Florida tops N.C. State 7-1 in rain-delayed affair

A superb starting performance on the hill coupled with plenty of clutch hitting sent No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (46-18) to a 7-1 victory over the No. 16 N.C. State Wolfpack (43-19) in the first game of the Super Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday.

Florida junior right-hander Hudson Randall (9-2) pitched the first seven innings of the contest and may have gone longer had a rain delay not halted action for over two hours. He struck out four and did not allow any walks while scattering six hits in his outing. The Gators used a four-run third to give them an early lead and continued to add runs over the duration of the contest to cruise to victory and get themselves within one win of advancing to the College World Series for the third-straight season.

With one out in the bottom of the third, Florida strung together three-straight singles to plate the first run of the game. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker knocked in freshman third baseman Josh Tobias (1/4, R), who had advanced to third on a hit-and-run one play earlier. Junior catcher Mike Zunino then earned an RBI on a fielder’s choice but reached and advanced to second on an error by the shortstop that allowed the Gators to add two more runs. Two batters later, senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott singled up the middle to send Zunino home and extend Florida’s lead to 4-0 through three innings.

The Gators threatened again in the fifth by loading the bases after consecutive singles from Tucker and Zunino and a base on balls by junior designated hitter Brian Johnson. A sacrifice fly from Pigott (1/3, 2 RBI, SB) scored Tucker and increased UF’s lead to 5-0, but freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (0/4) ended the inning by grounding into a 4-6-3 double play as N.C. State staved off further damage.

A rain delay two innings later forced the proceedings to halt in the bottom of the seventh as Florida had Tucker (2/3, RBI, 3 R, BB, SB) on first and Zunino at the plate on a full count with no outs recorded. Play resumed 2:03 later with rain falling as soon as the first pitch was thrown; that did not stop Zunino (2/4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) who towered the second pitch he saw into left for a two-run homer, increasing the Gators’ lead to 7-0.

The home run was Zunino’s third in as many games and increased his total to 19 on the year (the most in school history for a catcher in a single season).

Unfortunately for both teams the rain soon began falling even harder than it was before and a second rain delay was called 18 minutes later as the Wolfpack had a runner on first with two outs in the top of the eighth. The second delay lasted just 48 minutes with senior RHP Greg Larson (0.2 IP, H, BB, K), who replaced Randall after the first rain delay, giving up a hit and exiting with runners on second and third. Freshman lefty Bobby Poyner (0.2 IP, K) and sophomore RHP Keenan Kish (0.2 IP, 2 H, ER) combined to register the final four outs of the game with Kish allowing a pair of two-out hits to plate a run before the end of the contest.

Florida will once again host N.C. State on Sunday in the second game of the Super Regional, which will air live on ESPNU at 1 p.m.

Watch ESPN’s highlight package from the game…after the break!
Continue Reading » Florida tops N.C. State 7-1 in rain-delayed affair

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SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

1 » The Florida Gators’ top 2013 baseball commitment, right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers, is unlikely to ever step on the field at McKethan Stadium as he is projected to be a top selection in the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday. Though he is not yet officially a member of the orange and blue, the slim chance that McCullers spurns pro baseball and decides to spend three years playing in the college ranks should give Florida fans something extra to watch for Monday evening. McCullers was named the 2012 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year on Thursday after posting a perfect 13-0 record with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings during his senior season (he also batted .280 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as a shortstop). He is widely considered to be the best high school baseball player in the country and has received tons of positive press but could very well not wind up going in the first round due to new collective bargaining rules that limit the amount of bonus money teams can pay out to their top picks. Teams may feel that McCullers, represented by agent Scott Boras, would require a certain high-dollar figure in order to sign on the dotted line and not be a wasted pick (he could always choose to go to college instead). This could have him fall out of the first round and perhaps steer him more toward the Gators. “It’s frustrating, the whole draft thing is frustrating,” McCullers told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve done nothing than get better since I’ve been ranked No. 1 forever, and no one in the country had a better year than me on the hill. If Major League Baseball wants to undervalue me, then I’ll show them what I’m really about three years from now.”

Other Florida commitments that could be picked high in the draft and spurn the Gators for minor league contracts include outfielder Lewis Brinson, infielder Avery Romero, OF Max White and OF Jesse Winker.

2 » Former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks is a free agent hoping to sign with an NFL team while coming off a major injury for the second-straight season. Starks hurt his neck two years ago while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was unsigned at the start of 2011. As Pittsburgh’s depth along the offensive line took severe blows early in the season, Starks got a call, immediately returned as a starter and played out the rest of the year until tearing his ACL in the team’s season finale against Denver in the playoffs. Now trying to make another go of it while recovering from an injury, Starks will likely find a destination at some point though FOX Sports’ Len Pasquarelli reports that it will not be with the Steelers. “A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks – who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season… – to keep tabs on his rehabilitation. Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle. But he isn’t likely to return to the Steelers again.” Instead Pittsburgh will move second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side and hope that 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams will be ready to start for the team. Then again, the Steelers also thought that they would not need Starks in 2011 until they desperately needed his services. He has not played for any other team but Pittsburgh, knows the offense and has a great relationship with the rest of the line as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

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Gators rout Yellow Jackets 15-3 in Gainesville Regional final, advance to Super Regional

The rout was on at McKethan Stadium on Sunday evening in the finals of the Gainesville Regional as No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (45-18) scored in four of the first five innings and advanced to the Super Regionals for the fourth-straight season with a 15-3 demolition of the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (38-26).

In addition to a 15-run performance from the Gators’ offense that included a pair of homers and multiple two-out RBIs, UF received a solid outing from junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, who only had to pitch five innings but gave up just one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts.

Florida immediately got on board in a big way, using a pair of two-RBI hits to take an early 4-0 lead on Georgia Tech in the first. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker and junior Mike Zunino got on via one-out walks and were brought home on a double down the right field line by senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott. Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon was walked and joined Pigott on the bags; the duo each advanced a base when a pick-off attempt rolled into center and came around to score on a single up the middle by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, 2 RBI).

The Gators wasted no time in increasing their already substantial lead, using a three-run homer by Zunino to jump ahead 7-0 in the bottom of the second. Florida once again had men on first and second with one out after Fontana singled up the middle and Tucker followed suit through the right side. Zunino then crushed the second pitch he saw to left-center, smacking his second bomb in as many games.

GT put a small dent in their deficit as LF Evan Martin hit a solo shot to left in the third, but Zunino quickly got UF’s seven-run advantage back with his school record-tying 17th career sacrifice fly to score Fontana from third base in the fourth inning.

It did not take long for the Gators to start piling on the runs again as Florida plated seven more in the fifth. After Turgeon doubled with one out and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/3, R, BB) joined him on base via a four-pitch walk, freshman third baseman Josh Tobias (1/3, 2 RBI, R) smacked a two-out, two-RBI double to clear the bags. He was brought home one batter later as Fontana (2/4, RBI, 3 R, BB, SB) singled through the left side to put the Gators ahead 11-1.

The onslaught did not stop there for Florida’s bats, however, as a single by Tucker (2/4, 3 R, BB) and wild pitch on a third strike to Zunino 1/3, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB) loaded the bags for Johnson, who was walked to score another run for the Gators. Pigott (2/4, 4 RBI, R, BB) followed with a two-RBI single, and Turgeon (2/3, RBI, 2 R, BB) joined the party with a single through the right side to plate Johnson (0/3, RBI, R, BB) and increase UF’s advantage to 15-1 through five innings.

Johnson’s outing came to an end after five innings. He was replaced in the sixth by freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H, ER, K), who gave up a solo homer to the second batter he faced, 3B Sam Dove, that reduced Florida’s lead to 15-2. The Gators used a combination of sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (1.0 IP, 2 K), freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (0.2 IP, H, ER), senior LHP Greg Larson (0.1 IP) and junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.0 IP, H, K) to close out the contest.

Florida will begin Super Regional action on Friday or Saturday at McKethan Stadium against the winner of the Raleigh Regional. Two-seed Vanderbilt has the upper hand with a 2-0 record in the double-elimination event and is in the process of playing one-seed North Carolina State (2-1) in the finals (as of press time).

Gators on the 2012 Gainesville All-Regional Team: Zunino, Tucker, Fontana, Crawford, Turgeon (most outstanding player)

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Jonathon Crawford throws a no-hitter, leads Florida to 4-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford was nearly perfect for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball on Friday, throwing the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament to lead Florida over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 4-0 on the first day of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.

Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament.

Despite his unbelievable effort on the mound, Crawford received tons of help both at the plate and in the field from freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, HR, 4 RBI, R), who registered a career-high four RBIs on the evening and snagged a liner with two outs in the top of the ninth to preserve his pitcher’s no-hitter.

Senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R, BB, SB) led off the bottom of the second with a single, stole second, moved over to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on an RBI single by Turgeon. The Gators, however, got three-straight outs with two runners on base and ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.

Florida had a number of opportunities to plate runners in the next two innings but failed in that mission and was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. UF ended the game 2-for-15 in such situations.

Turgeon provided that second hit with a three-run blast in the fifth though the Gators quickly fell back into the swing of things (or lack thereof) by getting out thrice more with the lead-off runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.

Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in his no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning.

[OGGOA Extra: Mick Hubert calls Jonathon Crawford's no-hitter]

Florida (43-18) advances to the winner’s bracket of the Gainesville Regional where they will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday at 7 p.m. GT defeated College of Charleston in the regional opener; CoC face Bethune-Cookman (34-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the loser being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

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Florida named No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament

Florida Gators baseball was awarded the No. 1 overall national seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Monday as the bracket was released for the event. It is the first time in school history that the Gators have received the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Hosting one of 16 regional sites for the event, Florida will take on Bethune-Cookman in the first game of the Gainesville Regional on Friday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Georgia Tech and College of Charleston will also play in Gainesville in the first portion of the event.

Should the Gators advance past the regional stage, they will take on the winner of the Raleigh Regional featuring North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, UNC-Wilmington and Sacred Heart. The winner of that series would advance to the College World Series.

Florida is 2-0 this season against Bethune-Cookman with victories on Feb. 21 (8-6) and April 25 (10-1). Georgia Tech is coming off a victory in the 2012 ACC Tournament and is on a five-game winning streak heading into action in Gainesville on Friday.

The Gators are making their 28th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament with the program still looking to win 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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FOUR BITS: Will, baseball, Finney-Smith, SEC

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis’ run in the individual portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament came to an end on Sunday with junior No. 1 Allie Will falling to No. 3 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford (6-2, 4-6, 6-3). Will, who was ranked No. 1 in both singles and doubles for a large portion of the season and was brilliant in the first four rounds of the individual tournament, finished the 2012 season 26-3 in singles action with her two of her three losses coming in the last two weeks. Florida women’s tennis has not had a individual singles national champion since 1996 (Jill Craybas).

2 » No. 2 Gators baseball (42-18) was announced Sunday as one of 16 host teams for the regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL will host the double-elimination regionals for the fourth consecutive season and is also likely to be a Super Regional site should Florida advance past the other three teams (assignments to be determined Monday afternoon) competing in the Gainesville Regional beginning on Friday. Florida State and Miami are also hosting regionals in the state; LSU and South Carolina are the other Southeastern Conference teams hosting regionals.

3 » Though the Gators gained a transfer commitment from 2010 four-star prospect power forward Damontre Harris formerly of South Carolina, a source close to the program told OGGOA on Saturday that Florida will not stop pursuing a similar decision from Virginia Tech forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Himself a former four-star prospect, Finney-Smith is expected to decide “before he goes to the Kevin Durant camp June 22-23,” his mother told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv. Finney-Smith is choosing between UF, Iowa State, Louisville, Marquette and Texas but has yet to schedule all of his visits. UF is currently at its scholarship limit if all recruits accept athletic scholarships but would do their best to find room for the ACC All-Freshman Team member who averaged 6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists while starting 30 of 33 games last season.

4 » Former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton, now the SEC’s “scheduling guru” as a consultant with the league, provided some details this week on the future of scheduling for both football and basketball now that Texas A&M and Missouri have joined the league. Though the 2012-13 schedules have already been set as stop gaps, coaches and athletic directors will vote and try to come to a decision on permanent schedules and postseason structures beginning in 2013-14. Below is what Templeton said to The Birmingham News on Saturday in regards to his expectations on how the meetings will unfold next week:

Football
- The conference schedule would remain at eight games and not expand to nine.
- The eight games would be scheduled in a 6-1-1 model with each team playing their six divisional opponents, one permanent rival from the other division and another on a rotation (not necessarily home-and-home).
- The News notes that “Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia should be safe as rivals. Kentucky-Mississippi State, South Carolina-Arkansas and LSU-Florida are permanent games that could be switched.” (Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in March that South Carolina would be his school’s permanent rival, meaning at least Arkansas will need a new annual opponent. The SEC could match Arkansas with Missouri and retain the other permanent games, though LSU has recently indicated that they may be interested in cancelling their series with Florida.)

Basketball
- The SEC Tournament would feature two “seeded” (aka “play-in”) games.
- The tournament would begin on Wednesday night with the lowest four seeds squaring off (No. 12 vs. No. 13, No. 11 vs. No. 14) and then continue with 10 teams Thursday.

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SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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TWO BITS: baseball falls again, softball splits

1 » Falling to 8-8 in their last 16 games dating back to March 30, No. 2/5 Florida Gators baseball (31-10) was edged 5-3 by the South Florida Bulls (28-14) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday. Florida fell behind 2-0 in the top of the second after a fielding error by sophomore third baseman Cody Dent allowed the inning to continue and two runs to eventually score. Freshman right-hander Johnny Magliozzi (4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 K) was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson in the fifth but things did not get any better for the Gators on the mound. Gibson gave up solo homer in the sixth, but Florida immediately answered with a pair of dingers from juniors shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R) to tie the game 3-3. However, Gibson (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB) allowed a lead-off walk in the seventh that eventually scored and registered as the game-winning run. USF added another bomb in the top of the eighth to increase their lead to two runs and UF faltered late offensively by stranding six runners on base over the final three innings (Zunino grounded out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth).

2 » No. 2/4 Gators softball (42-6, 19-3 SEC) split a Tuesday doubleheader with the LSU Tigers (33-16, 14-8 SEC), winning the afternoon contest 2-1 in eight innings before dropping the evening game 1-0. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (25-3, 8.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 5 K) went the distance in the extra innings affair that saw Florida fight tooth and nail for a victory. The Gators trailed 1-0 after Rogers allowed a run to score in the top of the seventh but evened things out in the bottom frame when junior right fielder Ensley Gammel (1/3, HR, RBI, R) homered to right. Rogers then forced three ground balls in the eighth with her defense completing a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning and give the offense another shot. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2/4, RBI) responded to the opportunity, doubling down the left field line to knock in the game-winning run. The latter contest was a true pitchers’ duel with freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-3, 7.0 IP, 6 H, ER, 3 BB, 9 K) and LSU’s Brittany Mack (7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K) both tossing complete games. The Tigers scored after a triple was driven home in the second and the Gators’ offense stalled just like the baseball team’s did down the stretch by stranding five runners on base over the final two innings.

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