South Carolina downs Florida 7-3 in CWS opener

An explosive five-run fifth inning for the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks‘ offense erased an early lead by No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-19) and allowed South Carolina (46-17) to top Florida 7-3 on Saturday night in both teams’ first game of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

With the loss, UF fell to 27-6 when scoring first and move on to the loser’s portion of the double-elimination tournament where they will have to win four-straight games in order to advance to the Championship Series for the second-straight season, something that has happened only six times dating back to 1988.

Gamecocks left-handed pitcher Michael Roth (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) earned the victory despite giving up the most earned runs of any of his CWS appearances. Gators LHP Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) got out of jams in the first four innings but came apart at the seams in the fifth.

South Carolina threatened first by loading the bases in the opening frame thanks to an error, single and walk, but Johnson struck out the side to save Florida. The Gamecocks squandered another opportunity to score in the third but failed to score a runner from 90 feet away following a lead-off double and sacrifice fly.

It was the Gators that got on the board first with a rally in the third. Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4, R) and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit singled to start the inning, but Florida found themselves with runners on the corners following a failed bunt and groundout. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker then stepped up and cleared the bases with a two-out, two-RBI double to deep left, giving UF an early 2-0 lead.

The Gators were in another tough situation in the fourth after Johnson allowed the first two batters on via a single and walk, but Florida’s deft defense registered three-straight outs to get out of the frame.

UF was not as lucky the next inning as Johnson started by loading the bases without recording an out. He then gave up a bases-clearing triple followed by double to deep right, allowing USC to take a 4-2 lead before being pulled. Senior LHP Greg Larson (1.0 IP, 2 H, K) replaced him and got the Gators out of the jam but not without giving up another run and allowing the Gamecocks to extend their lead to 5-2.

Florida cut into South Carolina’s three-run lead in the bottom of the fifth as a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Mike Zunino scored freshman third baseman Josh Tobias, who had moved over to third after getting on base with a lead-off single.

The Gators threatened again in the bottom of the seventh but came up empty after Ramjit (2/3) and Tobias (2/3, R) led off the frame with singles. The duo moved over to second and third on a sacrifice bunt but never made their way home. Florida ended the inning with Tucker (2/5, 2 RBI) flying out to shallow left and Johnson (0/4) hitting a hard line out to right after Zunino (0/2, RBI, 2 BB) was intentionally walked to load the bases.

UF sophomore right-hander Keenan Kish (3.0 IP, H, ER, BB, 3 K) kept USC at bay but walked the lead-off batter in the ninth, who eventually came around to score after advancing via a ground out and a pair of wild pitches, the second of which came from junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (0.1 IP, H, R, K). One out away from ending the frame, the Gators committed two fielding errors and gave up an infield single in between, allowing the Gamecocks to add another insurance run and increase their lead to 7-3.

Florida will face Kent State (46-19) on Monday at 5 p.m. in an elimination game that will air live on ESPN2. The winner will take on either Arkansas or South Carolina (Monday at 9 p.m.) in another elimination game on Wednesday.

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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 primed for CWS (Part I)

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 first of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series.

Florida Gators baseball is back in the College World Series. While everyone expected Florida to return to Omaha, NE this season riding the bats of junior catcher Mike Zunino and senior right fielder Preston Tucker and the arms of juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson, the Gators have also relied on youth both at the plate and on the mound to fill in some important gaps.

Playing in the CWS in unlike anything else a player will experience in college baseball. It pales in comparison to playing Florida State in Tallahassee, FL or even against Miami down in Coral Gables, FL. The stands are packed with 20,000-plus fans and the field is bigger than most that you play on during the year. Preparing for the event is nearly impossible if you’ve never been there before as a player.

My freshman year, the Gators defeated the Seminoles in the Super Regionals for the opportunity to head to Omaha, and it was crucial that we had an experienced senior-laden team to keep everyone grounded and focused. Fans should feel confident when cameras showed Zunino rallying the troops in the ninth inning against N.C. State; that leadership and ability to take control of the team not only by his words but by what he does on the field is immensely important.

Florida will be going to Omaha for the third-straight year, so their abundance of experience should play a critical role in keeping the younger players focused and hungry for that elusive championship. Your first trip to Omaha as a player is overwhelming, but this tournament is all business for the Gators as they strive to finally bring home the national title that has eluded the program for so long.

While everything may seem positive heading into the CWS, there is an issue with one of Florida’s most important players that has drawn my attention both as a scout and fan. Junior closer Austin Maddox again blew a ninth-inning lead in the second game of the Super Regional – his second destructive outing this postseason. While it was not anywhere near as statistically concerning as what he did against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, it was still tough to watch as someone whose years of experience have allowed him to develop a sense about pitching prospects.

Maddox has struggled mightily for two reasons. First, he has slowly lost velocity on his fastball as the season has progressed. Initially pitching between 92-94 mph, Maddox was hitting around 89-92 mph against N.C. State. While this might seem like a minimal dropoff, this small difference is enormous at the plate and makes it easier for hitters to handle fastballs, especially inside pitches that become easier for hitters to react to and turn on. Second, Maddox’s slider has been downright horrendous. He bounced one behind a hitter at one point and hit a batter another. He could not locate his slider and therefore was forced to throw his now-average-velocity fastball over the heart of the plate because his slider had put him behind in the count so often. He may have simply been gripping the ball too hard or too tight when trying to throw the slider, hoping to give it more break and bite, but “choking” the ball also leads to less control.

Maddox is not injured, at least not to anyone’s knowledge, but his being overused this season has caused him to wear down the further the Gators go into the postseason.

Hopefully head coach Kevin O’Sullivan can tinker with Maddox’s slider grip and give him a few extra days of rest before he is called on to pitch in the CWS because he is one of the Gators’ most important players. Otherwise UF may have a major question to answer: Who can/would/should be called on to get them to the finish line in close games?

Part two of Teddy’s Catch will be published Friday morning!

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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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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!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators, O’Sullivan hot right now

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Red Sox nab Gators LHP Brian Johnson with No. 31 overall pick in first round of 2012 MLB Draft

Round 1 – No. 31
Brian Johnson, LHP
Boston Red Sox


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 235 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Junior

A two-way player who has made a major impact on the Florida Gators both on the mound and in the batter’s box, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson became the team’s second player selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday when the Boston Red Sox chose him with the No. 31 overall pick.

It is the first time in school history that Florida has had two players selected in the first round of the same regular June draft with junior catcher Mike Zunino also going No. 3 overall to the Seattle Mariners. The Gators had a pair of players picked in the first round of the secondary June draft in 1983 (Robby Thompson, Rich Rice).

Johnson is UF’s eighth first-round draft choice to be selected in the regular June draft and 14th first-round pick overall* in team history.

Though he can be extremely productive both as a pitcher and designated hitter, Johnson will primarily be a hurler at the next level. He has the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter and can throw four pitches for strikes. Johnson possesses solid breaking stuff along with a fastball around 90 mph.

He was a unanimous Freshman All-American in 2010 and a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team both as a pitcher and designated hitter. During his sophomore season he was a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year award and Dick Howser Trophy, also earning a first-team All-SEC nod for his work at the plate.

Johnson is the first Florida player to be selected by Boston since first baseman Matt LaPorta in 2006 (he did not leave school) and would be the first player to sign with the Red Sox (should he choose to do so) since outfielder Jeff Corsaletti in 2005.

He is 8-4 on the mound this season with a 3.56 ERA and 68/15 K/BB ratio in a team-high 86.0 innings. Johnson is also hitting .310 with five homers, 40 RBIs and 10 walks.

* Burke was selected with a first-round pick twice (1991, 1992). Florida has also had six players selected with first-round picks in “secondary” MLB drafts held only for previously-drafted players, which have been discontinued since 1987.

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Mariners select Gators catcher Mike Zunino with No. 3 overall pick in first round of 2012 MLB Draft

Round 1 – No. 3
Mike Zunino, C
Seattle Mariners


Height: 6’2″ – Weight: 220 lbs.
B/T: R/R – Class: Junior

Following an explosive sophomore campaign in which he won the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year award and made scouts around the professional baseball landscape take notice, Florida Gators catcher Mike Zunino continued mashing the ball and playing stellar defense throughout his junior season. That commitment to excellence is why he was considered the consensus best catcher in amateur baseball and was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

Being chosen No. 3 overall, Zunino becomes the highest-drafted player in team history, surpassing right-handed pitcher John Burke who was picked No. 6 overall in 1991. He is also UF’s seventh first-round draft choice in the regular June draft, 13th first-round pick overall* and first player to earn that honor since first baseman Matt LaPorta in 2007.

After a terrific sophomore season in which he hit .371 with 19 homers, 67 RBIs and 32 walks, Zunino has continued to make major contact posting a .316 average with 18 homers, 60 RBIs and 28 walks already this season. He led the SEC in average, homers, hits (98), runs (75), total bases (178) and doubles (23) as a sophomore and also led Florida in slugging percentage (.674) and on-base percentage (.442) that year. Zunino currently leads the Gators in homers, RBIs, total bases (154), doubles (27), sacrifice flies (9) and slugging percentage (.667).

He is also fielding his position at an outstanding .994 clip with only three errors this season, making him the top defensive catcher in the draft as well.

Zunino, a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, is the first Gators player selected by the Mariners since outfielder Gavin Dickey (12th round) and right-handed pitcher Bryan Ball (27th round) were both chosen in 2006. He holds the Florida team record for sacrifice flies (17) and is expected to be a consensus first-team All-American by the time the rest of the honors are announced this season.

He will sign a contract worth approximately $5.2 million as slotted by MLB.

* Burke was selected with a first-round pick twice (1991, 1992). Florida has also had six players selected with first-round picks in “secondary” MLB drafts held only for previously-drafted players, which have been discontinued since 1987.

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