simultaneously extending their winning streak to five games including four-in-a-row over top-10 ranked opponents.

Following a big come-from-behind 4-3 victory over No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday in Tallahassee, FL, Florida started its series against South Carolina on Thursday with its ace – junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford – on the mound.

Crawford (2-5) carried his team with a solid 6.2-inning outing in which he allowed only two runs to help UF pick up the 3-2 victory.

It was Crawford’s second longest outing of the season and an indication that he may finally be ready to return to his role as staff ace. Crawford was bumped from the No. 1 spot in the rotation after he struggled in non-conference play, but he has won his last two home SEC starts and looks to be the Gators’ top starter going forward.

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SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

1 » A pair of Florida Gators will be competing at the 2013 Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club, one of whom is a current University of Florida student and a member of the school’s golf team. Senior T.J. Vogel, a 22-year old amateur, will be playing in his first ever major and has decided to properly take in the moment. Over the weekend, he and his caddie arranged his schedule so he could “bump” into Tiger Woods during an early-morning tee time. “I basically ran into him and we talked for a few minutes,” he said according to the Orlando Sentinel. Vogel has been playing at Augusta as much as possible in preparation for the Masters and will get his big opportunity starting on Thursday. He will be joined in Augusta by former Gators golfer Brian Gay, who has played as a professional since 1994 and has four PGA Tour wins but has never finished better than 20th in a major (2008 PGA Championship).

2 » Former Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the highest-drafted baseball player in school history (No. 3 in the 2012 MLB Draft), is breaking out in a major way while playing minor league baseball for the Seattle Mariners. Currently assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), Zunino is simply crushing the ball. On Tuesday night, Zunino smacked a grand slam and has now hit a homer in three-straight games. He has hit four home runs in five games and boasts a MiLB-high 16 RBI while batting .429 and slugging an absurd 1.238 with an on-base percentage of 1.696.

Read four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
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2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has his work cut out for him in his sixth season in Gainesville, FL. Ranked No. 13, No. 17 and No. 24 in the various preseason top 25 polls, the Gators are looking up at anywhere from four to six Southeastern Conference foes listed ahead of them.

Right now, the core of the team that achieved three consecutive College World Series appearances is focused on MLB spring training instead of its spring semester at Florida. There are a few returning faces spread out across the diamond, but the Gators will have to find at least multiple new starting pitchers, a new closer and a new way to produce runs without relying so much on the long ball.

O’Sullivan has proven he knows how to identify some of the best young talent in the country. On a Florida team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he has to develop that talent fast to fill the void left by the nine Gators selected in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Florida opens its 2013 campaign on Friday when it starts a three-game home series against Duke at McKethan Stadium.

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