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 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!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

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Teddy’s Catch: Glimmer of hope for UF baseball

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 attending law school after serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets last season. He joined OGGOA in 2012 as a baseball columnist who will continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

Just a few weeks into the 2013 college baseball season, most fans probably decided to stop following Florida because, let’s face it, the team was playing poorly. While the Gators are still under .500, Florida captured their its SEC series of the year last weekend against a very talented Ole Miss club that was ranked No. 11 going into the series. These past few games have shown signs of improvement from a young and inexperienced team. Though those improvements may not foreshadow a deep postseason run, they do at least shows signs of a bright future.

The Gators have improved in almost every area of the game, but this team is still making too many mental errors, even for a young squad. Against Florida State, the Seminoles loaded the bases with nobody out and Florida was able to respond with two quick outs while keeping the FSU off the scoreboard. Before they could get the third out though, UF walked a run in. While the result is acceptable (one run scored after having the bases loaded with no outs), coaches and scouts notice things like this. Mental toughness is a huge aspect of what they look at when evaluating pitchers for the draft. The good news is that many of these pitchers are young and have another year or two to mature and grow both physically and mentally.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…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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Kent State outlasts No. 1 Florida baseball 5-4, eliminates Gators from 2012 College World Series

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-20) was swept out of the College World Series for the third time in team history after falling 5-4 to the Kent State Golden Flashes (47-19) on Monday in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

After losing 7-3 to No. 8 South Carolina on Saturday, Florida fell to Kent State by giving up four unearned runs, committing two errors and missing numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall started on the hill for the Gators but did not last long due to a health scare. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford replaced him and picked up the loss despite not being expected to see the mound on Monday.

After suffering some bad luck in the top of the first, things got worse for Florida in the bottom portion of the inning. A throwing error by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/4, R, BB) allowed Kent State to get a runner on base; he soon came around to score unearned after Randall gave up consecutive singles. There was then a delay in action as Randall (1.0 IP, 2 H, R, K) was spotted breathing heavily on the mound. He was treated for dehydration but remained on the hill to get the final two outs before calling it quits for the day with heat-related symptoms.

A fielding error by Gators freshman third baseman Josh Tobias gave the Golden Flashes life again in the second. Kent State plated their second run of the game three batters later after Tobias was unable to field an infield single and added two more immediately afterward thanks to a pair of singles up the middle. KSU registered four unearned runs on six hits with two errors committed by UF in the first two innings alone.

Florida got one back in the third as junior catcher Mike Zunino plated Tobias from second with a single up the middle, reducing their deficit to 4-1. Tobias (0/3, R) was on base after being hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.

The Gators gave the four-run lead back to the Golden Flashes one inning later, however, after Crawford (3.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R [1 ER], 3 K) threw a pair of wild pitches to allow a runner to score all the way from second.

Despite hitting numerous balls hard early in the contest, Florida had plenty of bad luck go their way as most found the gloves of Kent State defenders. UF was able to cut KSU’s lead down to three runs again in the sixth after a two-out RBI double by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer scored senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, R), who reached base earlier in the frame on a single to left.

The Gators loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh courtesy of a base on balls and a pair of singles. Zunino hit an RBI single to score one run, and junior designated hitter Brian Johnson helped one cross the plate by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play that cut Florida’s deficit to just one run.

Senior left-hander Greg Larson (2.2 IP, 2 H, BB, K) filled in nicely for the Gators but was pulled for junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.1 IP) after placing runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. Maddox went the rest of the way.

Florida freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon began the eighth with a single, but the Gators ended the frame by stranding two on base after Fontana lofted a ball to short, putting elimination three outs away.

UF began the ninth in similar fashion with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, 2 BB) walking on four-straight pitches, the sixth time that a lead-off runner got on base for Florida in the contest. Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI, BB) followed by also getting on board via four-straight balls (split over two pitchers), and sophomore Cody Dent (0/0) was called upon to pinch hit for Johnson and advance the runners. With one out, the game-tying run 90 feet away and go-ahead run on second, Turgeon (1/5) struck out on two questionable pitches and Shafer (2/5, RBI) hit his first pitch into right to end the game with a fly out.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan falls to 3-6 in his three-straight CWS appearances with Florida being swept both in 2010 and 2012; UF’s only two losses in 2011 came in the Championship Series to eventual national champion South Carolina.

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South Carolina downs Florida 7-3 in CWS opener

An explosive five-run fifth inning for the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks‘ offense erased an early lead by No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-19) and allowed South Carolina (46-17) to top Florida 7-3 on Saturday night in both teams’ first game of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

With the loss, UF fell to 27-6 when scoring first and move on to the loser’s portion of the double-elimination tournament where they will have to win four-straight games in order to advance to the Championship Series for the second-straight season, something that has happened only six times dating back to 1988.

Gamecocks left-handed pitcher Michael Roth (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) earned the victory despite giving up the most earned runs of any of his CWS appearances. Gators LHP Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) got out of jams in the first four innings but came apart at the seams in the fifth.

South Carolina threatened first by loading the bases in the opening frame thanks to an error, single and walk, but Johnson struck out the side to save Florida. The Gamecocks squandered another opportunity to score in the third but failed to score a runner from 90 feet away following a lead-off double and sacrifice fly.

It was the Gators that got on the board first with a rally in the third. Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4, R) and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit singled to start the inning, but Florida found themselves with runners on the corners following a failed bunt and groundout. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker then stepped up and cleared the bases with a two-out, two-RBI double to deep left, giving UF an early 2-0 lead.

The Gators were in another tough situation in the fourth after Johnson allowed the first two batters on via a single and walk, but Florida’s deft defense registered three-straight outs to get out of the frame.

UF was not as lucky the next inning as Johnson started by loading the bases without recording an out. He then gave up a bases-clearing triple followed by double to deep right, allowing USC to take a 4-2 lead before being pulled. Senior LHP Greg Larson (1.0 IP, 2 H, K) replaced him and got the Gators out of the jam but not without giving up another run and allowing the Gamecocks to extend their lead to 5-2.

Florida cut into South Carolina’s three-run lead in the bottom of the fifth as a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Mike Zunino scored freshman third baseman Josh Tobias, who had moved over to third after getting on base with a lead-off single.

The Gators threatened again in the bottom of the seventh but came up empty after Ramjit (2/3) and Tobias (2/3, R) led off the frame with singles. The duo moved over to second and third on a sacrifice bunt but never made their way home. Florida ended the inning with Tucker (2/5, 2 RBI) flying out to shallow left and Johnson (0/4) hitting a hard line out to right after Zunino (0/2, RBI, 2 BB) was intentionally walked to load the bases.

UF sophomore right-hander Keenan Kish (3.0 IP, H, ER, BB, 3 K) kept USC at bay but walked the lead-off batter in the ninth, who eventually came around to score after advancing via a ground out and a pair of wild pitches, the second of which came from junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (0.1 IP, H, R, K). One out away from ending the frame, the Gators committed two fielding errors and gave up an infield single in between, allowing the Gamecocks to add another insurance run and increase their lead to 7-3.

Florida will face Kent State (46-19) on Monday at 5 p.m. in an elimination game that will air live on ESPN2. The winner will take on either Arkansas or South Carolina (Monday at 9 p.m.) in another elimination game on Wednesday.

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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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