FOUR BITS: Florida tennis falls, lacrosse reigns, softball triumphs, gymnastics sets the tone

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (3-1) lost its first match in more than a year as the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (7-1) snapped the visitors’ 25-match winning streak (which dated back to Feb. 12, 2012) with a 4-0 sweep on Sunday in Durham, NC. Though the duo of senior Lauren Embree and junior Sofie Oyen took down Duke’s No. 7-ranked team of Mary Clayton and Ester Goldfeld 8-4, Florida eventually lost the doubles point when junior Alex Cercone/freshman Brianna Morgan lost a 6-4 lead and fell 7-6(7-3) in the third doubles match. The Gators responded by winning the first set on five-of-six singles courts. However, No. 9 Oyen was upset by No. 45 Goldfeld (6-4, 7-5) to put the Blue Devils up 3-0 and Duke picked up one additional singles win despite UF leading in all three of the matches that did not finish. Florida, which was pushed out of the top national ranking at the start of the week by new No. 1 North Carolina, will be in Chapel Hill, NC to face UNC on Monday at 2 p.m.

2 » No. 3 Gators lacrosse (3-0) has won its first three matches of the season for the first time in program history after taking down the High Point Panthers (1-1) on Sunday in High Point, NC. Florida, which picked up a 13-7 victory, was led by three goals apiece from sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy and senior attacker Caroline Chesterman. Senior A Kitty Cullen and sophomore M Nicole Graziano added two goals each. UF will host Stony Brook in the program’s home opener on Wednesday.

3 » No. 5 Gators softball (12-0) spent its first weekend of the 2013 season plowing through opponents out west in the Kajikawa Classic. One weekend later, the location changed but the game play remained the same as Florida trounced its competition in the Lipton Invitational at the friendly confines of Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The Gators outscored their opponents by a combined 54-4 over six games in a three-day span. Florida beat the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks 10-0 on Friday and 9-1 on Sunday, shutout the Savannah State Tigers 12-0 on Friday and 14-0 on Sunday, took down the Western Carolina Catamounts 5-0 on Saturday, and squeaked past the Charleston Southern Buccaneers 4-3 on Sunday in an extra-inning affair.

Four Florida players led the way offensively with sophomore first baseman Lauren Haeger (7/15, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 R, 3 BB) at the top of the pack. Also making big contributions were sophomore outfielder Jessica Damico (4/11, HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, SB), freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart (8/20, HR, 4 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 SB) and freshman OF Kirsti Merritt (4/9, HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 2 SB – four games). A solo homer by Haeger in the bottom of the seventh on Sunday against Charleston Southern sent the game into extra innings, and Damico ended the contest in the bottom of the eighth as she tripled to score the final run of the game. Each of UF’s pitchers picked up a pair of wins over the weekend including Haeger (4-0, 11.0 IP, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, HBP, 15 K), sophomore right-handeder Alyssa Bache (3-0, 10.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 14 K) and junior RHP Hannah Rogers (4-0, 15.0 IP, 9 H, ER [3 R], 5 BB, 13 K).

4 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (6-1, 5-1 SEC) once again proved why it is being labeled as the best team in the country as it came from behind to take down the No. 9 Georgia Gym Dogs (5-5-1, 3-1-1 SEC) on Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,971 at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA. Florida ousted Georgia 197.30-196.175 despite losing two team events (vault, uneven bars) and barely winning the floor exercise. A strong performance on the balance beam gave the Gators a significant 49.300-48.125 advantage over the GymDogs in the event, catapulting them to victory. Freshman Bridget Sloan picked up her third-straight all-around title with a 39.60 and also won bars with a 9.95.

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FOUR BITS: Cincy ready, Boynton’s shooting

1 » One day after advancing to the finals of the Gator Holiday Classic with a dominating 62-35 win over the Southern Jaguars, Florida Gators women’s basketball (5-6) fell to the High Point Panthers (5-6) 75-68 at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Senior forward Sharielle Smith led the Gators with a team-high 11 points for the fifth double-double of her career (11 rebounds).

2 » Though they lost head coach Brian Kelly to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and their interim coach, Jeff Quinn, accepted the head job with the Buffalo Bulls, the Cincinnati Bearcats are playing better than ever, according to quarterback Tony Pike. “I think this has been our best week of practice this season,” Pike said. “It’s been a relief to get back on the field. The success we’ve had this season had been overshadowed by the other stuff.” The Bearcats and Gators will both descend on New Orleans, LA, on Saturday to begin practice for the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

3 » A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Florida freshman guard Kenny Boynton has already delighted fans with his exciting play and aggressive style. His shot selection, however, leaves much to be desired. Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun took a closer look at Boynton’s struggles – the freshman sensation is shooting only 37 percent from the floor and a measly 21.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the Gators’ loss last Saturday against the Richmond Spiders, Boynton was 0-6 from three-point range, some of which were simply bad shots. “Kenny may have taken some bad shots, but I think the same thing can be said of the rest of our team,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “Guys are going to have ups and downs. He’s got to have the freedom to take good shots, to take unchallenged shots.” While his shot selection may be questionable, one key to Boynton’s success in the backcourt is his penchant to hold onto the ball; he has a sterling 2.25 assist-to-turnover ratio.

4 » Though Donovan and his players are certainly not making excuses, one of the reason’s for Florida’s recent struggles on the court (aside from the high quality of opponents faced) are their injuries. Only six of the team’s 11 scholarship players are healthy, with the frontcourt being especially banged up. Junior forward Chandler Parsons (torn leg muscle), redshirt junior transfer center Vernon Macklin (pulled gluteus muscle) and sophomore C Kenny Kadji (back) will all likely be good-to-go Tuesday. Freshman F Erik Murphy (shoulder), on the other hand, may sit and rest. “Those kind of injuries that we have right now are similar to a lot of teams and what they go through,” Donovan said. “But there’s no question [that other teams] have a lot more depth than we do right now.”

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FOUR BITS: Baseball ranked, Buffalo hires coach

1 » The Florida Gators baseball team has been ranked No. 9 in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason top 40 poll released Sunday. 2009 SEC Eastern Division Champions, the Gators were 42-22 overall in 2009 and advanced to the NCAA Super Regional in the postseason. The only SEC team ranked higher in the poll is the LSU Tigers at No. 2.

2 » Florida women’s basketball (5-5) defeated the Southern Jaguars (6-3) 62-35 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Sunday in the first round of the Gator Holiday Classic. Sophomore center Azania Stewart scored a career-high 18 points as she led the Gators to victory. Florida will take on the High Point Panthers for the tournament title at 7 p.m. on Monday.

3 » Further fleecing the Cincinnati Bearcats staff, the Buffalo Bulls have hired Jeff Quinn (Cincinnati’s interim coach after Brian Kelly left for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish) as its new head coach. Though Quinn will not start until after the 2010 Sugar Bowl, his hiring spells relief for Gators fans who were hoping neither cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford nor quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler would be hired away for the job.

4 » Seniors quarterback Tim Tebow and softball pitcher Stacey Nelson, along with 28 other Florida student-athletes, graduated on Saturday. Here are two pictures:

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