TWO BITS: O’Sullivan, Whitson, Noah dancing

1 » Florida Gators head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan touched at the two hottest topics surrounding his team on Wednesday. Addressing Florida going 4-4 in their last eight games (all on the road), O’Sullivan noted that he was not worried one bit because, simply put, these things happen. “Every year every team goes through something like this. Every single year. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how much experience you have,” he said. “This game is a humbling game and you’re not going to go 50-6 through the regular season. You’re going to have some stretches where you’re not going to play your best. The key to this whole thing is not to have this stretch at the need of the year as you go through tournament play. That’s the key. This will make our team better. It is frustrating and sometimes you don’t want to go through this obviously but ultimately it does build character and puts you in a better position at the end of the year.”

He also talked about sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, who returned to the mound for one inning of work on Tuesday. It was his first time pitching in a game in over a month and he struck out two batters while retiring the side in the top of the first on just eight pitches. “We’ve basically taken it probably slower than he’s wanted to at this point,” O’Sullivan said. “He looked really good on his pen on Sunday. After talking to him Sunday night, we felt like we needed to get him out there. His pen [Tuesday] was outstanding; he was commanding all his pitches. His arm feels good – that’s the most important thing. He threw eight pitches, got two strikeouts and was around the plate. His slider was outstanding. His fastball velocity looked good; not sure exactly what it was but it looked good to me. Probably if it was up to him he probably would have been to the mound 10 days ago, but we feel good with where he’s at right now. The goal is to possibly start him this weekend; obviously he will be on a pitch count.”

2 » A Comcast SportsNet reporter was praising Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah last Friday after he posted an outstanding performance for his team including 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting with 12 rebounds (eight offensive), four assists and two blocks. Noah happened to walk by her just as she was mentioning his name and, well, just watch:

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North Florida takes down No. 1 Florida 10-5

Falling to 4-4 over their last eight games, all of which were played on the road, No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (24-5) put together what head coach Kevin O’Sullivan described as the team’s worst performance of the season in a 10-5 loss to the North Florida Ospreys (18-13) on Tuesday night in Jacksonville, FL.

Florida sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson took the mound for the first time since Feb. 26 and flashed his brilliance by retiring North Florida’s first three batters on eight pitches including a pair of strikeouts.

However, Whitson was pulled after his one inning of work and his replacement, freshman left-hander Bobby Poyner (1-1), imploded by giving up four runs (three earned) on four hits without recording a single out in the second inning.

The Gators brought out six other relievers over the duration of the contest with the first four giving up six more runs (four earned). UF’s defense was equally as poor as the pitching with the team committing three untimely errors. The Ospreys plated at least one run in six-straight innings, and UNF did a good job making sure their opponents never got too close on the scoreboard.

Florida actually held a 1-0 lead on North Florida through 1.5 innings, using consecutive singles from senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (3/4, RBI, 2 R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/5, R) to help them get on the board in the opening frame. UF never reestablished an advantage for the remainder of the evening.

Entering their extended road trip on a school-record 18-game winning streak, the Gators have dropped four of the eight games they have played away from home since March 22. UF lost to ranked opponents in South Carolina and Ole Miss (twice) before dropping their first game of the season to an unranked opponent on Tuesday.

Despite their three previous losses, Florida maintained their season-long No. 1 ranking in three of the four new top 25 polls released on Monday. The Gators will return to Gainesville, FL for a three-game homestand against LSU to cap off the week.

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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!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

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Tucker sets Florida career RBI record as Gators baseball earns first series sweep of 2012

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (7-1) cruised over the weekend to their first sweep of a three-game series in 2012, defeating the William & Mary Tribe (2-5) by a combined score of 14-5 from Friday-Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida did not trail for a single frame in the series’ first two games, scoring in the bottom of the first inning on Friday, adding a solo home run in the fifth by senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2-4, RBI, R) and rallying for two more runs in the eighth to pull away with a 4-1 victory. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-3, R, 2 SB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (0-3) added a RBI each, and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, R) and freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (2-3, R) also had impressive outings at the plate.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) picked up his first win of the season by striking out four and allowing just one earned run on five hits in 6.1 innings. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S2) came on in the seventh to close out the game, fanning four batters of his in the final 2.2 innings.

The Gators picked up where they left off the next day with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, 2 R, SB) hammering a solo shot in the bottom of the third. He became Florida’s all-time RBI leader with the dinger, amassing a school record 215 runs batted in over 205 games played (at that point). Tucker received a standing ovation from the home crowd, a highlight moment in the young season.

He continued his stellar outing by singling to lead off the bottom of the sixth, following it up by stealing second and eventually coming around to score thanks to a one-out double by Gushue (1-4, RBI, R), who earned his first start at first base. Turgeon (2-3, 2 RBI, R) concluded Florida’s three-run inning with a two-run homer, the first round-tripper of his career in orange and blue.

Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (1-0, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 2 K) pitched six innings of shutout ball but was relieved shortly after giving up a solo bomb in the top of the seventh. Senior RHP Greg Larson pitched the final 2.2 innings in relief, striking out three and walking just one to clinch the victory for Johnson.

Florida fell behind early on Sunday as sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson took the hill to start the game and looked a bit out of sorts. He gave up an earned run on two hits and a walk while only registering two outs before being pulled by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2-0) and freshman RHP Jonathon Crawford came on in his stead and combined to earn the win by striking out seven and walking two while allowing three hits and two earned runs in the final 5.0 innings of the weather-shortened game.

Tucker (1-3, RBI, R) and Fontana (1-2, 2 RBI, R, BB) each homered in the contest, and the Gators also got solid performances at the plate from freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2-2, 2 RBI, R) and junior 1B Austin Maddox (2-3, R).

UF faces a tough test next weekend, travelling to Coral Gables, FL to take on Miami in a three-game series from Friday-Sunday. Florida will follow that series up with an 11-game home stand, playing from March 6-20 in Gainesville.

Photo Credit: Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, tennis, SEC TV

1 » Florida Gators baseball (2-1), despite losing the third game of their season-opening series to the No. 16 Cal State Fullerton Titans (1-2), remained the No. 1 team in the country on Monday when the new polls were announced. After winning their first game of the season 7-3, Florida beat CSF 5-2 Saturday evening before falling 8-5 on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (1-0) was erratic through five innings Saturday, allowing two earned runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Junior reliever Austin Maddox (1) came on in the sixth and earned the save by striking out three batters in four one-hit innings. Freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1-3) – named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday – led the way with two RBIs (on a bases-clearing triple) and a walk, while senior first baseman Preston Tucker and junior catcher Mike Zunino had two hits and a RBI apiece.

The Gators took an early 3-0 lead Sunday, but junior left-hander Brian Johnson was pulled after striking out five and walking one while giving up two hits in four innings. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (0-1) replaced him and imploded, giving up four earned runs on five hits while only recording one out. Florida’s bullpen struggled, and UF only added two runs down the stretch. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4) and senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) each had two RBIs in the game, while Tucker (in at right field) was the most efficient from the plate, going 3-4 with a RBI and walk.

2 » No. 1 Gators softball (9-0) continued their dominant start to the 2012 season with two more wins over the weekend following their 8-0 victory in the series opener against the Michigan State Spartans (1-7). Florida freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (1-0), in her first appearance of the season, came close to a perfect game in her start, striking out four in a complete game and tossing a no-hitter through four of her five innings. The Gators run-ruled the Spartans 11-1 with freshman 1B/DH Lauren Haeger (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and junior C Brittany Schutte (3-3, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) leading the way.

Florida was just as dominant on Sunday with a 15-4 win over Michigan State though Haeger (3-0) did give up four earned runs on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts in her complete game victory. Sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (1-2) had a homer and four RBIs with a run and a walk and was supported by Schutte (1-1, 4 R, 3 BB) and junior RF/DH Kelsey Horton (1-2, BB), who had two RBIs each. Schutte took home SEC Player of the Week honors on Monday, and Haeger picked up a Freshman of the Week nod.

3 » Even though Florida lost last week to Stanford and fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the national rankings, the women’s tennis team (5-1) got a bit of good news Saturday night. The Connecticut women’s basketball team fell to St. John’s that evening, ending a 99-game home winning streak dating back to March 6, 2007. It was the longest such streak in NCAA women’s athletics and second-longest nationally among any collegiate sport. UF women’s tennis now owns the longest home winning streak as the Gators have won 98 consecutive matches at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. Florida will try to match UConn’s 99-game streak against No. 13 North Carolina on Sunday and can surpass it next Wednesday against Florida State.

4 » According to the Times Free Press of Chattanooga, TN, the annual football game between Florida and Tennessee that has been aired on CBS every year “since the network became the primary broadcaster of SEC games in 1996” may get bumped in 2012 because of a more attractive matchup between Alabama and Arkansas. The Alabama-Arkansas game, which is normally set to occur a week later in the season, was bumped up a week because of all of the shuffling that had to be done to accommodate Texas A&M and Missouri in the SEC’s schedule for next year. The paper reports that Florida-Tennessee “is the only league contest CBS has shown all 16 years, and it has been televised in prime time on five occasions.”

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2012 Florida Gators baseball: Just win, baby.

Though basketball has national title aspirations and both softball and lacrosse are getting started on what should be a pair of exciting campaigns, no squad is more hyped entering this season than the unanimously top-ranked Florida Gators baseball team.

Florida went all the way to the 2011 College World Series championship series a year ago before falling to South Carolina, a team they will go back-and-forth with throughout the 2012 Southeastern Conference slate. With so many starters returning to the team and an exceptional freshman class signed to fill in the gaps, the Gators have only one true goal in 2012 – win a national championship.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators baseball: Just win, baby.

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FOUR BITS: All-Americans, Tebowmania, Hillier

1 » Five Florida Gators baseball players were named to the 2012 NCBWA Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-American Team on Wednesday. Juniors catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson earned first team recognition, while senior infielder/outfielder Preston Tucker and junior P Austin Maddox were named to the second team. Sophomore P Karsten Whitson, coming off of a stellar freshman season (8-1, 2.40 ERA), was given a third-team nod.

2 » A pair of Florida senior volleyball players – right-side/setter Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel were named Wednesday to the 2011 AVCA All-American Team. Murphy, who according to UF “started every match and set of her career,” earned first-team recognition; her cohort Jaeckel was named to the second team. Murphy and Jaeckel led the Gators to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament this year.

3 » If you were thinking Tebowmania was going to slow down any time soon, then you were obviously kidding yourself. According to the Denver Post, Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, CO will be releasing a brand new beer inspired by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow called the Tebrew Sunday Sipper. The company explains that the beer will be made available to the masses once the signature 10 oz. glasses it ordered arrive. It is expected to sold locally only, so chances are that you’ll have to contact Bonfire directly if interested in sampling some of their brew.

In other Tebow-related news, Fathead on Tuesday released a “Tebowing” edition of their signature product, which quickly became the site’s No. 1 seller. The No. 2 Fathead sold Tuesday? The normal version of Tebow.

4 » Florida midfielder Janine Hillier, the lacrosse team’s fourth leading scorer one year ago, has decided to transfer to Stony Brook for her junior season. Hiller, a part of the Gators’ inaugural recruiting class, scored 34 goals along with six assists in 2011. She chose to transfer due to “personal reasons,” as cited by Inside Lacrosse, which notes that Stony Brook is “closer to Hillier’s hometown and her sister, Kim Hillier” is an assistant coach on the team.

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SIX BITS: Whitson, Dickey, Wilbekin, Maye

1 » Florida Gators right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, who concluded his freshman campaign with an 8-1 record, 2.40 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 97.1 innings, was named a first-team Freshman All-American by Baseball America on Wednesday. Starting 19 games for Florida, Whitson was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft and snubbed the San Diego Padres contract offer of nearly $2 million to spend what he hopes are three successful years in college.

2 » Former Gators quarterback and outfielder Gavin Dickey is making strides playing baseball and recently found out that he is on a record hitting streak for the Lincoln Saltdogs of the non-MLB affiliated American Association baseball league. Now on a 21-game hitting streak, Dickey learned of his achievement via a Facebook message from a fan, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. Dickey, who hit .268 as a minor leaguer for the Seattle Mariners (which selected him in the 12th round of the 2006 MLB Draft), signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves in the offseason but only lasted with the team for a month. “It’s still about going out and having fun, competing and winning,” he said.

3 » Impressed with what sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin accomplished with the Florida basketball team as a 17-year-old true freshman last season? If his brother has his way, the Gators may see a similar output from a number member of the clan in two years. A sophomore at The Rock high school in Gainesville, FL, Mitchell Wilbekin told The Gainesville Sun that he is 100 percent dedicated to playing for Florida…if head coach Billy Donovan offers him a scholarship. “I’d love to be a Gator,” the younger Wilbekin told the paper. “If they offered me, I’d definitely go there.” The Sun describes him as “on track to be the highest-rated Gainesville-area basketball recruit in more than a decade” and notes that the 2014 recruit recently drained six treys and scored 21 points in only three quarters of shooting at a recent showcase.

4 » Four-star safety Marcus Maye (Melbourne, FL) confirmed once again this week that the Gators are his leader, telling ESPNU’s Corey Long that they are above two of Florida’s rivals – Florida State and Alabama. “The fact that I’ve been up there numerous times and have a great relationship with the coaches is what puts them out front,” he said. “I’m excited about the upcoming future of the program and I feel like they are going to have a pretty good year. Being part of the SEC is something I’ve always wanted to do and I think UF is a great place for me to take my next step and that’s the reason it’s the top school on my list. It’s a place where I feel comfortable at.” Maye still wants to take official visits to FSU and UA and will not commit until he has seen more schools.

5 » In a recent poll of 848 Floridians conducted by Public Policy Polling, the Gators received 30 percent of the vote when the respondents were asked to pick their favorite in-state college football program. Behind them, in order, were Florida State (19 percent), Central Florida (11 percent), Miami (nine percent) and South Florida (six percent).

6 » Four Florida football players – senior running back Jeff Demps, redshirt seniors RB Chris Rainey and wide receiver Deonte Thompson, and sophomore RB Trey Burton were announced as part of the offensive watch list for the 2011 College Football Performance Awards. The CFPAs are handed out based on objective scientific analysis rather than voting.

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