Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2012 (check out Sunday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 On the Field Moments of the Year.

12 » MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
If there was a theme to Gators athletics in the spring it was Florida teams falling short of their goals. In addition to men’s indoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and men’s swimming & diving all just coming up just short of winning major titles, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse and softball all gave valiant efforts but faced immense disappointment in the end. It all started with the Gators basketball team, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year and once again choked away a late lead and failed to advance to the Final Four. Up 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, Florida was outscored 18-3 down the stretch by Louisville, which held on for the 72-68 victory. The Gators hit just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14 while also going 1-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch and 0-for-9 from downtown over the final 20 minutes. Gymnastics did just about everything it could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six in late April but came just short of earning the first national title in program history, falling 197.850-197.775 to Alabama and losing by 0.075 points. Next up was softball, which looked primed to return to the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series for the third time in the last four years. Instead, Florida got upended 10-1 by eventual national champion Alabama in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament and was eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament due in part to suspensions levied against three key players. It was the first time since 2006 that UF did not at least advance to the Super Regional. A controversial finish led to another tough loss for lacrosse (see No. 9), leaving one sport to provide the ultimate disappointment to Gators fans in 2012.

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Gators fans was seeing a baseball team that was the national title favorite from the very start of the season fall fast and finish the campaign without a single title. Cruising along in the SEC Tournament with a one-run lead and three outs to go in the championship game, Florida baseball collapsed against Vanderbilt, allowing its opponents to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and hold on for the title. Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vandy to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze. It only got worse from there. The Commodores accomplished a double steal, hit an infield single, loaded the bases (intentional walk, double steal, intentional walk) and then pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single put the nail in the coffin as the Gators allowed more stolen bases in a single frame (seven) than had ever been given up in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event. With horrible memories of the SEC Tournament behind them and the NCAA Tournament upcoming, Florida hoped to use the experience to improve as a team. The Gators did advance to the College World Series but were swept right out of it with consecutive losses. Florida fell 7-3 to South Carolina in its first game before allowing an unranked Kent State team to register a 5-4 upset victory in the second game. The Gators coughed up four unearned runs, committed two errors and failed to plate runs despite having numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. With so much talent on the roster and a track record of success – the team got to the championship series just one year earlier – Florida baseball legitimately blew a great national title chance.

[Read: The Silver Lining - "Failure" is not a dirty word]

11 » FLORIDA SWEEPS FSU IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL

For the first time in school history, the Gators swept the Seminoles in football, basketball and baseball (5-0) in a calendar year. Florida State having a historically successful baseball team has stood in the way of Florida’s ability to accomplish this feat in the past, but Gators baseball completed its first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 1958 by earning a 9-2 victory in Gainesville, FL, 4-1 victory in Jacksonville, FL and a 6-3 win on the road in Tallahassee, FL. Florida football bounced back from consecutive losses to FSU with a 37-26 beat down in Tallahassee, and UF basketball matched the football team’s intensity with a 72-47 rout on the road.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Tim Tebow wins ESPY award for Best Moment

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow may no longer be a member of the Denver Broncos but one of his last plays with the team earned him and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas an ESPY award on Wednesday in Los Angeles, CA.

Playing in the Wildcard Round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs, Denver and the Pittsburgh Steelers were tied at 23 heading into overtime with the Broncos receiving the ball. On the very first play from scrimmage, Tebow hit Thomas across the middle with a dart that the receiver would take the rest of the way for a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass.

The ESPY for Best Moment is the third in Tebow’s young career but his first as a professional football player. He previously won Best Male College Athlete as a member of the Gators football team in both 2008 and 2009.

Florida was well-represented at the award show on Wednesday with three other nominees – U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach for Best Female Athlete, junior catcher Mike Zunino for Best Male College Athlete and jumper Christian Taylor for Best Track & Field Athlete – though none of the three brought home the award in their respective category. Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker was also in attendance to officially accept the 2012 Capital One Cup and guard Mike Miller found his way onstage to accept the award for Best Team.

A number of former Florida student-athletes congratulated Tebow for his award on Twitter after it was announced.

Jack Youngblood (@theblood85): Congrats @TimTebow on your @ESPYS award! Here’s to more “moments” like that one-JY

Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88): Congrats to my boy @TimTebow even thought he won it against my #Steelers smh! Payback week 2 lol

Andre Caldwell (@Acaldwell17): How can you not like @TimTebow and the way he carry is his self.. It was a pleasure to play with Timmy

Brandon Spikes (@BrandonSpikes55): Tim Tebow is such a great player !!! #GrinchSmile

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Zunino wins Florida’s first Golden Spikes Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his fourth major national honor in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the nation’s premier amateur baseball player, on Friday.

Zunino is the first player in school history to win the award and achieved that same benchmark when he captured the Dick Howser Trophy (college baseball’s “Heisman Trophy”) on June 15 and the Johnny Bench Award (best catcher) on June 29.

He joins Buster Posey (2008) as one of only two players to complete the trifecta and like Posey was also named Baseball America‘s College Player of the Year on June 22.

Zunino played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). He also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

Selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in school history and recently signed a contract with the team that includes a $4 million bonus. He was also honored as a member of the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year.

Zunino is nominated for an ESPY award for Best Collegiate Athlete.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Zunino wins Florida’s first Johnny Bench Award

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his third major national award in as many weeks after officially being named the winner of the 2012 Johnny Bench Award on Thursday evening.

He is the first player in school history to earn the honor.

Zunino, who brought home the Dick Howser Trophy (considered to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball) also the first time in school history on June 15, was named Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year on June 22.

He played top-notch baseball for the Gators in his junior season, batting .322 while leading the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). Zunino also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino became the highest-drafted player in team history. He was also named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year and is a finalist this season for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player), which will be announced on July 6.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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FOUR BITS: ESPYs, Ball, mission, Crippen

1 » Four total Florida Gators were nominated for ESPYs this year: U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach (Best Female Athlete), then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (Best Moment), catcher Mike Zunino (Best Male College Athlete) and jumper Christian Taylor (Best Track & Field Athlete). Florida will also receive the 2012 Capital One Cup at the event, making July 11 at 9 p.m. a potentially very rewarding evening for the Gators.

2 » GatorZone.com senior writer Scott Carter recently spoke with Florida redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, who conveyed that he feels “great,” hasn’t “felt this good in a long time” and is ready to rejoin the Gators football team after being rushed to the hospital last February and diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (tangling of blood vessels) in his brain. Doctors were able to correct the issue and Ball was allowed to go home a few days later but was ruled out for the season even after he was deemed to be stable a few weeks later. “I was devastated,” he said. “It was the worst pain I ever felt. I wouldn’t even call it a headache. It felt like somebody was squeezing my brain. I knew it was very serious. At that point, I really thought I wasn’t going to make it because I was in terrible pain.” The good news is, now that Ball is recovered, the AVM has no chance of coming back. “If something comes up again, it’s another injury,” Florida associate director of sports and health and head athletics trainer for football Anthony Pass said. “There is no chronic nature to this. If he gets a concussion, it’s a concussion, it’s not because he had an AVM. He is healthy and he is ready to roll. If he gets injured somehow again and it’s a head injury, it’s another injury. It’s football, so the risk of injury is always there, but he is healthy to play football.”

3 » Six current Gators student-athletes – junior center Patric Young, junior forward Will Yeguete, junior running back Trey Burton, sophomore tight end Clay Burton, sophomore hurdler Katrina DeKrey and junior thrower Ashley Miller – are currently on a week-long mission trip to Africa sponsored by the organization Athletes In Action. The four Florida players you are likely most familiar with created the following video update:

4 » Gators senior Teresa Crippen is currently in Omaha, NE with many of her Florida teammates competing at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trails. Unfortunately for Crippen, she had had to scratch out of most of the early events (she qualified to compete in the preliminaries of seven total) due to a reoccurring illness. She was able to compete in the 200 Meter Freestyle on Wednesday and posted a 2:00.73, which almost qualified her for the semifinals. Crippen is expected to be able to swim in the remainder of her events so a spot participating in the 2012 London Olympics is not completely out of her reach yet.

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Zunino is Baseball America’s Player of the Year

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino received his second major national award in the last two weeks after being officially named Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year and a first-team All-American on Friday.

Zunino, who also brought home the Dick Howser Trophy (considered to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball) on June 15 for the first time in school history, had an outstanding season for the Gators in which he batted .322 and led the team in homers (19), RBIs (67), sacrifice flies (11) and total bases (164). He also registered 53 runs and 31 walks while fielding his position at a .994 clip.

His combination of offensive production, quality defense, superb leadership and remarkable durability (he started all 66 of Florida’s games, including 62 at catcher) made Zunino the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and it makes him the 2012 Baseball America College Player of the Year.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Zunino was the highest-drafted player in team history. He was also named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year and is a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (college baseball’s top catcher) as well as a finalist this season for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player).

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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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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