2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

The unanimously top 25-ranked Florida Gators are hoping to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw the team go 29-27 in the regular season and get bounced out of both league and national postseason play without winning a single game.

UF also lost five players to the 2014 MLB Draft – including three top pitchers – and enters 2014 with a young but talented roster filled with up-and-coming prospects.

In the offseason, seventh-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan signed a top-notch 2014 recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. The 15-member class makes up 43 percent of Florida’s roster, which features two fourth-year players (redshirt juniors) but not a single senior.

One year ago, the departures of nine MLB draft selections loomed large on opening night. This Friday, when UF begins the 2014 campaign with a three-game home series against Maryland, the most notable absence from the lineup card will be a current Gators outfielder in sophomore Harrison Bader. Bader was indefinitely suspended after police suspected alcohol played a role in a Feb. 2 scooter accident. Without him, Florida lacks its best hitter (.312) and one of only four designated outfielders.

Here’s what O’Sullivan (252-132) has to work with as the Gators open the 2014 campaign looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointments and begin moving in the right direction toward another College World Series berth.

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Florida baseball slides into NCAA Tournament

Florida Gators baseball snuck into the 2013 NCAA Tournament on Monday, earning a berth to the event for the sixth-straight year despite finishing the season with a 29-28 record and losses in nine of their last 13 games.

The three seed in the Bloomington Regional, Florida will open play Friday at 1 p.m. against two-seed Austin Peay (45-13). The game will air live only on ESPN3.com.

Also in the Bloomington Regional are its hosts, one-seed Indiana (43-14), and four-seed Valparaiso (31-26). The Gators went 1-2 against the Hoosiers during a three-game series in Gainesville, FL back in March.

Regional action will continue through Sunday or Monday (if necessary) with the winner out of Bloomington moving on to face the victor from the Tallahassee Regional.

Florida is not hosting a regional for the first time since 2007, when the Gators missed the tournament entirely, but is making its 29th all-time appearance in regional play. UF has been to six-straight NCAA Tournaments under the leadership of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan but is still looking for its first national championship. Florida has reached the College World Series seven times and played for the national title twice (2005, 2011).

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Gators baseball quickly eliminated from SEC Tournament, NCAA hopes in jeopardy

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Coming off losing three of their last four regular season games, eight-seed Florida Gators baseball (29-28) went one-and-out in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament, losing 6-3 to the nine-seed Texas A&M Aggies (31-25) in a single-elimination first round game on Tuesday.

After going on a winning streak in April where they won 11-of-12 games, the Gators looked to have significantly improved their chances of participating in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida has not done itself any favors since, losing nine of its last 13 games and putting its NCAA Tournament hopes in the hands of the selection committee, which must weigh UF’s difficult schedule against its disappointing finish to the season.

The Gators got the start they were looking for on Tuesday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Florida first got on the board without a hit as sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer (0/4, R) reached on an error, advanced to second on a balk, moved up to third on a failed pick-off attempt and scored on a ground out by senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/4, RBI). The Gators got their second run of the inning off three singles with sophomore designated hitter Zack Powers (1/4, R) crossing the plate when senior shortstop Cody Dent (1/2, RBI) knocked him home.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (6.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R [4 ER], BB, 6 K) started smooth by retiring the first 10 batters he faced but ran into trouble in the middle innings Aggies third baseman Hunter Melton tilted the score 3-2 in Texas A&M’s favor with a three-run homer in the fourth inning.

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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 ends skid, routs FAMU, FAU

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Despite riding a wave of momentum (and an 11-2 record over the previous 13 games) into their latest weekend series, Florida Gators baseball (27-23, 12-12 SEC) failed its toughest test yet as it was swept on the road while taking on the No. 3 LSU Tigers (43-6, 19-5 SEC). Yet while Florida struggled away from home, the Gators got back into the swing of things as it closed its non-conference schedule this week with a pair of dominant wins over in-state opponents.

LSU snapped Florida’s streak of three-straight SEC series wins, taking all three games over the weekend in Baton Rogue, LA.

In the series opener, the Gators battled but came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision. Tigers ace Aaron Nola silenced his opponent’s bats and tossed his fourth-consecutive complete game in a 5-0 victory that clinched the series for the home team on Friday. Florida tried seven different pitchers in the series finale but none of them could contain LSU in what would eventually become a 18-6 blowout and series sweep.

The ESPNU Thursday Night Game of the Week creates a dilemma for SEC managers. Do you start your ace in game one or let him go Friday night (game two) to keep him in his regular routine? Tigers coach Paul Mainieri saved his top starter, Nola, for Friday, but Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to go with his ace, junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford, in Thursday’s series opener. Crawford (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) did enough to keep Florida in the game but struggled with his command, only throwing 56 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

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Florida baseball continues rise; 6-2 in last eight

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

No. 19 Florida Gators baseball (25-20, 12-9 SEC) has continued its upward momentum, going 6-2 (with two series victories) since it swept South Carolina in mid-April. Over the last two weeks, Florida has gone 3-1 both at home and on the road.

Following a big three-game sweep over a Southeastern Conference powerhouse like No. 15 USC, many teams might suffer a letdown game against a non-conference foe on the road…but not the Gators. Florida had plenty of motivation to pick up a revenge victory in Fort Myers, FL against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles after having been swept by FGCU in Gainesville, FL back in February.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner tossed 5.1 innings, a career-high, allowing only one run in UF’s 5-3 victory on April 16 before sophomore closer Johnny Magliozzi got the job done with a five-out save. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) smacked a double to help fuel a three-run seventh inning. Redshirt senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, RBI) and sophomore outfielder Justin Shafer (2/5, R) also contributed to the hit parade.

Junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford overcame a rough beginning to his Friday start on April 19 to earn his third win in an 8-6 victory over the Missouri Tigers. Crawford allowed four hits in a four-run first but settled down for the next 4.2 innings and left the game with a 6-4 lead. The Gators’ offense was not done, however, scoring two more runs on four hits to spot the relievers four runs. Magliozzi picked up another five-out save, securing a much-needed series-opening win on the road for Florida.

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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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Florida offense: Quick hitters on Garcia, Jones, Brown, Ajagbe, Andrades and the offensive line

Over the last week-and-a-half of Florida Gators spring football practice, a number of players met with the media to discuss their individual play and the team as a whole. Below are some of the stories, notes and quotes that have fallen through the cracks.

READY AND ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE

A lot has been made over the last two weeks about injuries to the unit, but a huge boon for Florida’s offensive line is newly-eligible redshirt junior Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland who sat out the entire 2012 season and has accepted a position switch from tackle to guard. Garcia was listed as the starting left guard on the Gators’ initial spring practice depth chart and has received nothing but positive views thus far in camp.

Garcia, who missed a few days of practice with a sore back, explained last week that Florida’s depth concerns on the offensive line are legitimate but the players are doing whatever they can to make it work.

“This spring is tough with the numbers that we have. The coaches are telling us we’ve been doing a great job, but at the end of the day, it’s going out there and doing what we need to do. With the O-line, we’re the backbone of the team, so we just got to keep pushing forward and getting the job done,” he said.

Garcia also spoke about why he decided to transfer to the Gators, noting that he is sure he made the right decision. “I’ve had a lot of support with the coaches and the players. That’s the main reason why I came down here, just because of the players that were here, the players I interacted with on my official visit. We got a good O-line, great chemistry, so the transition has been going really well,” he said.

Though he is now fully in the mix, Garcia had to sit out the entire 2012 season, watching the team from afar as it completed an unexpected turnaround under head coach Will Muschamp. He discuss how that affected him as a competitor.

“Honestly, when we were winning, it wasn’t really hard. With a great season, you’re just happy to be part of the team, happy to contribute. It was good getting recognized at the end of the year as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. The hard work didn’t go unnoticed. The coaches did a good job just telling me I’ve been doing well. I was really excited. It wasn’t really a burden on me. I was just happy to be a part of the team.”

“It was tough on the away games sitting in front of the TV, wishing I could be out there trying to help the team. But for the most part we had a really successful season, so it wasn’t really that tough.”

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