Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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.

Midseason slumps happen – every team has at least one – though the one Florida Gators baseball went through (losing five of seven games from March 30 – April 7) may have been especially painful for fans.

Florida has seen the light though. As much was obvious over the last two weekends as junior left-hander Brian Johnson helped power the Gators to a series win at Tennessee and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott picked up the offensive slack against Georgia. Florida won both series but did not necessarily do so in the convincing fashion that many fans are accustomed to seeing. This is what SEC baseball is all about.

The biggest issue the Gators have is their offense. It was a question mark to start the season and remains a concern going forward. Their pitching and defense remain outstanding, especially considering the injuries that sidelined sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson and Friday night ace junior RHP Hudson Randall.

During one of my first columns here, I mentioned how Florida had nine players capable of hitting .300. At his point in the season only Pigott, Johnson, junior catcher Mike Zunino, junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (five players) have eclipsed that mark.

The Gators’ lineup has become top-heavy. After these first five hitters, Florida’s lineup is manageable for opposing pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gushue has cooled off from his hot start and Zunino is hitting sub-.250 in SEC play. Every team goes through midseason struggles but to see some of the veterans off of their game is a bit alarming.

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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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No. 1 Florida baseball drops first series this season to No. 16 Ole Miss in Oxford

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (24-4, 6-3 SEC) dropped their first series of the 2012 campaign and first regular-season series in 11 months by losing two of three games over the weekend to the No. 16 Ole Miss Rebels (20-8, 5-4 SEC) in Oxford, MS.

Florida found themselves fighting from behind the entire weekend, dropping the series opener to Ole Miss 3-0 on Friday, overcoming a one-run deficit to pull away with a 9-4 win on Saturday and losing a late lead in a 7-6 walk-off defeat on Sunday.

Gators junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-1, 6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) gave up three earned runs in the bottom of the first inning on Friday but threw five strong innings to conclude his outing. His teammates were unable to make up for his rough start, however, only registering three hits (two singles and a triple) while on their way to being shutout for the first time since March 8, 2011.

It did not take long for Florida’s bats to come alive as the team combined to tie a season-high with 17 hits in the second game of the series on Saturday. The Gators took a one-run lead in the top of the first but kept swinging back and forth with the Rebels, falling behind 2-1 through four innings and 3-2 through five. UF took the lead for good in the top of the eighth, scoring six runs on six hits including a three-run homer by junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (3/5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R). Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R [2 ER], BB, K) got the start, but freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (4-0) picked up the victory by registering just one out in the seventh.

Florida fell behind early once again on Sunday with sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, BB, K) struggling in his start. However, junior LHP Steven Rodriguez replaced him and steadied things for the Gators, striking out six in four shutout innings. His teammates capitalized on his steady arm by tying the game 5-5. A four-run fourth inning began with a solo shot by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/5, HR, RBI, R), and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (3/4, HR, RBI, 2 R, SB) added a solo homer of his own in the sixth.

Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, RBI, 2 R) gave Florida a lead for the first time with UF’s third solo dinger of the game in the top of the seventh, but Ole Miss rallied to tie the contest in the bottom frame. The game appeared to be headed towards a tie as travel time restrictions would have cut off the contest following the ninth inning, but the Rebels took advantage of a throwing error by Tucker with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth for the walk-off victory. Junior closer Austin Maddox (2-1) picked up the loss after giving up two hits in the final frame.

The Gators will look to end their eight-game road trip on a high note when they take on North Florida in Jacksonville, FL on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Florida is 4-3 in the first seven games of the road trip.

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Gators baseball takes series from Gamecocks

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (22-2, 5-1 SEC) traveled to Columbia, SC face the defending NCAA champion No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5 SEC) over the weekend and came away from the three-game series with a victory after coming from behind to win the final two contests.

Florida was hoping for a measure of revenge on South Carolina, a team that swept them in the finals of the College World Series one year ago. The Gators looked to have cracked under the pressure with a late loss on Thursday but fought back to earn victories on Friday and Saturday to take the series from their rival.

USC triumphed 9-3 in Thursday’s series opener, breaking out of a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and holding on for the victory. UF rallied for a run in the third but was lapped 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth after junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K) gave up a two-run homer. Florida rallied again to tie things up in the top of the sixth, and Randall exited with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom frame.

Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (3-1, 0.1 IP, H, ER, K) came on in relief; however, after getting out of the sixth, he gave up a single in the seventh that wound up scoring after junior RHP Austin Maddox replaced him and imploded. Maddox let Rodriguez’s batter to score along with three others, giving up two hits and two walks while allowing three earned runs. South Carolina piled it on with three more runs in the bottom of the eighth and held on for the win.

The Gators played an all-around better game on Friday, posting five runs in the opening frame and pinching lights out for the duration of the contest to earn an 8-2 victory. A three-run homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) was backed up immediately by a solo shot from junior LHP Brian Johnson (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R), who made an impact before he even got a chance to take the mound. Johnson (4-0, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) stared the game off with three scoreless innings and added a second RBI in the top of the next inning to give his team a 6-0 lead.

Junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R), a replacement during the game, added a pair of homers (one in the sixth and another in the ninth), finishing the contest with the most impressive offensive performance of the evening. UF’s relievers closed things out by pitching three one-hit innings to clinch the win.

Saturday’s rubber match was a fight to the finish even though Florida never fell behind in the contest. The Gators got out to an early 3-0 lead thanks in part to a pair of solo homers in the third by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and Zunino (1/3, HR, 2 RBI, R). South Carolina erased that deficit over the following two innings, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) for three runs though only one was earned as the others were attributed to an error in the outfield.

Rodriguez (2.1 IP, BB, 3 K) replaced him in the sixth and Maddox (2-0, 1.2 IP, H, ER, BB, 2 K) came to close out the game even though he struggled once again by throwing two wild pitches in the eighth. Florida retook the lead in the top of the ninth after junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-RBI triple to right center, but Maddox allowed a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to bring the score to 5-4 before forcing two more outs to end the game.

The Gators’ school-record 18-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday, but Florida hopes that it has started a new one which they will look to keep up as they play a neutral site game against Florida State in Jacksonville, FL on Tuesday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on Sun Sports.

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida is playing at another level

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 Florida baseball team is good. Check that, they’re really good. I know that is putting it in simple terms, but the Gators have not lost a game since the opening weekend of the year, running off a school-record 18-straight wins including plenty of tough victories in that stretch. How has Florida been so good for so long? The answer is indeed that simple: they’re really good.

The Gators starting pitching continues to be outstanding. In the game against Florida State last week, freshman right-hander Bobby Poyner looked extremely sharp. When I first walked into the stadium, he immediately reminded me of former Florida lefty Stephen Locke. He’s not a very big kid, but he was mixing in a lot of off-speed pitches (curveball and changeup especially) to get the job done. When he finally let a fastball go, the radar gun clocked him at 90 mph. He may not have pitched deep into the game, but Poyner gave UF fans a glimpse of a future Friday night starter and someone who should have a promising college career.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, gymnastics, Leak

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (17-1, 1-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 15 games on Friday by toppling the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-11, 0-1 SEC) 10-2 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-0, 6.2 IP) matched a season-high with six strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on six hits. Behind 2-0 through 4.5 innings, Florida rallied for a five-run bottom of the fifth as eight batters stepped to the plate. The Gators added four more runs in the bottom of the seventh and another in the eighth to pull away for the decisive victory. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/5, 3 RBI, R) and freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (1-4, 2 RBI) led the way offensively but junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4, RBI) and senior outfielder Daniel Pigott (3-5, RBI) each crossed the plate twice for Florida. Game two against the Commodores is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday (CSS), and the Gators will conclude the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. (FSF).

2 » No. 4 Florida softball (24-2, 5-1 SEC) got back to their winning ways on Friday with 9-1 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-10, 2-4 SEC) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (13-1) put together a complete game in a run-ruled five-inning outing, giving up one earned run while striking out two, walking two and scattering four hits. Freshmen 1B Lauren Haeger (2-3) and designated hitter Bailey Castro (1-1, HR, R, 2 BB) each notched three RBIs to help fuel the Gators’ offense. UF will wrap-up their three-game series USC by hosting them twice more on Saturday (Sun Sports) and Sunday at 1 p.m.

3 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics (11-1) posted the second-highest total in the nation this season to conclude the 2012 regular season with a 197.900-196.475 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes (7-3) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville. Sophomore Alaina Johnson captured event titles in the vault (9.90), uneven bars (9.95) and balance beam (9.925) while also winning the all-around (39.675). She split two of her titles with teammates as juniors Ashanée Dickerson (uneven bars) and Marissa King (balance beam) matched her scores. King also split the floor exercise event title with freshman Kytra Hunter (9.95). The Gators will next compete in the 2012 SEC Championships on March 24 before moving on to the NCAA Regionals on April 7.

4 » In his first game as starting quarterback of the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak completed 21 of 31 passes for 196 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Jacksonville, the league’s defending champion, scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to pull away for a 52-28 victory.

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No. 1 Florida completes weekend sweep of FGCU

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (15-1) swept a three-game series for the third time this season, taking down the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-8) over the weekend at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida topped FGCU 4-2 in the series opener thanks to a four-RBI night by junior catcher Mike Zunino, who hit a pair of two-run home runs in the bottom of sixth and eighth to propel the Gators to victory. The Eagles got on the board first with a two-run bomb in the top of the fourth, but junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K) lasted into the eighth without giving up another run.

Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (3-0, 0.2 IP, K) had gotten UF out of the top of the eighth before Zunino (2-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) hit his second blast of the game, and junior RHP Austin Maddox tossed the final frame, striking out three of four batters to pick up his fourth save of the season.

Florida had an easier time scoring on Saturday, rallying for four runs in the bottom of the first and defeating Florida Gulf Coast 8-3. Junior LHP Brian Johnson (2-0, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 6 K) got the start and picked up the victory as Zunino (2-5, R) and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 BB) each drove in a pair of runs.

The Gators had to claw their way to a victory Sunday with sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford on the hill for his third start of the season. A two-run homer by freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) in the bottom of the fifth put Florida ahead 2-1, but FGCU rallied for a run in the top of the sixth to tie the game and force Crawford (5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, BB, 3 K) off the hill.

It took four more outs for the Gators to get back on top in the seventh as freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R) hit his fourth bomb of the season to put Florida ahead for good. Maddox picked up his fifth save by pitching a hitless final frame.

UF will host Florida State in the first of three games scattered throughout the schedule on Tuesday. The Gators will then play an exhibition game against the Ontario Blue Jays on Wednesday before opening up Southeastern Conference play by hosting Vanderbilt in a three-game series from Friday to Sunday.

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

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 end of the Miami series is an appropriate time to take a step back and look at what the No. 1 Florida Gators baseball team has accomplished up to this point early in the season. The Gators have lived up to expectations thus far, passing every test and checking in with a 10-1 record, the sole blemish being a loss in a Sunday game after a series was already clinched to then-No. 16 Cal State Fullerton.

The Gators opened up against the season without the usual cupcake series people are used to seeing in many sports and still walked away by winning two of three games at home. Since their loss to the Titans that first Sunday, UF has reeled off eight-straight wins, including last weekend’s sweep at then-No. 8 Miami.

The reigning SEC Player of the Year, junior catcher Mike Zunino, has kept up his offensive dominance by batting .425 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Florida has eight or nine players capable of hitting above .300, and this consistency throughout the lineup is important as it makes every inning a stressful one for opposing pitchers.

On the mound, junior closer Austin Maddox is making the most noise and looks to have turned into the dominant closer the Gators desperately need. He has already amassed 17 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings.

It should be a relief for fans to see the Florida bats heat up Friday and Saturday down in Miami as they struggled a bit opening weekend against Cal State Fullerton’s quality pitching. The usual suspects like Zunino, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, senior right fielder Preston Tucker, senior left fielder Daniel Pigott and junior first baseman Brian Johnson powered the Gators throughout the weekend but there was also a new face who stepped into the lineup and produced in a big way.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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