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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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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Florida C Mike Zunino wins Dick Howser Trophy

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino became the first player in team history to be presented with the Dick Howser Trophy after being announced as the recipient of the 2012 award by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Friday.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as the top player in college baseball,” Zunino said. “I just want to thank the Dick Howser committee, the college baseball writers, the University of Florida, Coach [Kevin] O’Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to play here, my fiancé Alyssa, my dad and mom. Thanks for everything. I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity, and it is something I am always going to remember.”

The Dick Howser Trophy, which was created in 1987 and is presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year, is considered by many to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball. It had not been won by a Southeastern Conference player since Vanderbilt pitcher David Price took home the honor in 2007.

Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners and highest-drafted player in team history, is batting .322 on the year and leads the Gators with 19 homers and 64 RBIs. He has also registered 53 runs, 28 walks, stolen nine bases in 10 attempts, and is fielding his position at a .994 clip.

“This is an unbelievable honor [for him to be] named the best player in the country,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s the first winner at the University of Florida, and we’re awfully proud as a university and a program. We can sit here all day and talk about Mike’s stats and how he has performed on the field – that’s obviously evident. Mike has been a tremendous player for us since day one. [...] There’s so much more that he gives to our program – the leadership, the day-to-day work ethic – it’s just off the charts.”

The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, Zunino did not capture the award this season (that honor went to LSU’s Raph Rhymes) but was named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year. He is also a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (college baseball’s top catcher) as well as a finalist this season for the Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player).

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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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!
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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!
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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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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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Teddy’s Catch: Florida has hit a rough patch

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.

Here on Wednesday the Florida Gators baseball team still sits atop the recent top 25 polls as the No. 1 team in the country but UF is lucky that ranking came out on Monday because it certainly does not reflect their recent performance.

Florida began their long eight-game road trip by travelling to Columbia, SC for a three-game series in which they managed to squeak out two wins. Then it was down to Jacksonville, FL for a victory over another top-five team in Florida State and things were looking up for UF with a 3-1 start to their trek.

That was until the Gators travelled to Oxford, MS for their second away series in as many weeks. After giving up a run in the final inning of Sunday’s rubber match, Florida had managed only one win against a top-20 opponent in Ole Miss. This disappointing weekend, as you now know, was followed by what can only be described as a lackluster effort against North Florida in Jacksonville on Tuesday.

While the wheels may appear to be falling off, the last few games are relatively typical of any baseball team on the back end of a long road trip. Even though you get to return to Gainesville, FL between games/series, you are going to class and catching up on work that you’ve missed while trying to find some time to relax at home. Sometimes it is tough to wrench up the energy and motivation for what many consider to be “meaningless” mid-week games. This is not a valid excuse, but it happens to every team – college or professional. The four losses may be ugly even if three came to ranked opponents, but it is easy to forget that the Gators beat the Gamecocks on the road twice and followed that up by taking their second game of the season from the Seminoles.

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