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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Vanderbilt swipes victory from Florida baseball, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Down one with three outs to go, the Vanderbilt Commodores (33-25) rallied to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth inning and pulled off an 8-6 win over No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (42-18) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded for Florida after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vanderbilt to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze.

Unfortunately for the Gators, it only got worse from there.

The Commodores attempted a double steal and advanced a runner to third with another being thrown out at second. Vanderbilt then hit an infield single (the runner stole second on the play) to go up 5-4 and loaded the bases following an intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk. With the bags full, the Commodores pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single followed to give Vanderbilt an 8-4 advantage and increase Florida’s suffering.

The Gators allowed more stolen bases in one frame (seven) than had ever been executed in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event.

VU scored two runs off of sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson in the top of the first and sent him off after a rough 2.1 innings. Whitson gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and no strikeouts in his outing.

Florida responded with a run in the bottom of the first and tied the game at 3-3 in the third when junior designated hitter Brian Johnson (4/5, 4 RBI) hit a two-run double to right center scoring junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, 2 R) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, 3 R).

The Gators achieved what they thought would be the game-winning run in the fourth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, RBI, BB) singled to score junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, R) and added two more runs in the ninth though the late offensive outburst was too little too late for Florida.

Though Whitson and Maddox both struggled for the Gators on the mound, Florida’s middle relief – senior RHP Greg Larson (4.0 IP, H, BB, 3 K) and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (1.2 IP, H, K) – was fantastic.

Despite UF’s struggles on Saturday, the Gators have shown signs of hitting their stride over the last two weeks. Florida has scored six or more runs in five of seven games and lost two contests by just one run.

The Gators will remain a top-ranked team on Monday when they learn of their seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament; Florida will find out whether or not they are one of 16 regional host sites for the event on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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Florida baseball falls to Auburn in series finale

An opportunity to capture a share of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season slipped through the grasp of No. 3 Florida Gators baseball on Saturday after a game-ending double play thwarted the Gators’ chances. Florida (40-16, 18-12 SEC) fell 5-4 to the Auburn Tigers (30-26, 13-17 SEC) in their regular season finale after winning the first two games of the weekend series played at Plainsman Park in Auburn, AL.

After shutting out Auburn 6-0 on Thursday, UF routed their hosts 10-1 on Friday in a game that featured junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (6-4) giving up just two hits and two walks while allowing one run (unearned) and striking out seven in 7.0 innings. The Gators used a trio of homers from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (3/5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) and first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) to defeat the Tigers.

Florida hoped to receive some help from their SEC rivals to make them eligible for the league title and got just that on Friday as LSU toppled South Carolina 3-2 in 10 innings to open the door for the Gators. A victory by the UF would have netted them a share of the title, but Florida fell just short of that goal after outscoring AU 16-1 in the first two games of the series.

Sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R [1 ER], 2 BB, 2 K) took the hill for the Gators on Saturday and (with some help from his offense) earned a 4-2 lead before exiting the game. Florida rallied to score three runs in the top of the second and added another in the fourth to achieve that advantage.

UF led until the bottom of the seventh when Auburn took advantage of junior LHP Steven Rodriguez, who surprisingly struggled in his relief outing. Rodriguez (3-2) gave up three earned runs on three hits while striking out two in his one inning of work.

Down one run, the Gators rallied in the top of the ninth and had runners at the corners after Tucker singled to right and Zunino doubled to left. However, Johnson flied out to right field and Tucker was thrown out at the plate to end the game.

Despite losing the game and their opportunity at a conference regular season title, Florida received three solid outings from their starters and showed renewed offensive efficiency over the weekend by scoring 20 runs over the course of the three games.

The Gators will now move on to take part in the 2012 SEC Tournament from May 22-27 in Hoover, AL.

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Zunino’s bomb powers Gators to series victory

A solo home run by junior catcher Mike Zunino in the eighth inning on Sunday powered No. 5 Florida Gators baseball past the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs 2-1 and delivered the team’s second series victory in as many weekends.

Florida (38-14, 16-11 SEC) took down Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) on Friday (4-1) before being shutout for only the second time this season on Saturday (2-0). Sunday’s 2-1 triumph marked UF’s fifth win in the last seven games and a victory in their final home series of the regular season.

The Bulldogs and Gators each posted zeroes in the first two innings before both scoring a single run in their respective frame in the third inning. MSU’s came via a solo shot while UF’s crossed the plate thanks to a rally concluded by a RBI groundout by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (0/4, RBI).

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson got the start for Florida but lasted just 3.1 innings. He struck out four and allowed just two hits and an earned run but coughed up five walks, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch as well.

Five Gators relievers closed out the contest for Whitson with juniors lefty Steven Rodriguez and RHP Austin Maddox doing most of the heavy lifting. Rodriguez struck out three and walked two in 2.0 innings while Maddox (3-2) pitched the final 2.1 innings and struck out two. He received the victory thanks to the game-winning bomb by Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, R, 2 BB) in the eighth.

Florida committed three errors in the contest but none led to runs.

UF will take on Samford on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and will remain in the state of Alabama to conclude the regular season with a three-game series against Auburn.

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Gators baseball wins series, falls in finale at UK

No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (35-13, 14-10 SEC) fell just short of their first weekend series sweep in over a month, winning two of three games on the road against the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats (37-11, 15-9 SEC) at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington, KY.

Florida won Thursday’s contest 5-3 and pulled out a late 5-1 victory on Friday before dropping the series finale 2-1 to Kentucky on Saturday. UF faces an uphill battle to defend their conference championship as they are currently behind both South Carolina and LSU in the standings.

The Gators saw their starting pitching return to form over the weekend.

Junior right-hander Hudson Randall improved to 5-1 on with a 6.2-inning outing on Thursday. He held the Wildcats to one run through six innings but coughed up two more before heading to the dugout (6 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) and allowing junior left-handed reliever Steven Rodriguez (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 K) to pick up his first save of the season.

Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson followed Randall’s effort by putting forth his best performance since returning from injury on Friday, holding Kentucky to one earned run over 4.2 innings despite allowing six hits, walking three batters, hitting another, throwing two wild pitches and striking out just two. Whitson was relieved by a trio of throwers including freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, 2 H), senior RHP Greg Larson (W 6-0, 1.1 IP, HBP) and Rodriguez (S2, 2.0 IP, 2 K).

Florida brought junior LHP Brian Johnson out for the finale and saw him work his way through four innings before allowing a run on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the fifth. Johnson (L 5-4, 5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) was replaced by sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (3.0 IP, 3 H, R, 2 K), who would have held the Wildcats scoreless had it not been for two fielding errors in the bottom of the eighth.

Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker powered UF through the first two games of the series, hitting a homer on Thursday and finishing the three-game trip 5/11 with three RBIs, three runs scored and a walk.

Johnson (4/11, 2 RBI) and freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (4/10, 2 RBI) knocked in runs as part of Florida’s two wins though senior center fielder Daniel Pigott was the only player to get on the board in the finale with a solo homer in the top of the ninth. The Gators had the tying run on second but were unable to finish their rally on Saturday.

Florida will look to get revenge against North Florida on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Gainesville, FL before hosting their final home games of the season in a three-game series against Mississippi State Friday-Sunday.

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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.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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No. 4 Florida baseball wins series at Tennessee

Picking up a weekend series victory for the first time since late March, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (28-8, 9-6 SEC) triumphed 2-1 against the Tennessee Volunteers (21-15, 7-8 SEC) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

Florida and Tennessee kept it close in the first two games, but a blowout victory by the Gators on Sunday gave them their first weekend series win since travelling to South Carolina March 22-24. Sunday’s victory was also UF’s largest since March 16.

Trailing 1-0 early on Friday, Florida rallied for three runs in the middle of the game and held on thanks to some solid relief pitching to deliver sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (4-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, ER, 3 BB, 5 K) the victory. Juniors left-hander Steven Rodriguez and RHP Austin Maddox combined to strike out seven in four shutout innings with Maddox picking up his 10th save of the season as UF won 3-1.

The Gators’ pitching was not as solid on Saturday with sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson struggling as he continues to work his way back from injury. Whitson gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits while striking out just one in three innings, leaving his team in a 4-3 hole as he exited the game.

Florida tied it up in the fourth but eventually fell 5-4 despite a solid effort by freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi. Replacing Whitson, Magliozzi (4-1) only gave up one earned run on two hits with two strikeouts over five innings but was on the hook for the loss as UF failed to plate any of the seven runners they got on base.

Sunday’s series finale featured the Gators’ largest margin of victory in a month as Florida got out to an early 4-0 lead and held on to take down Tennessee 8-1.

Junior LHP Brian Johnson (5-1) earned the win by scattering six hits while walking one and striking out four over 6.0 innings. Five UF relievers combined to end the game by tossing three one-hit innings.

Johnson and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana were both dynamite at the plate over the three-game series. The former went 6/12 with a homer, six RBIs and two runs, while the latter finished 5/8 with a RBI, four walks, two runs and a stolen base.

After playing 12 of their last 15 games on the road, the Gators will come home for a nine-game homestand to close out the month of April. Florida will begin their homestand by hosting Georgia Southern on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships on Saturday by winning the NCAA Raleigh Regional title with a team score of 197.325. Florida took down Ohio State (196.225) to win the event and also surpassed N.C. State (195.975), Penn State (196.650), North Carolina (194.025) and Kent State (193.575); finishing second, OSU also earned an opportunity to compete for the title. Four Gators won five total event titles on Saturday with junior Ashanée Dickerson posting a season-best 39.65 to claim the all-around for herself. Dickerson shared the vault (9.95) and uneven bars (9.90) titles with sophomore Alaina Johnson and cheered on as junior Marissa King picked up the balance beam (9.925) title and freshman Kytra Hunter won the floor exercise (9.95). Johnson (second), King (fourth) and Hunter (sixth) all finished high in the overall standings, and Florida posted the highest team total in every individual event as well. The victory was UF’s 12th regional title overall and their eighth in the last nine years. The NCAA Championship will be decided from April 20-22.

2 » Likely to lose their top ranking on Monday, No. 1 Gators baseball (25-7, 7-5 SEC) has continued its slide by dropping a home series over the weekend to the No. 7 LSU Tigers (25-7, 8-4 SEC). Florida has now lost five of their last seven games including consecutive three-game series for the first time since 2008. The Gators scored six or more runs in all three games but struggled with their pitching and defense in both the opener and series finale. Florida fell 7-6 to LSU on Thursday as junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (4-1) gave up six earned runs on seven hits with a walk and just two strikeouts in four innings. The Gators rebounded with a 7-0 win Friday thanks to a great performance from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (3-1, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K). Sunday’s game started on a positive note with UF leading 7-2 through three innings. However, Florida’s bullpen gave up six unanswered runs over the final six innings to drop the heartbreaker. Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson started but only lasted an inning after hitting two batters, giving up two hits and allowing two runs (one earned). The Gators bullpen combined to allow six earned runs on 13 hits as the Tigers fought back for the victory. Already having won the series’ first two games, Florida will look to close out Florida State on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, FL.

3 » No. 6 UF softball (35-4, 15-2 SEC) had a much more successful weekend, sweeping the Ole Miss Rebels (16-21, 3-11 SEC) to extend their winning streak to six games. The Gators got it done on the mound and at the plate, outscoring the Rebels 28-4 in the three games. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (20-2) started the first two games and posted a pair of solid performances by allowing just one earned run on four hits with four walks and nine strikeouts in 11.0 innings (including a complete game effort on Friday). Freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (5-0) concluded the weekend for the Gators by giving up three earned runs on three hits but registering five strikeouts in five innings. Though Florida’s pitching was dominant, the plate work of freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro was even better. Castro combined to go 4/7 with three home runs, eight RBIs, five runs and three walks. She hit two bombs on Sunday including her first career grand slam while registering a career-high seven RBIs. UF will travel to face Central Florida on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Orlando, FL.

4 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-1, 10-0 SEC) continued their march to the postseason while clinching at least a share of the 2012 SEC Championship for the regular season with a pair of 7-0 sweeps over the weekend. Florida took down the No. 40 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10, 2-7 SEC) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (11-10, 4-5 SEC) on Sunday with their players winning all 30 sets they competed in over the weekend. UF has now swept four consecutive opponents and 13 of 18 this season. The Gators will look to win the SEC regular season title outright on Saturday at South Carolina. No. 9 Florida men’s tennis (13-8, 6-4 SEC) was not as successful as their female counterparts, taking down Arkansas (14-10, 1-8 SEC) 7-0 on Friday before falling 4-2 to No. 27 LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC) on Sunday. The Gators won 15 of 16 sets and were successful in a pair of tiebreakers in the former contest but were beat handily to close out the weekend. UF will host USC on Saturday at 1 p.m. to end the regular season.

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