SIX BITS: NFL injuries, Tebow, Munroe, women

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the team’s leading receivers this year with 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns through two games, sprained his MCL during Sunday afternoon’s game and will be out of action at least 1-2 weeks, according to the Boston Globe. Also injured on Sunday was Chicago Bears free safety Major Wright, who was hit hard in his contest and was removed from the field with what was considered a head injury. After further evaluation, Wright was diagnosed with a “stiff neck” and not a concussion, which means he does not have to miss his team’s next game. However, Wright may not start anyway as, according to the Chicago Tribune, the team is considering moving Brandon Meriweather into the starting role.

2 » Denver Broncos second-year player Tim Tebow has yet to see the field as a quarterback in 2011 after leading his team to a 1-2 record in three starts to conclude the 2010 season. However, Tebow got into his team’s game on Sunday as a wide receiver due to injuries to some of the other players. According to NBC Sports, Tebow asked the coaching staff if he could play receiver on the scout team rather than do nothing during practice. The coaches agreed and allowed him to fill the role and he wound up playing out wide on Sunday as a result. Head coach John Fox said Monday that the Broncos only consider Tebow a quarterback and have no plans to play him at receiver going forward.

3 » Former Florida Gators safety Dorian Munroe, who OGGOA recently profiled as we broke the story that he would be playing for the Toronto Varsity Blues of OUA Canadian college football, was interviewed in a profile piece on The Score out of Canada. Through three games with Toronto, Munroe has 13 tackles and an interception.

4 » In unrelated Tebow news, he told the Associated Press last week that, while he appreciated the support of fans who were raising money for billboards declaring that he should start for Denver, he hoped they were “going to do the right thing” with the money and donate it to charity. Fox, asked about the billboard, said, “I’ve seen a lot of billboards and I can’t remember one that really influenced me.”

5 » No. 9 Florida soccer (8-2) ended its non-conference slate over the weekend with a pair of decisive road victories. On Friday, the Gators defeated the Missouri Tigers (7-2) behind a pair of goals by freshman midfielder Annie Speese at 43’ and 86’. Sunday’s 7-2 blowout of the Kansas Jayhawks (6-3) was a total team effort with six different players scoring. Speese added her third goal of the weekend at 20’, but freshman forward Tahnai Annis opened and closed the contest with goals at 9’ and 89’. Florida will continue its four-game road trip with a pair of games against Georgia (Friday) and Tennessee (Sunday) as they open Southeastern Conference play. UF will then return to Gainesville, FL for a five-game homestand.

6 » No. 6/7 Gators volleyball (8-2, 1-0 SEC) began league play on Friday with a 3-0 shutout (25-20, 25-18, 26-24) of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-5, 0-1 SEC) on the road in Starkville, MS. Senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy, who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts, posted a triple-double with 10 kills, 19 assists and 11 digs in the match. Also excelling Friday was senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel, who led the team with 14 kills on the evening. After playing their last three matches on the road, Florida will return home for a two contests next weekend against Kentucky (Friday) and Tennessee (Sunday) before hitting the road the following weekend.

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Tucker’s three-run blast powers Gators past Bulldogs 8-6 and into College World Series

It took a day longer than they may have liked, but No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (50-17) advanced to its second-straight College World Series on Sunday with a come-from-behind 8-6 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (38-25) in game three of the Super Regionals at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators will compete at the CWS in Omaha, NE in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history, using a three-run homer by junior right fielder Preston Tucker in the seventh to take back a lost lead and propel themselves to victory. UF hit five bombs Sunday, setting a season-high for home runs in a single game as part of their win.

Florida jumped on Mississippi State early, hitting three home runs in the first two innings and taking an early 4-0 lead. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino got things started by cranking a solo shot with two outs in the first. Junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott lined a two-run homer over the left field wall in the second and the very next batter, redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB), followed suit with the first dinger of his college career.

Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis got the start for the Gators and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced through three innings. Things fell apart for him in the fourth after he allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning. With no outs, Bulldogs second baseman Nick Vickerson tagged Panteliodis for a three-run bomb to left-center, cutting Florida’s big lead to 4-3.

Pulled after allowing the tying run on in the fifth, Panteliodis (4.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H) was substituted for with junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson, who let the runner advance to second on a wild pitch but got out of the inning unscathed. Larson was pulled just one inning later after getting Vickerson to ground out but allowing the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base via consecutive singles.

At that point Larson (IP, 2 H, K) was replaced by junior LHP Nick Maronde (1.1 IP, ER, H, K), who got out of the sixth but left in the seventh after giving up a two-out double. Junior RHP Tommy Toledo looked to save the day but struggled mightily at first, walking the first batter on four-straight pitches and allowing Vickerson to hit a liner to right to tie the game 4-4. He then gave up a bases loaded single to left fielder Brent Brownlee, who plated two more and put Mississippi State ahead 6-4 on six unanswered runs.

The Gators started the bottom of the inning with back-to-back walks before Bulldogs closer Caleb King was called upon to get Zunino out. Zunino (2-4, HR, RBI, R) instead threw down a sacrifice bunt to place the game-tying run on second with one out. Faced with a 3-1 count, Tucker (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) powered the ball to deep center field, hitting a go-ahead three-run homer to give Florida a 7-6 lead.

Toledo sat down all three batters he faced in the top of the eighth, sending the game into the bottom of the inning where Pigott (3-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) hit his second homer of the afternoon to put the Gators ahead 8-6 with just three outs to go. Toledo (6-3) returned for the ninth and retired the side again, forcing Vickerson to fly out to center for the final out of the game. He finished the contest with 2.1 strong innings and threw the final seven outs of the game after giving up two earned runs on two hits with two walks.

Panteliodis set a school record with his sixth NCAA Tournament start, and senior second baseman Josh Adams set another for most games played in a Florida uniform (248). With his three-run homer, Tucker joined the school’s three-man 200 RBI club (Brad Wilkerson, Matt LaPorta) and proved how dangerous he is behind Zunino.

The 65th College World Series is set to begin on June 18 with the Gators holding the No. 2 overall seed as long as top-seed Virginia advances.

 

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Bulldogs smack walk-off, two-run homer to top Gators 4-3, force game three in Super Regional

No. 2 Florida Gators baseball looked to be in control all afternoon, but it took a single pitch from sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez to change that. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Mississippi State Bulldogs second baseman Nick Vickerson hit a walk-off, two-run homer to give his team a 4-3 victory and force game three in the Super Regionals at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

MSU (38-24) came from behind to tie the game 2-2 in the seventh and capitalized on a pitching change by Florida (49-17) to require the winner-takes-all contest on Sunday.

Hoping to continue his exceedingly successful freshman campaign, right-handed pitcher Kasrten Whitson got the start for the Gators on Saturday and looked great most of the game, only allowing one hit while striking out six batters in his first six innings before being pulled after getting into trouble in the seventh.

The contest began with two scoreless innings until Florida rallied in the top of the third. With freshman third baseman Cody Dent (1-4, R) on via a lead-off walk and senior center fielder Bryson Smith (3-5) joining him on the bags with a double to right-center, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-3, RBI, BB) stepped up and hit a sacrifice fly and score UF’s first run of the game.

The Gators added another in the fourth off a solo homer to right-center by senior 2B Josh Adams (2-4, HR, RBI, R) but also stranded men on first and second by getting back-to-back outs to end the inning.

Whitson retired 13 consecutive Bulldogs and headed into the seventh with a one-hitter. Then, with one out in the inning, he allowed three-straight singles and Mississippi State plated their first run. UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan immediately pulled him for junior RHP Tommy Toledo, who entered with one out and runners on the corners.

Toledo gave up a RBI single up the middle to his first batter, which tied the game 2-2, before forcing a 5-3 double play to end the inning. Whitson’s day concluded with two earned runs on four hits in 6.1 innings.

Florida looked to get their lead back right away, beginning the eighth with sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-5, R) doubling off the wall in center and eventually nabbing third by taking advantage of a ball in the dirt two batters later. He was plated soon after by junior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-4, RBI), who smacked a two-out, two-strike stand-up triple to deep left-center, giving Florida a 3-2 lead.

Toledo notched the first out in the eighth and was relieved by junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde. He forced the final two outs of the inning and sent the game into the ninth, where he allowed a lead-off hit to start the inning and was pulled for Rodriguez (3-2), who gave up the homer to Vickerson on his very first pitch.

Bulldogs pitcher Caleb Reed, the team’s closer all season, earned the victory after being substituted in relief and tossing the final 5.1 innings of the game. He only allowed a single earned run on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

The Gators are now 34-10 all-time at home during NCAA play and lost for the seventh time all season when scoring first and third time when out-hitting their opponent. Florida and Mississippi State will play again Sunday at 1 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to the 2011 College World Series. The game will air live on ESPN.

Either sophomore RHP Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) or junior RHP Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) will likely get the start for UF on Sunday.

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Gators cage Bulldogs 11-1 in Super Regional

On a scorching day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, nothing was hotter than the home team’s offense. Scoring in the first five innings of the game, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (49-16) demolished the Mississippi State Bulldogs (37-24) 11-1 in the first of the three-game Super Regional series taking place over the weekend.

Florida’s offense was not the only thing on fire Friday as sophomore left-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (10-3) was absolute dynamite on the mound, only allowing a single earned run while striking out a season-high eight batters in eight innings of work.

The Gators’ offense was potent out of the gate, plating four runs in the first. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana led off with a walk and was joined on base by senior center fielder Bryson Smith and junior right fielder Preston Tucker (0-3, R, 2 BB), who reached via a single and walk, respectively. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino capitalized with a bases loaded two-RBI double, and senior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-5, 2 RBI) followed suit two batters later to help another pair of runs cross the plate.

Fontana (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) connected with a two-run homer to right in the second, and Zunino (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) added a solo shot on the first pitch of the third to provide Florida with an early 7-0 advantage that the team hoped to improve upon.

That is exactly what the Gators did in the fourth, as Smith hit a one-out single up the middle to plate freshman third baseman Cody Dent (1-1, RBI, 2 R, 2 BB), and senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-5, RBI) singled through the left side of the infield to score Smith (3-5, RBI, R). Florida tacked in one more run in the seventh via a solo shot by junior designated player Daniel Pigott (1-4, HR, RBI, R).

The Gators improved to 34-9 all-time at home during NCAA play and are now 37-6 when scoring first and 40-2 when out-hitting their opponent this season.

With the series-opening victory, Florida needs only one more win to advance to the 2011 College World Series for the second-straight year. It would be the first time in school history that the Gators would make an appearance in the CWS in consecutive seasons.

Game two of the Gainesville Super Regional takes place Saturday at 12 p.m. and airs live on ESPN and ESPN3.com. Game three, if necessary, will begin Sunday at 1 p.m.

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Gainesville Super Regional: Florida vs. Miss. State

Event: 2011 NCAA Tournament – Super Regional
Location: McKeethan Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 5,500]
Time: 12:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2 / ESPN2HD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(2) FLORIDA GATORS MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan Head Coach: John Cohen
Record: 48-16 Record: 37-23
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

PROJECTED STARTERS

Game 1: Sophomore LHP Hudson Randall (9-3, 2.38 ERA, 0.98 WHIP)
Game 2: Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
Game 3: Sophomore RHP Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) OR
junior RHP Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 53-40 in the all-time series against Mississippi State, though MSU is 1-0 vs. UF NCAA Tournament play.
» The first team to win two games in the three-game series will advanced to the 65th NCAA College World Series.
» This is the Gators’ third-straight Super Regional appearance and fifth in the last eight years. Florida has only been to five in school history.
» This is the Bulldogs’ fourth Super Regional appearance in school history.
» Should Florida advance to the CWS, it will be the first time in school history they have done so in back-to-back seasons.
» The Gators are 33-9 (.786) all-time at home during NCAA play.
» Florida is 3-1 against Mississippi State this season, losing the first of a three-game series in Starkville, MS (7-5) before winning three-straight games including a SEC Tournament first-round match-up (18-0, 3-1, 7-5).
» MSU head coach John Cohen is a former UF assistant under Pat McMahon.
» This is the first time the Gators have faced a SEC opponent in Super Regional action.
» The UF and MSU boast different strengths. Florida leads Mississippi State in batting average (.311-.282), runs scored (413-369), hits (683-566), homers (58-28), RBI (382-327), ERA (2.97-4.24), strikeouts (486-471) and fielding percentage (.974-.973). However, the Bulldogs hold advantages in steals (88-56), walks (260-214), on-base percentage (.384-.382) and saves (16-14).

LAST TIME OUT…

Down 5-2 in a close game in the first round of the SEC Tournament, the Gators used a grand slam by sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson to take a 7-5 lead and eventually advance in the event.

KNOW THE OPPONENT

Mississippi State is the second-ranked team in the SEC West after finishing with a 14-16 record in league play. The Bulldogs are 11-9 away from home and 9-10 against top 25 opponents this season. Florida has won six of the last seven meetings against MSU dating back to a three-game series that took place in 2010.

INJURY REPORT

Sophomore LHP/DH Brian Johnson – concussion
Out for game one
Sophomore 1B/RHP Austin Maddox – foot
Out for game one, day-to-day for series

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» UF’s starting pitchers…which are a combined 21-2 (.913) with a 2.01 ERA in the friendly confines of McKethan Stadium this season.
» The Gators’ bats…which have scored 190 more runs than their opponents this year.
» Early offense…Florida is 36-6 (.857) when scoring first and 39-2 (.951) when out-hitting their opponent in a contest.
» Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino…a powerhouse at the plate who leads the team in batting average (.371), hits (86), homers (16), runs (68), slugging (.668)…and strikeouts (45). He also has 62 RBI on the season.
» Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana…arguably the strongest fielder on the team who has also come on as of late offensively. Fontana, as the team’s leadoff hitter, is hitting .309 with 71 hits, 52 runs, 44 RBI and a team-high 45 walks.
» Junior right fielder Preston Tucker…who is the Gators’ best run producer with 65 RBI on the season. Tucker is hitting .319 with 81 hits, 51 runs, 13 homers and 24 walks.
» Junior reliever Nick Maronde…who has made a team-high 31 appearances and has posted a 1.66 ERA with two saves in 38 innings. He has amassed 50 strikeouts compared to only seven walks this season, and only six of the 24 hits he has allowed have been for extra bases.
» Third baseman Jarrod Parks…who leads MSU in batting average (.365), hits (73), RBI (36) and walks (43) and has also scored 50 runs in 200 at-bats this season.
» Second baseman Nick Vickerson…the Bulldogs’ speedster who hits .314 with a team-high 53 runs scored, seven homers, 35 walks and a team-high 25 stolen bases.

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Johnson’s grand slam powers Florida over MSU

Down 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Florida Gators sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and smacked a grand slam to right to propel his team to an eventual 7-5 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first round of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

No. 2 Florida (42-15) got on the board in the bottom of the first, tacking on a run when junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, 2 RBI, R, BB) doubled to center on a full count to score sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-1, RBI, R, 3 BB). Mississippi State (34-22) jumped ahead 2-1 in the third, but the Gators responded when Fontana was walked with the bases loaded in the fourth to plate senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, RBI, R) and tie the game 2-2.

The Bulldogs followed by scoring three unanswered runs including a solo homer from Nick Vickerson (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) in the top of the sixth and two more on a fielder’s choice and wild pitch in the seventh.

In a hole, Florida got its first three batters on base in the bottom of the inning. Senior center fielder Bryson Smith (0-4, R) was hit by a pitch, Tucker forced a walk and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-5, R) singled to center to setup Johnson’s (1-4, GS, 4 RBI, R) game-changer. Already up 6-5, the Gators added another run in the eighth when Tucker scored Dent (1-2, R, 2 BB) with an RBI single to left field.

Junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo (2.2 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 6 K, 2 BB) got the start for UF but picked up a no decision. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (3-1) threw a hitless 1.2 innings in relief and earned his third win; sophomore RHP Austin Maddox (S4) came on in the ninth to get the final three outs and secure the victory.

No. 3-seed Florida will take on No. 7-seed Alabama in winner’s bracket action on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Gators swept the season series 3-0.

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FOUR BITS: Weis on Brantley, Sweeting wins

1 » Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was a guest Monday on ESPN‘s First Take. He spoke about a number of topics (see video) but also discussed recruiting redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley out of high school. “I’m a drop-back, pro-style offense guy. John really fit that bill. He was your prototypical drop-back quarterback. He could sling it; he could make every throw. He was very, very productive [in high school],” he said. “I thought he would have been a great fit for us. He had a lot of family ties at the University of Florida that kept him at Florida. I’m glad he made that choice because right now we get a chance to work together.”

2 » After dropping the series opener 5-7, No. 4 Gators baseball (26-7, 9-3 SEC) achieved back-to-back victories over the weekend to take a three-game road series against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 5-7 SEC). Outscored 5-7 on Friday, Florida rebounded with consecutive 18-0 and 3-1 victories on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5-1) picked up his first loss of the season in the first game after giving up six earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-1) and sophomore LHP reliever Steven Rodriguez (2-1) picked up victories in the final two contests. Standout performers included sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (6/12, GS, 6 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB), senior second baseman Josh Adams (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) and sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R).

3 » No. 10/11 Gators softball (33-7, 10-6 SEC) ended a six-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-32, 1-18 SEC) at home over the weekend. Florida outscored Arkansas 20-1 in the dominant fashion they finished opponents off the majority of the season. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (19-5) tossed three complete games, scattering 12 hits while striking out 23 batters. Unlike recent outings, Rogers had plenty of run support from her teammates with a trio of seniors – 1B Megan Bush (3/9, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R), 2B Aja Paculba (5/9, 5 RBI, R, 2 BB) and left fielder Kelsey Bruder (4/9, 3 RBI, 4 R, BB) – leading the way.

4 » Former Gators tennis player Ryan Sweeting won his first ATP title over the weekend, defeating the field in the 2011 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, TX. He jumped more than 20 spots in the ATP rankings to No. 71 in the world after winning the final match 6-4, 7-6.

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SIX BITS: swimming, Gal, gym, tennis, lacrosse

1 » During the 2011 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday, the Florida Gators men’s team brought home a pair of National Championships. Competing in Minneapolis, MN, senior Brett Fraser captured the national title in the 200-yard freestyle. He was also part of the four-man team – including senior Conor Dwyer, junior Jeffrey Raymond and sophomore Sebastien Rousseau – that won the championship in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

2 » Former Florida golfer Sandra Gal picked up the first LPGA victory of her career on Sunday, winning the Kia Classic and $255,000. She finished at a 16-under 276 and won on the 18th and final hole on Sunday. “I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she said after the win. “you know, it was close all day long, so I had to kind of dig deep to pull out some shots. I’m just happy to have finally done it. I had a good feeling about today when I woke up.”

3 » Gators gymnastics was honored Wednesday when a number of players were awarded with spots on 2011 All-Southeastern Conference teams. junior Ashanée Dickerson and freshman Alaina Johnson earned First Team recognition, while junior Nicole Ellis, senior Alicia Goodwin, sophomore Marissa King and senior Maranda Smith were named to the Second Team. Johnson also picked up a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. Joining her with an overall honor was Rhonda Faehn, who won her second-straight SEC Coach of the Year award. It is the fourth of her career.

4 » No. 1 Florida women’s tennis continued their march to the postseason with a pair of impressive shutout victories over the weekend. The Gators (17-1, 6-0 SEC) took down the Ole Miss Rebels (8-6, 1-4 SEC) 7-0 on Friday and the Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-10, 0-6 SEC) 7-0 on Sunday.

5 » Following suit was No. 19 Florida men’s tennis (12-5, 5-1 SEC), which took down Mississippi State (9-6, 4-2 SEC) in a 4-3 nail biter on Saturday. With the match tied, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took No. 84 Artem Ilyushin into a third-set tie breaker to pull out the victory. Lacroix won 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) to give UF its eighth 4-3 finish.

6 » No. 9 Gators lacrosse (10-1, 1-0 ALC) continued its spectacular sophomore season on Saturday, taking down the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-4, 0-1 ALC) 10-8 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Ohio State actually outscored Florida 5-3 in the second period but was unable to overcome UF’s 7-3 first-period advantage. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen, on her way to likely earning conference and perhaps national honors this season, scored six goals on 11 shots for the Gators. She now has a team-high 49 goals and 53 points on the season.

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