Teddy’s Catch: Gators primed for CWS (Part II)

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Below is the second of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series. Part one of Teddy’s Catch was published Thursday morning.

On an extremely positive note, many of the freshmen on this Florida baseball team have continued their solid seasons and gained some much-needed confidence and experience down the stretch. The Gators have seen some solid postseason play from freshmen infielders Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias. Tobias has made a number of spectacular defensive plays at third base but also had two extremely clutch hits on Sunday (lead-off double in the ninth and the RBI single in the 10th to pad the lead).

It may have only been one measly double, but it was huge for his confidence as a hitter since he has struggled at the plate this year. Turgeon at second base joined Tobias at the bottom of the order with some clutch hits of his own and has also been playing quite well in the field. You can see him getting more and more comfortable at the plate not only game-to-game but also at bat-to-at bat.

These two freshmen are getting it done but Florida has also seen some fantastic outings from their young pitchers including sophomore starter Jonathon Crawford and a number of their bullpen arms. These guys are crucial to UF succeeding in Omaha.

One youngster who has been the odd man out lately as it pertains to the Gators’ weekend rotation is sophomore righty Karsten Whitson. It has been a tough season for Whitson who battled injuries early in the season and lost his spot in the rotation to the red-hot Crawford. Whitson, however, kept his head and confidence up and came through with what I think was the MVP performance of the Super Regional. He came into the game in the ninth with runners on base, struck out two, preserved the tie and extended the game into extra innings.

A former early first-round pick, Whitson showed exactly why he earned that designation on Sunday. He was pitching between 92-94 mph with an incredible slider and even mixed in a changeup or two that made the left-handed hitters look foolish.

Some scouts have been concerned about Whitson’s health and have said in recent weeks that they would be hesitant to draft him in the first round again next season. If he can stay healthy and pitch next year like he did against N.C. State in a short relief outing, he will be one of the first college pitchers taken in the MLB Draft – guaranteed.

Florida will open up against two-time defending national champion South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks will likely throw their ace, southpaw Michael Roth, who was a ninth-round pick in the MLB Draft this year but is nonetheless extremely talented. He rarely throws harder that 86 mph, but his movement and repertoire of pitches is impressive, much like former Gators lefty Stephen Locke.

Junior lefty will take the mound for Florida and make his first start since the SEC Tournament. Johnson has experience both pitching in the CWS and against South Carolina. While he may have been the second- or even third-best starter in the Gators’ weekend rotation, he will be the first pitcher used this time around and for good reason: Johnson has won both games he started against the Gamecocks this year. The most recent decision was a complete game win in which he only gave up two earned runs in a nine-inning masterpiece.

Johnson’s ability to throw his fastball in the low 90s and mix in a slow curveball and deceptive changeup make him an easy choice to keep USC’s power hitters off-balance. South Carolina’s big slugger is first baseman Christian Walker, who struggles with left-handed pitchers’ change-ups. In the end it was a relatively easy choice for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and not much of a surprise at all. Should Johnson continue his dominance of USC, the Gators’ pitching staff will be set up great for a deep run.

UF will have to beat one of the best teams in the country to stay in the winner’s bracket and must do so against their best pitcher and with the team’s collective chest out as they have not lost a postseason game in more than two years. It will be tough, but Florida has the better team on paper. It is time to put up or shut up and for O’Sullivan and the boys, there is no time like the present.

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No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-18) advanced to the College World Series for the third-straight season after completing a 9-8 victory in an extra-inning affair on Sunday against the No. 16 N.C. State Wolfpack (43-20) in the second game of Super Regional action at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida swept the Super Regional from N.C. State after picking up a 7-1 victory on Saturday but needed seven pitchers, three clutch home runs and 10 full innings to register the come-from-behind win on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford started on the hill for UF and threw 17 pitches in his first two innings of work before a weather delay forced the teams off the field. He wound up returning following a 2:23 delay though his opponent, ace Carlos Rodon, ended his day with three strikeouts over three no-hit innings.

Upon returning to the mound, Crawford gave up a lead-off double to end a streak of 14.2 innings without allowing a hit dating back to May 22. He was then hit for an RBI double two batters later as the Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead through three innings.

The Gators did not waste time taking back control of the game as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, RBI, R, BB, SB) led off the top of the fourth by turning on the first pitch he saw and sending it out of the park to tie the contest. The onslaught continued against N.C. State reliever Anthony Tzamtzis as Florida juniors catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Brian Johnson hit back-to-back doubles to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon followed two batters later with an RBI single to right to score Zunino, giving UF a 2-1 lead and sending Tzamtzis to the showers. The Gators added two more runs to increase their advantage to 4-1 with freshman left fielder Justin Shafer hitting a sacrifice fly to center that scored Johnson, and Turgegon coming around to score after stealing a base and being knocked in via an RBI single to left by junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1/5, RBI).

The Wolfpack similarly responded by tagging Crawford (3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB, 5 K) for three-straight two-out hits in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second, RF Brian Austin smacked a two-RBI double to deep center that reduced his team’s deficit to 4-3 and brought senior RHP Greg Larson out of the bullpen.

Read the rest of the Florida-N.C. State game story…after the break!
Continue Reading » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators, O’Sullivan hot right now

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.

Florida baseball is heating up again, and it could not be coming at a better time for the Gators. After cruising through the Gainesville Regional, Florida learned it would have a few days off before they take on N.C. State in Super Regional action beginning on Saturday. However, before that could occur, many of the team’s players had their minds slightly preoccupied as the 2012 MLB Draft was held Monday-Wednesday. Nine Gators were selected in the first 20 rounds, all of which are likely to leave the team before next season. With this life-changing event now behind them, Florida’s most talented players can now focus on what lies ahead – a potential College World Series berth.

UF’s attention has turned to N.C. State, which defeated Southeastern Conference powerhouse Vanderbilt in the finals of the Raleigh Regional. Despite that impressive performance, the Wolfpack is unlikely to be able to similarly stop the Gators. Sophomore right-hander Johnathon Crawford is coming off an impressive no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman and juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson both had strong outings. Randall will begin the Super Regional on the hill for Florida, which also has an extremely solid bullpen that has continued to build its confidence.

It is also good to see the Gators’ offense back on track. Florida had sputtered offensively at times this year but putting up 15 runs against a solid Georgia Tech team in their last regional game is certainly promising. The return of freshman third baseman Josh Tobias has also been a lift for the Gators because that pushes junior Cody Dent, a massive offensive liability, out of the lineup.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino continued his dominance of college pitching with another pair of homers, and Florida’s lineup finally appears to be both balanced and healthy. This is especially important for the Gators because it makes the practice of “pitching around players” (walking them instead of throwing pitches in the strike zone) a waste of time for the opposition in most circumstances.

To quote my old friend Joakim Noah: “The Gator boys are hot right now!”

Read the rest of the latest edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators, O’Sullivan hot right now

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Notes and quotes from Crawford’s no-hitter

Florida Gators sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford threw the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh in the history of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at McKethan Stadium as part of the 2012 Gainesville Regional. Following the wrap-up video are some notes and quotes about Crawford’s gem and how it unfolded.

» As you already know, Crawford’s no-hitter was the first solo one for Florida – and also the first to occur in the NCAA Tournament – since May 23, 1991, when then-sophomore John Burke threw one against Furman for a 2-0 victory. However, ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter account also pointed out Friday night that May 23, 1991 is also the last day there was a postseason NCAA no-hitter as well as one in the MLB. Just like Crawford’s was overshadowed by the no-no thrown by the New York Mets’ Johan Santana, Burke’s was secondary to a no-hitter tossed by Tommy Greene of the Philadelphia Phillies.

» Speaking of Burke, he was out for dinner with his family in Colorado when he caught a glimpse of a television and saw what Crawford did 21 years after he threw his no-no. “Great stuff,” Burke told Florida’s GatorZone.com. “I’m always pulling for Florida. I knew it was eventually going to happen, that somebody was going to throw one.”

» Though Crawford’s gem was the Gators’ first solo no-hitter since 1991, Florida actually saw two pitchers combine for one in 1993 when Doug Brennan (7.0 IP) and Chris Nelson (2.0 IP) took down Pace on March 19 of that year.

» Considering there have only been seven no-hitters thrown in the history of the NCAA Tournament, it should be no surprise that Florida is the only school to have two players accomplish the feat. Coincidentally, Crawford’s no-hitter was the first since Burke’s, meaning the Gators have the last two NCAA postseason no-nos on record.

» Crawford hit 98 mph on the pitching gun three times in the bottom of the ninth. He had not thrown the ball above 95 mph in any of the previous innings. “The last batter, I was throwing as hard as I could,” he said.

Read the rest of the notes and quotes on Crawford’s no-hitter…after the break!
Continue Reading » Notes and quotes from Crawford’s no-hitter

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Jonathon Crawford throws a no-hitter, leads Florida to 4-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford was nearly perfect for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball on Friday, throwing the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament to lead Florida over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 4-0 on the first day of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.

Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament.

Despite his unbelievable effort on the mound, Crawford received tons of help both at the plate and in the field from freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, HR, 4 RBI, R), who registered a career-high four RBIs on the evening and snagged a liner with two outs in the top of the ninth to preserve his pitcher’s no-hitter.

Senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R, BB, SB) led off the bottom of the second with a single, stole second, moved over to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on an RBI single by Turgeon. The Gators, however, got three-straight outs with two runners on base and ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.

Florida had a number of opportunities to plate runners in the next two innings but failed in that mission and was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. UF ended the game 2-for-15 in such situations.

Turgeon provided that second hit with a three-run blast in the fifth though the Gators quickly fell back into the swing of things (or lack thereof) by getting out thrice more with the lead-off runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.

Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in his no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning.

[OGGOA Extra: Mick Hubert calls Jonathon Crawford’s no-hitter]

Florida (43-18) advances to the winner’s bracket of the Gainesville Regional where they will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday at 7 p.m. GT defeated College of Charleston in the regional opener; CoC face Bethune-Cookman (34-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the loser being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

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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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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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SIX BITS: baseball, tennis, Haden, Davis, Calathes

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-14, 15-11 SEC) stalled in a big way on Saturday, getting shut out for the second time this season in a 2-0 loss to the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs (31-19, 13-13 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. A late scratch with a hamstring injury, junior left-hander Brian Johnson was replaced by sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford, who did an admirable job as a spot starter. Crawford (4-2, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, HBP, 3 K) gave up single runs in the first and fifth but received no help whatsoever from Florida’s bats in terms of production or run support. The Gators combined to register just three hits on the evening with the first five batters combining to go 0/19 with one walk and three strikeouts.

2 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (23-1) registered yet another shutout in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, defeating the No. 31 Washington State Cougars (19-7) and advancing to the round of 16 for the eighth consecutive season. The Gators topped the Cougars 6-0 (shutouts are normally end at 4-0 but three matches finished simultaneously) and combined to go 76-23 in individual games in the seven matches that were completed. The No. 1 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen registered an 8-1 victory, while the No. 22 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather won 8-2 to clinch the doubles point. No. 1 Will (6-3, 6-1), No. 9 Embree (6-2, 6-3), No. 21 Mather (6-3, 6-2), No. 61 Oyen (6-4, 6-0) and No. 79 sophomore Alex Cercone (6-0, 6-2) all won their singles matches as well. UF will take on Michigan on Thursday at 7 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals.

3 » No. 12 Florida men’s tennis (15-9) began competing in their version of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday and started as hot as their female counterparts did with a 4-0 sweep of the Navy Midshipmen (18-9). The Gators won the doubles point (8-4; 8-3) and were led by their ranked players in singles action. No. 42 junior Bob van Overbeek (6-1, 6-0), No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-0, 6-0) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-0, 6-0) were victorious in their individual matches as No. 48 junior Tripper Carleton and No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman also lead at the time the contest was stopped. Florida will face Harvard in second-round action on Sunday for the chance to move on to the round of 16.

4 » A high school student in Independence, OH needed a prom date after the one she was scheduled to go with bailed at the last minute. Her response? Tweet Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden to see if he will accompany her to one of the biggest events in her young life. To Joyce Grendel’s surprise, Haden accepted her invitation and picked her up Friday afternoon in a white Lamborghini to give her a night that she will undobutedly never forget. Haden told FOX 8 in Cleveland, OH that he never attended his senior prom (because he enrolled early at UF) and was just as nervous as his date. “I [was] nervous, too,” he said. “We were taking pictures with me and her family. I feel this is very legit, like I was getting ready, ‘Does this look cool?’ when I’m getting ready. I feel like I’m very legit. This is my prom, too.” This is not the first time Haden has gone above and beyond to put a smile on the face of one of his fans, which begs just one question: How totally awesome is Joe Haden?

5 » Former Gators linebacker Andra Davis never finished his degree at UF but 10 years later can now call himself a college graduate. Davis completed his bachelor’s degree in social sciences this semester and officially graduated from UNLV on Saturday, achieving a lifelong dream and providing a great lesson to his children. “Stay in school, because academics are one of the most important things in life,” he said, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s easy for me to tell [my children] you need to do this or do that, but if I didn’t finish, they could have been like, ‘Daddy, you didn’t finish school and you’re successful.’” Davis is currently a free agent after spending the last two years playing for the Buffalo Bills and is unlikely to be re-signed by the team. His NFL career may very well be done which is another reason why getting his college degree was so important at this time in his life. “It was like, ‘OK, well, I need to have something to fall back on in case football doesn’t work out,” Davis said. “When I was younger, my first few years, I used to think I was invincible. As you get older, you start to see your skills diminishing, and along with kids and a wife, you start to have a different focus.”

6 » Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting Alvydas Pazdrazdias told EuroHoops.net on Friday that point guard Nick Calathes, selected by Dallas with the No. 45 overall pick in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft, will have an opportunity to make the team this season. Calathes, whose contract with Panathinaikos concluded this season, will be able to compete with the Mavericks’ summer league team. Dallas, which will probably have a hole at point guard heading into the 2012-13 season, could very well use a player like Calathes if he can prove he has upped his game. “I believe he can adapt to our system,” Pazdrazdias said. “He is a good player, from who you don’t expect to score a lot of points, but you can be sure he will take care of all the other things, always for the best interest of your team. He plays for the team and does everything for his team to win.”

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