Florida routs Manhattan 17-3 in NCAA regional

The truth is that the Manhattan Jaspers never had much of a chance on Friday, squaring off against No. 2 Florida Gators baseball in the second game of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida (46-16) scored five runs in the first inning, four in the second and seven in the third to demolish Manhattan (34-18) 17-3 in the late afternoon game and advance to the winner’s bracket.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (8-0) got the call Friday and delivered in spades, striking out three and only allowing two hits in 3.1 innings. He was pulled early simply because of the advantage UF held after three innings.

The Gators’ offense supported him early and often, posting a five-spot in the bottom of the first inning to kick things off. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (2-6, RBI, R) led off the inning with a single and was moved over to second when senior center fielder Bryson Smith (2-4, 2 RBI, 3 R) was hit by a pitch; junior right fielder Preston Tucker singled home Fontana and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino plated Smith.

An infield single and subsequent error gave junior left fielder Tyler Thompson a spot on second and scored both Tucker and Zunino; Thompson (4-4, RBI, 3 R, BB) crossed the plate shortly after when junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott smacked a single to left.

Florida added four more runs the next inning, beginning with three via back-to-back home runs. Tucker launched a two-run shot to right-center, and Zunino (3-4, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R) followed him by hitting his ball to almost the exact same spot. Pigott (4-5, 3 RBI, R) earned another RBI a few batters later, singling to right field and sending senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-5, 2 R) home to give the Gators a 9-0 lead.

Tucker (3-6, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R) did what he could to keep the momentum going, smacking another two-run homer in the third. Florida led 11-0 at that point but added five more runs in the inning to hold a 16-0 advantage through three. Sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox was pulled in the top half of the inning after spraining his foot. His availability going forward is currently unknown.

Manhattan’s starter, John Soldinger, left the bases loaded with no one out upon exiting in the top of the third. He tossed two innings and surrendered an astonishing 15 earned runs on 16 hits with three homers, two walks, two hit batters and one strikeout.

Replacing Whitson, freshman RHP Keenan Kish was looking solid until the fifth inning when he gave up four hits and allowed three unearned runs, reducing the Jaspers’ deficit to 16-3. The Gators rallied to add another run in the seventh, which marked the end of Kish’s career-long outing of 3.2 innings. He struck out three and walked one.

With the victory, Florida moves on to the winner’s bracket to face Miami (37-21) on Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. The winner will advance to the finals of the Gainesville Regional, while the loser will face the victor of the elimination game between Jacksonville-Manhattan at noon to determine who will take the other spot in the finals.

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Florida claws Mizzou 6-2 to win WCWS opener

Appearing in their fourth-straight Women’s College World Series, No. 4 Florida Gators softball (53-10) got off to a hot start and held off the No. 5 Missouri Tigers (52-9) to take a 6-2 opening round victory and advance in the winners bracket at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.

The Gators scored early and often to start the game. Junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie led off the first with a single, advanced to second on a dropped infield popup and scored one batter later when senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder hit a screamer up the middle for a stand-up triple. Sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte (0-2, RBI) then brought Bruder home with a sacrifice squeeze to put Florida ahead 2-0 early on.

After getting the Tigers out in order in the top of the first inning, senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher got herself into a pickle in the second. With two runners on and no one out, Brombacher was able to wiggle her way out of the inning with a pop out and a pair of clutch strikeouts.

She got in trouble again in the third and was pulled from the game with one out and runners on first and third. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers relieved her and walked the first batter to load the bases but delivered a strikeout and forced a fly out to end the inning without allowing any damage. Mizzou stranded five total base runners in the two innings.

Flexing their muscles in the bottom of the third, the Gators jumped out to a 5-0 lead thanks to a pair of powerful home runs. Moultrie (2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R, SB, BB) led off the inning with a solo shot to center, and senior first baseman Megan Bush (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run bomb to left, scoring Bruder (1-1, RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) from third and setting Florida’s single-season record for homers in a season (21) in the process.

The Tigers answered back in the sixth, getting runners on first and second with no outs early in the inning and fighting to get them home after giving up back-to-back outs. Missouri LF Lisa Simmons hit a two-RBI double to deep left-center, scoring both base runners and reducing their deficit to three runs, 5-2.

Florida did what they could to respond in the bottom of the inning. Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-2, R, BB) walked to lead off the frame, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (0-2), and scored two batters later to give the Gators a 6-2 lead when sophomore designated player Ensley Gammel (2-3, RBI) singled to right center.

The six runs Florida scored against Mizzou starter Chelsea Thomas were the most she has given up all season. Rogers (34-6) earned the win for the Gators after striking out four, walking three and allowing a pair of hits in 4.2 innings.

The Gators advanced in the winner’s bracket and will face No. 1 Arizona State (56-6), which beat Oklahoma (42-18) 3-1 on Thursday, at 9:30 p.m. on Friday. The game will air live on ESPN and ESPN3.com.

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Men’s basketball says SEC-ya to divisions

Southeastern Conference men’s basketball coaches recommended to athletic directors and university presidents on Wednesday at the 2011 SEC Spring Meetings that the conference scrap the current East-West division model for their sport and institute a 12-team, single-league format going forward. Wednesday evening the athletic directors agreed, and the changes will take place beginning in the 2011-12 season.

“It’s done,” Florida Gators AD Jeremy Foley told ESPN’s Andy Katz after the meetings concluded for the day. “The presidents don’t have to sign off on this. This is an AD decision. We will be one league effective next year.”

Under the new alignment, the SEC Tournament will be seeded 1-12 based on conference record. No longer will the top two teams in each division (regardless of record) receive byes; the advantage will instead be given to the four best teams overall.

The SEC also plans to adjust the schedule, though it is unknown exactly what changes will be made. There are options for 16-game (currently used), 18-game and 22-game conference schedules on the table that will be discussed at a later date.

SEC teams currently take on opponents in their own division twice (home/away) and teams in the other division once (site determined by rotation). An 18-game schedule would have teams facing their traditional division rivals twice, two “other division” teams twice and four “other division” teams once, while a 22-game schedule would allow every team to square off twice during the regular season.

Because the schedule for the 2011-12 season is already set, no changes will be made until 2012-13 at the earliest. Tournament seedings will be handled by the new rules.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari said Tuesday that one of the main goals in making these adjustments is to help more SEC teams earn NCAA Tournament berths going forward. The conference believes that the new alignment will help it appear stronger as a whole nationally; no longer will there be one dominant division that makes the other look inferior by comparison.

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2011 SEC Spring Meetings Recap – Day One

Head coaches, athletic directors and support staff gather in Destin, FL each year for the Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings, which provide an opportunity to discuss rule changes, new procedures and much more. Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp and head basketball coach Billy Donovan were both in attendance on Tuesday and made waves with their stances on some of the hot topics of the week.

WILL MUSCHAMP

» He once again took a hard line on oversigning (accepting national letters of intent for more players than open scholarships you have in a given year) and greyshirting (denying scholarships to oversigned players and forcing them to enroll in the following spring or fall), saying emphatically that Florida does not believe in either method of recruiting. “We don’t over-sign. That’s a policy we have at the university,” he said. “We’ve been successful, so it’s not an issue for us.”

» On the SEC’s live Internet show streaming short interviews with some of the league’s coaches, Muschamp stressed that what separates this league from the rest of the country is the strong defenses, specifically up front on the line. “I’ve seen teams in this league with average quarterbacks win national championships because they’re really good on defense,” he said.

» One quarterback who he thinks is well above average is redshirt senior John Brantley, who Muschamp said needs to have the players around him step up in order to be successful. He related a conversation he had with Brantley when he told him that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a lot of confidence in him going forward and how “that should tell you a lot” about the type of talent he possesses.

» Muschamp said that dismissing senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins after his second marijuana arrest in less than 90 days was not about making an example out of him but rather making sure he did what was in the best interests of the rest of the team. “I don’t look at it as trying to send a message; I look at it from a standpoint of doing what’s right for the program,” he said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “Guys are going to be expected to act a certain way and have a certain behavior, and if they don’t do that then they’re not going to be a part of our football team.”

» Addressing his decision to allow freshman running back Mike Blakely to transfer within the SEC to Auburn, he said it is not something he will normally allow. “It’s not my policy to clear a kid to leave for another conference school,” Muschamp said per the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t want to face our players on the field. I know how good they are. They signed with Florida for a reason, so that’s a situation I’m going to avoid.” He did not provide an exact reason for making an exception in this case, simply saying that “this was the right thing to do.”

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, the beneficiary of Blakely’s services, agrees. “That was an extremely classy move on Will’s part to give him that chance to come back to Auburn,” Chizik said. “It says something about the kind of person Will is.”

BILLY DONOVAN

» The league’s basketball coaches are going to take on two separate but related issues this week – potentially removing the conference’s divisions and ways to reseed the SEC Tournament so it is more fair to the teams that perform at a high level all year. A move to a 12-team format (rather than two six-team divisions) would benefit the East, which feels it often gets a raw deal when the tournament comes around and West teams get undeserved byes. Options include seeding the tournament 1-12 by conference record (with tiebreakers) or using a model similar to the baseball format with division winners getting byes and the rest of the teams being slotted 3-12.

» Donovan, proposing a solution that could work whether or not divisions are retained, believes the tournament should seed teams by RPI. This would force coaches and ADs to schedule better non-conference opponents, which would also improve the SEC’s overall standing nationally. Commissioner Mike Slive said Donovan’s suggestion will not be one of the methods considered.

» The vote on the topic of reseeding was tied 6-6 last year but should have more steam on Wednesday due to Slive being publicly in favor of some type of change. Scrapping the divisions is a long-term topic that, even if approved of by a majority, would not occur next season. However, adjustments to tournament seeding procedures could be worked out this week.

OTHER NOTES

» Not everyone agrees that oversigning and greyshirting are bad things. Those who are happy with the way things are (28 maximum scholarships per signing class – a rule adjusted just one year ago) include Chizik, Houston Nutt (Ole Miss), Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) and Mark Richt (Georgia). “Everybody has a right to manage their own numbers,” Richt said.

» Petrino also took the opportunity to criticize the NCAA for allowing Ohio State to delay the suspensions of five players deemed to have taken illegal benefits before the 2011 Sugar Bowl. “They kind of changed the rules for that bowl game,” he said.

» Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley plans to submit a formal proposal requesting that the SEC increase the staff sizes for its football programs. Dooley believes the player-to-coach ratio (12-to-1) in football is significantly worse in football than other collegiate sports (or the NFL, which is 3-to-1) and thinks that hiring additional staff members will also help combat off-the-field issues.

» Alabama head coach Nick Saban admitted Tuesday that he made a “mistake” not hiring Muschamp as the defensive coordinator when he took the Miami Dolphins job after leaving LSU. “When I went to Miami as the Dolphins coach, I didn’t want to put guys that were college coaches in coordinator positions until they’d coached in the league and got some experience,” Saban said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I had coached in the league for two years at Houston and became the (defensive) coordinator at Cleveland and it was really, really difficult, only being in the league two years and understanding the league, the personnel, match-ups and a lot of things.
“I should have made Will the coordinator. Dom [Capers] did a wonderful job, but Will probably deserved to get that job. It was me trying to protect him. I wanted to give him another year before he was out there. I was trying to protect people that were important to me. I don’t think we have any issues or problems.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Johnson, Heat, Macklin

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s new memoir, Through My Eyes was released Tuesday, but the number of fans who camped outside (yes, spent the night) waiting for him at a Books-A-Million absolutely stunned the Heisman Trophy winner. “It’s extremely humbling,” he told The Florida Times-Union. “I take it as a huge responsibility that people care that much about me and [I] really try to make it worth it for them, really try to make them feel special for doing it.” Tebow also spoke with the paper a little bit about the content of the book, which OGGOA should receive from the publisher for review on Tuesday. “It wasn’t just about football stories,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s more about inspiring kids to go out there and try to live their dream, and go after it and live with passion. That’s a lot of what it’s about, so hopefully, people will take it that way.”

2 » Back in Gainesville, FL after suffering a minor concussion during the No. 2 Florida Gators baseball team’s elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, AL, sophomore left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson is doing his best to recover quickly and get back on the field. Speaking with Florida Today, Johnson’s father said his son “is fine” and underwent a number of tests on Monday to evaluate his post-concussion symptoms. He is considered day-to-day for the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which begins on Thursday. The paper reports

He had base line testing while playing for a U.S. all-star team last summer so doctors are able to do comparisons, to make sure he returns to normal before playing again. UF is also consulting with noted Pittsburgh neuropsychologist Michael Collins.

3 » Discussing with Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller their time playing for Florida, the Palm Beach Post’s Ethan Skolnick got the duo to open up about how head coach Billy Donovan ended up helping them form a bond. It all started when he called both players into his office. “Coach Donovan, was like, ‘You know, if the season started today, I couldn’t play neither one of you guys,'” Haslem told Skolnick. “That wasn’t the exact words he used. You got to get your, um, ‘S’ together. Because I just thought I was doing the best academic job in the world, and obviously I wasn’t. And neither was [Miller]. I don’t know what his excuse was. But, at that point, Mike and I bonded from there.”

Haslem even had Miller’s back when an incident occurred with an unnamed football player. “I had a football player that, um, that didn’t really like me,” Miller said with a smile. “For unknown reasons. And UD put an end to that.” Haslem remembered, “Yeah, I just let the guy know, if you got a problem with Mike, you got a problem with me. The guy never bothered Mike again.”

4 » Talk surrounding the 2011 NBA Draft from a Gators perspective has mostly focused on forward Chandler Parsons, who could be picked anywhere from the teens to the mid-second round. Parsons, who has been going around the country doing private workouts after successfully competing in the NBA Combine and select group camp in Minnesota, is not the only former Florida player eligible to be selected. Center Vernon Macklin, according to the Indianapolis Star, is one of six former college players working out for the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. Macklin is projected to be a late second-round pick or go undrafted.

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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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Florida baseball blanks Vanderbilt 5-0 to win first SEC Tournament championship since 1991

Hoping to end the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament on a high note, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball took on the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores in the winner-takes-all championship game on Sunday afternoon at Regions Park. Behind a terrific performance by junior left-handed starter Alex Panteliodis (5-2), the Gators (45-16) fought their way to a 5-0 shutout victory over the Commodores (47-10) to capture the team’s first SEC Tournament title since 1991.

Florida struck first in the bottom of the second, utilizing a pair of throwing errors to plate the first run of the game. Redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, and an infield single by junior left fielder Daniel Pigott followed by a bad throw by Vanderbilt’s shortstop advanced him all the way to third.

Sophomore third baseman Cody Dent followed with a sacrifice bunt, but a throwing error by the Commodores’ first baseman allowed him to reach and let Ramjit (1-3, R, BB) cross the plate. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, the next batter, hit a ground out to score Pigott from third and put the Gators ahead 2-0 through two innings.

With the score unchanged, Panteliodis reached his pitch count and was lifted after striking out five, allowing five hits and giving up one walk in 5.1 superb innings. He also got Florida out of a number of jams they faced, stranding multiple Vanderbilt base runners, many of whom were threatening the Gators in scoring position.

Looking to increase their lead in the bottom of the seventh, Florida found themselves with one out and men on first and third with junior right fielder Preston Tucker at the plate. Tucker (0-3, RBI) fouled out to deep right, giving the Gators a 3-0 lead as Fontana (1-4, RBI, R, BB) came home from third.

Junior LHP Nick Maronde, in as the second reliever, recorded a one-two-three inning in the eighth, forcing the Commodores to fly out thrice. Florida had their offense clicking again in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases with no outs recorded. After a pitching change, Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, SB) was hit by a pitch and Dent (1-2, 2 RBI, BB) was walked, increasing Florida’s lead to 5-0 as senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, R) and sophomore designated hitter Austin Maddox (1-4, R) came around to score.

The Gators headed into the top of the ninth bringing Maddox in to close, three outs away from capturing the title. After allowing the lead-off hitter to crank a double to left field, Maddox got back-to-back batters out but gave up a single left to find himself with men on first and third. He then forced the final batter into a pop out, earning his sixth save of the season in the process.

Florida, which will host a regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, now awaits their seeding in the event. The Gators’ SEC Tournament victory may have earned them the No. 1 overall seed. Seedings for the 64-team tournament will be announced Monday live on ESPN at 12:30 p.m.

2011 SEC Tournament Honors
Most Valuable Player: LF Daniel Pigott, Florida
All-Tournament Team: Pigott; P Hudson Randall, Florida; SS Nolan Fontana, Florida

Photo Credit: Southeastern Conference

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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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