2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has his work cut out for him in his sixth season in Gainesville, FL. Ranked No. 13, No. 17 and No. 24 in the various preseason top 25 polls, the Gators are looking up at anywhere from four to six Southeastern Conference foes listed ahead of them.

Right now, the core of the team that achieved three consecutive College World Series appearances is focused on MLB spring training instead of its spring semester at Florida. There are a few returning faces spread out across the diamond, but the Gators will have to find at least multiple new starting pitchers, a new closer and a new way to produce runs without relying so much on the long ball.

O’Sullivan has proven he knows how to identify some of the best young talent in the country. On a Florida team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he has to develop that talent fast to fill the void left by the nine Gators selected in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Florida opens its 2013 campaign on Friday when it starts a three-game home series against Duke at McKethan Stadium.

Continue Reading » 2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

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FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

1 » The Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday traded reserve center Marreese Speights to the Cleveland Cavaliers after signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract in the offseason. Speights, who was originally acquired via trade by Memphis one year ago, played a big role for the Grizzlies last season as a fill-in for injured starter Zach Randolph. With Randolph healthy and Speights seeing limited minutes, including him in a package made sense for Memphis. He is averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game this season.

2 » Former Florida Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd published a second “thank you” letter to fans, following up the first placement in The Independent Florida Alligator with a second in The Gainesville Sun. Below is the text of Floyd’s second letter:

Dear Gator Fans:

When I came down here from Philadelphia three years ago, you rolled out the red carpet for me and welcomed me warmly. My three years in Gainesville have been the best years of my life. As much as I would like to remain here for another year and win and SEC Championship, the opportunity for me to enter the NFL draft now was one I could not turn down. I am very excited about the opportunity to represent the University of Florida in the National Football League with my Gator brethren. I promise to come back from time to time to visit old friends and root the Gators on to another National Championship. Thanks to all of the Gator fans who have supported me and the team the last few years. You are the best!

Sincerely,

Sharrif Floyd
Gator for Life

Check out two VIDEO BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

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No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-18) advanced to the College World Series for the third-straight season after completing a 9-8 victory in an extra-inning affair on Sunday against the No. 16 N.C. State Wolfpack (43-20) in the second game of Super Regional action at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida swept the Super Regional from N.C. State after picking up a 7-1 victory on Saturday but needed seven pitchers, three clutch home runs and 10 full innings to register the come-from-behind win on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford started on the hill for UF and threw 17 pitches in his first two innings of work before a weather delay forced the teams off the field. He wound up returning following a 2:23 delay though his opponent, ace Carlos Rodon, ended his day with three strikeouts over three no-hit innings.

Upon returning to the mound, Crawford gave up a lead-off double to end a streak of 14.2 innings without allowing a hit dating back to May 22. He was then hit for an RBI double two batters later as the Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead through three innings.

The Gators did not waste time taking back control of the game as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, RBI, R, BB, SB) led off the top of the fourth by turning on the first pitch he saw and sending it out of the park to tie the contest. The onslaught continued against N.C. State reliever Anthony Tzamtzis as Florida juniors catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Brian Johnson hit back-to-back doubles to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon followed two batters later with an RBI single to right to score Zunino, giving UF a 2-1 lead and sending Tzamtzis to the showers. The Gators added two more runs to increase their advantage to 4-1 with freshman left fielder Justin Shafer hitting a sacrifice fly to center that scored Johnson, and Turgegon coming around to score after stealing a base and being knocked in via an RBI single to left by junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1/5, RBI).

The Wolfpack similarly responded by tagging Crawford (3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB, 5 K) for three-straight two-out hits in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second, RF Brian Austin smacked a two-RBI double to deep center that reduced his team’s deficit to 4-3 and brought senior RHP Greg Larson out of the bullpen.

Read the rest of the Florida-N.C. State game story…after the break!
Continue Reading » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

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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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