FOUR BITS: Johnson, Thornqvist, Whitson, Weis

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball’s sophomore left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson will be active for the Super Regionals beginning on Friday. After missing the Gainesville Regional while recovering from a concussion suffered during the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament, Johnson feels fine and is raring to go, according to head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who spoke with reporters after practice on Wednesday. Sophomore first baseman/closer Austin Maddox, who sprained his foot in the first game of the Gainesville Regional, remains day-to-day.

2 » Florida women’s tennis head coach Ronald Thornqvist has been named the 2011 ITA National Coach of the Year. Thornqvist, who coached the No. 2 Gators to the 2011 NCAA Championship in May, led Florida to a 31-1 overall record and helped sophomore Lauren Embree reach the semifinals of the NCAA Individual Championships. This is Thornqvist’s first national coach of the year award.

3 » Florida freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson was named to the 2011 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team, as selected by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper, on Wednesday. Posting an 8-0 record with a 2.42 ERA so far this season, Whitson was one of 20 freshmen starting pitchers who received the honor.

4 » According to The Gainesville Sun, the property purchased by Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is a 10.5-acre estate located in Reddick, FL right near I-75 worth $1.1 million. Currently on the land are a 4,041-square-foot house and 6,336-square-foot horse barn, undoubtedly a selling point for Weis’s wife Maura, an avid horse enthusiast and rider.

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Sun Devils sweep Gators in Women’s College World Series to capture national title

Just two years ago, Florida Gators softball entered the Women’s College World Series and fought their way to the finals before losing in back-to-back games to Washington, the top-ranked team in the country.

Two years later, No. 4 Florida powered themselves back to the WCWS Championship Series but suffered a similar fate, dropping consecutive contests to the No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils and handing another NCAA Championship to a Pac-10 opponent.

The Gators (56-13) fell 7-2 to the Sun Devils (60-6) on Tuesday in the second and final game of the series, ending a spectacular season and great 2011 NCAA Tournament run with a thud at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.

Playing the final game of her softball career, senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (who has decided to retire from the sport after graduation) started the contest for Florida and got out of a tough spot in the first.

Arizona State stranded on a runner on third, but UF made sure not to follow suit in the bottom of the inning. Junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie led off by smacking a stand-up double up the middle, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and crossed the plate two batters later when sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte flied out to deep left. Moultrie’s hit tied the WCWS record for most by a single player in the event (13).

The Sun Devils made up for their missed opportunity, beginning the second with three hits and tying the game on a bases loaded walk. With one out, shortstop Katelyn Boyd singled through the right side, scoring two and giving ASU a 3-1 lead before Brombacher retired the final two batters. Arizona State increased their advantage to 5-1 in the third when designated player Alix Johnson dropped a two-RBI blooper into shallow right.

Brombacher (20-3) was pulled for freshman RHP Hannah Rogers to begin the fourth, and the young hurler got out of the top of the inning unscathed. The Gators hit three balls hard in the bottom of the inning but all resulted in long fly outs near the warning track.

ASU added another run in the fifth, scoring on a two-out RBI single, but a play at the plate ended the frame and left the Sun Devils with a 6-1 lead. Arizona State tacked on one more in the sixth courtesy of a solo homer by RF Annie Lockwood.

UF still went down fighting with senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice hitting a RBI single with two outs in the seventh to score sophomore DP Ensley Gammel, who got on base with a single of her own to lead off the inning.

Sun Devils freshman starter Dallas Escobedo (37-3) led her team throughout the event and once again in the championship series but received plenty of help on Tuesday from Boyd and Johnson, each of whom contributed three-RBI outings at the plate.

Though they posted a record-setting performance in the tournament, Florida failed in their bid to become the first Southeastern Conference team to capture a WCWS title. It was the third time in the last five years that teams from the SEC and Pac-10 went head-to-head for the championship.

2011 NCAA Tournament Honors
Co-Most Valuable Player: Michelle Moultrie
All-Tournament Team: Moultrie, Kelsey Bruder, Brittany Schutte, Cheyenne Coyle

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Women’s College World Series Championship Series: No. 4 Florida vs. No. 1 Arizona State

Event: 2011 Women’s College World Series – Championship Series
Location: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium – Oklahoma City, OK [Capacity: 7,300]
Time: 8:00 p.m. (ET)

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

(4) FLORIDA GATORS (1) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Head Coach: Tim Walton Head Coach: Clint Myers
Record: 56-11 Record: 58-6
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Pacific 10
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its second appearance in the WCWS in the last three years. The Gators fell in back-to-back games to Washington in 2009 and is looking for revenge against another Pac-10 opponent this time around.
» No SEC team has ever won the WCWS. It is the third time in the last five years that an SEC team will face a Pac-10 team in the WCWS championship series.
» Arizona State is the only team to defeat UF thus far in the WCWS, winning a 6-5 thriller last week with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
» Florida has scored as many runs (41) in the first four days of WCWS play as the rest of the teams in the field (seven) combined.
» The Sun Devils and the Gators boast different strengths. Arizona State leads Florida in batting average (.338-.327), fielding percentage (.984-.974), ERA (1.83-1.90) and strikeouts (400-358). However, the Gators hold advantages in home runs (118-83), RBI (464-431), slugging percentage (.591-.536) and stolen bases (102-53). UF is also out-hitting ASU in the WCWS by more than 40 points (.357-.312).
» Florida on Sunday set WCWS records for runs scored in a single inning (11), home runs in a game (four) and RBI in a game (15).

LAST TIME OUT…

UF and ASU met on Friday and slugged it out in second-round action. Arizona State came away with a hard-fought 6-5 victory on a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh. Florida started the game down 4-0 but scored five runs in the fourth to jump ahead by one before losing it all to right fielder Annie Lockwood, who ended it with a bases loaded single. She finished the game 3-3 with a homer, three RBI and two walks.

KNOW THE OPPONENT

The Sun Devils are the top-ranked team in the country and enter on the back of freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo, a strikeout machine who is getting it done in the WCWS with three wins and a 2.00 ERA in 21.0 innings. Arizona State’s offense has struck out just 13 times in three games and has plenty of power with Lockwood, Katelyn Boyd, Mandy Urfer and Krista Donnenwirth.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder…who has already set a WCWS event record for most runs scored (nine) and has been a catalyst for Florida’s offense all season long. She is hitting .625 (5-8) at the WCWS with a homer, four RBI, nine runs and eight walks.
» Sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte…who set the Gators’ single-season home run record with her 21st and 22nd bombs on Sunday. She has hit five moon shots in eight career WCWS games.
» Junior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie…UF’s speedster leadoff hitter who has hit more home runs (three) in the WCWS than she did the rest of the season (two). Moultrie is hitting .611 at the WCWS and is 11-18 with five RBI and seven runs. She is one homer away from tying the WCWS record.
» Right-handed pitchers senior Stephanie Brombacher and freshman Hannah Rogers…who are sharing duties on the mound for Florida. Brombacher had her best outing in recent memory early on Sunday, and Rogers pitched six shutout innings that evening before being tagged for a pair of runs.
» Escobedo…Arizona State’s dominant pitcher who may start every game in the series unless the Gators prove that they are able to light her up.
» Lockwood…whose stellar performance on Friday eventually won the Sun Devils the game against Florida, sending the Gators to three-straight elimination games.
» Urfer…who leads all batters on both teams in average, hitting .667 (4-6) with two homers, five RBI and four walks through three WCWS contests.

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FOUR BITS: baseball bracket, softball in WCWS

1 » Awarded the No. 2 seed in the nation on Monday, Florida Gators baseball also received its opening round match-ups for the Gainesville Regional as part of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Being hosted at McKethan Stadium, the regional will feature one-seed Florida (45-16), two-seed Miami (36-21), three-seed Jacksonville (36-22) and four-seed Manhattan (34-17). Action begins Friday, June 3 with Florida-Manhattan and Miami-Jacksonville contests taking place; both games will air live on ESPNU at 4 p.m. and noon, respectively. The Gainesville Regional will span the weekend unless an “if necessary” finale is forced for Monday evening with the winner going on to face the victor of the Atlanta Regional in Super Regional action. The Gators will host the Super Regional if they advance out of their opening round bracket.

2 » The first team in Southeastern Conference history to advance to four consecutive Women’s College World Series, No. 4 Florida softball (52-10) begins action on Thursday when they take on No. 5 Missouri (52-8) in Oklahoma City, OK at 9:30 p.m. live on ESPN2. Opponents in the second contest, set for Friday or Saturday, will be either No. 1 Arizona State (55-6) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (42-17); the winners of the two games will play Friday evening and the losers will square-off Saturday afternoon. The Gators, located in the bottom bracket of the WCWS, will be able to decide their fate by the end of the weekend as the championship series begins Monday, June 6.

3 » Just days after leading the Gators to the 2011 NCAA Championship in women’s tennis, sophomore Lauren Embree was forced to retire from the Final Four of the NCAA Singles Championships on Sunday due to a painful toenail and skin issue on her foot. Embree, who has been on absolute fire during the NCAAs, forfeited a tied match with Stanford’s Stacy Tan that was knotted at a set apiece (7-5, 3-6). If she had stayed in the match and won, she would have had the opportunity to compete for the individual title.

4 » Also ending their season was the men’s No. 17 doubles team of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. Dropping a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) match to No. 3 Bradley Klahn/Ryan Thacher of Stanford, Lacroix and Bangoura concluded a terrific year with a semifinals appearance. With no eligibility remaining, Lacroix will depart Florida as the school’s all-time leader in doubles wins (104) and overall wins (214).

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FOUR BITS: Tebow/Meyer, Hunter, Embree, tennis

1 » Though not by any means a definitive statement nor something set in stone, Denver Broncos and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow made an interesting comment while in Vero Beach, FL speaking about his faith and football career. Tebow told TCPalm.com’s Laurie K. Blandford that he expects former Florida head coach Urban Meyer to return to coaching at some point…but in a different conference.

Tebow also said he thinks Meyer will come back to coaching, but not in the Southeastern Conference. “He definitely loves coaching,” Tebow said, “so he’ll be back soon.”

2 » In an interview with ESPN.com, Gators redshirt junior defensive lineman Omar Hunter explained that he is in the process of losing weight and fighting through injuries but is doing whatever it takes to prove himself to the new coaching staff in order to get plenty of time on the field in 2011. So far it seems to be working. “The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he said. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”

3 » Three members of Florida’s 2011 NCAA Championship women’s tennis team have advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships. No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree, competing in singles action, swatted No. 63 Leslie Hureau of Indiana 6-1, 6-0 on Friday to move on and extender her 27-match singles winning streak. She will square off against California’s No. 23 Mari Andersson on Saturday at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will was not as lucky, falling 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) in singles action to No. 18 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford. However, the No. 2 doubles team of Will and freshman Alex Cercone are still alive after defeating Arkansas’ No. 14 duo of Claudine Paulson and Anouk Tigu 6-2, 6-3 on Friday.

4 » On the men’s side, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix fell in the second round of the championships in singles action, dropping a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 match to Jose Hernandez of North Carolina. Not all is lost for Lacroix, who is part of the No. 17 doubles team with sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. The duo have reached the NCAA quarterfinals after taking down the LSU’s No. 8 team of Sebastian Carlsson and Neal Skupski 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 on Friday. Lacroix and Bangoura will face Louisville’s pair of Austen Childs and Viktor Maksimcuk on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

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Gators tennis begins, advances in NCAA Singles

Four members of the Florida Gators tennis program advanced to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships for singles on Wednesday.

No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took his match 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 over Tulsa’s Japie De Klerk at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA.

Following him were a trio from Florida’s women’s team. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will defeated No. 60 Emily Fraser of Virginia in straight sets (6-3, 6-0). No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree accomplished the same feat over Miami’s No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn (7-5, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather followed suit in her win over Marshall’s No. 52 Michaela Kissell (6-2, 6-1).

However, Wednesdays singles matches were not without disappointment.

No. 40 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. fell 6-2, 6-4 to No. 8 Henrique Cunha of Duke, and a pair from the women’s team joined him. No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz won her first set but fell to No. 12 Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State (3-6, 6-1, 6-0), and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone dropped her match in straight sets to Virginia’s No. 27 Lindsey Hardenbergh (6-2, 7-6).

All is not lost for Bangoura and Cercone as both will compete in doubles action on Thursday. The No. 17 duo of Lacroix/Bangoura and No. 2 team of Will/Cercone will try to advance in their respective first-round matches.

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Embree’s will earns redemption for UF, Boonstra

Exactly one year ago today, Stanford Cardinal tennis player Mallory Burdette won her team the 2010 NCAA Championship. Squaring off against the higher-ranked Florida Gators, Stanford captured their 16th title when Burdette battled and eventually upended then-senior Marrit Boonstra 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 in the final match of the afternoon.

Boonstra, understandably, was devastated. Her 17-match singles winning streak came to an end and, more importantly, her inability to close that day cost her team a title. No one blamed her for the loss, but she heaped plenty of it on herself.

What a difference 12 months can make.

After falling to the Cardinal in that match and once again at the 2011 USTA/ITA Indoor Championships, the Gators had revenge on their minds entering the 2011 NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Fighting their way through the bracket with relative ease, Florida wound up face-to-face with Stanford on their home court, a place where the Cardinal had not lost in the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years.

Tuesday night, it became sophomore Lauren Embree’s job to release that frustration and exact the revenge her team had been building up. What a coincidence it was Embree would be given that opportunity for the Gators…against the exact opponent who ended their party a year earlier.

Embree’s match with Burdette at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA was one for the books. It may not have set records for match length or points won, but something special happened on the court that is tough to capture in words.

Fans in attendance and watching around the world saw two players scrape and claw their way to the brink. Label it determination, tenacity or perseverance; whatever you choose to call it, Embree-Burdette turned into Ali-Frazier and someone had to win.

Luckily for Florida, it was Embree, who fought against impossible odds to claim the fifth national title for the Gators women’s tennis program.

She started the match hot, up 5-1 in the first set before Burdette powered her way to six-straight games and a 7-5 win. Looking dejected, Embree fought back to claim the second set 6-3 and even things up. Then Burdette took over again, mounting a 4-0 advantage in the third and final set, putting Florida’s hopes for a title on the brink even as Gators freshman Olivia Janowicz held a massive lead on the far court.

Embree did not panic.

She kept her focus, channeled some inner strength and fought back to take a 5-4 lead. When Burdette knotted the match twice at 5-5 and 6-6, Embree kept her composure and realized, even though she was exhausted and outmatched physically, her opponent was just as tired and was making more and more mental mistakes.

If Embree could put away a point, she did. If she was falling behind, she kept her rally long enough where either Burdette would have to expend extra energy to win or commit an unforced error due to exhaustion, frustration or both.

Burdette may have had the physical advantage (not to mention a raucous home crowd cheering her on), but Embree was onto her and did everything she could to create opportunities for Burdette to slip up.

In the end, it worked. Embree won a thrilling tiebreaker 8-6, her teammates exploded onto the court to hug her in celebration and Gator Chomps were performed everywhere from Stanford to Gainesville.

Florida accomplished a rare feat.

Not only did they end an undefeated streak, beat the No. 1 team in the country and avenge two championship losses within the last 12 months, the Gators and Embree redeemed a player who gave her heart and soul to the team for four years only to be crushed emotionally in her final performance.

Tuesday night, on the court as a student coach for Florida, Boonstra smiled.

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Embree’s heroics send Florida women’s tennis to fifth NCAA title in 4-3 nail-biter over Stanford

After four hours of action at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA, sophomore Lauren Embree fought her way to a third set and defeated Mallory Burdette 8-6 in a tiebreaker to send No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (31-1) to a 4-3 victory in the 2011 NCAA Championship over the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (28-1).

Florida captured their fifth NCAA Championship – and first national title since 2003 – by upending Stanford on their home court. The Cardinal had been undefeated at home over the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years (Feb. 27, 1999).

The Gators started hot out of the gate, quickly clinching the doubles point. The No. 45 duo of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen defeated Nicole Gibbs/Veronica Li to win their set 8-3, and the No. 37 pairing of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather matched them with an 8-3 victory of their own over the No. 43 team of Carolyn McVeigh and Stacey Tan to win the point outright.

After a short break, Stanford quickly turned the contest around and took a 2-1 lead with consecutive singles victories – both in straight sets. No. 3 Hilary Barte got it started by defeating Florida’s ace – No. 7 sophomore Allie Will – 6-2, 6-4; No. 18 Gibbs piled on the pressure by topping No. 91 Oyen 6-4, 7-5.

The Cardinal and the Gators then did battle in a trio of matches that all advanced to the third set. Stacey Tan won the first with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 42 Mather to give Stanford a 3-1 lead, but No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone quickly responded by fighting back to earn a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Li to reduce Florida’s deficit to 3-2.

The chance the Gators had appeared to have quickly faded as No. 22 Burdette took a 4-0 advantage on No. 17 Embree in their third set. Burdette fought back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set to win 7-5 but gave up the second 6-3 to Embree. Florida’s standout sophomore then turned the tide, winning five-straight games to take a 5-4 lead in the final set. Simultaneously, No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz went up 4-0 in her third set against McVeigh, seemingly giving the Gators the advantage back.

Embree, attempting to break Burdette’s serve and win the match, had double match point with a 40-15 lead. However, Burdette powered her way to deuce and then to victory, tying the contest 5-5. Embree answered back to take a 6-5 lead, but Burdette responded by winning the next game to once again tie the match 6-6 and force a tiebreaker round.

In the meantime, Janowicz won her match 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, tying the contest 3-3 and putting all eyes on the tiebreaker between Embree and Burdette.

Burdette took an early 2-0 advantage, but Embree won four-straight points to retake the lead. Her opponent answered with back-to-back points to knot the tiebreaker at 4-4. Embree once again took a two-point advantage and had double championship point with a 6-4 lead, but Burdette was able to muscle her way to another tie at 6-6.

With the home crowd and history against her, Embree forced Burdette into two more errors and watched the ball sail long as she won the third set 6-6 (8-6) and clinched the title for Florida.

The clutch play of Janowicz and Embree extended each of their respective winning streaks; the former has now won 19-consecutive singles matches, while the latter has defeated 23-straight opponents.

The Gators women’s tennis program’s five national titles are more than any other team in school history after previously being tied with men’s golf (four). It is Florida’s second NCAA Championship for the 2010-11 athletic season (men’s track and field).

Order of Finish
Doubles
(45) Embree/Oyen, UF d. Gibbs/Li, SU – 8-3
(37) Hitimana/Mather, UF d. (74) McVeigh/Tan, SU – 8-3* (UF 1-0)
Singles
(3) Barte, SU d. (7) Will, UF – 6-2, 6-4 (UF 1, SU 1)
(18) Gibbs, SU d. (91) Oyen, UF – 6-4, 7-5 (SU 2-1)
(43) Tan, SU d. (42) Mather, UF – 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 (SU 3-1)
(54) Cercone, UF d. Li, SU – 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 (SU 3-2)
(53) Janowicz, UF d. McVeigh, SU – 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1 (UF 3, SU 3)
(17) Embree, UF d. (22) Burdette, SU – 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(8-6)* (UF 4-3)

2011 NCAA Women’s Tennis All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Embree
Singles: Embree, Cercone
Doubles: Embree/Oyen

Photo Credit: University of Florida; Video Credit: NCAA/ESPNU

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