FOUR BITS: Florida tennis falls, lacrosse reigns, softball triumphs, gymnastics sets the tone

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (3-1) lost its first match in more than a year as the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (7-1) snapped the visitors’ 25-match winning streak (which dated back to Feb. 12, 2012) with a 4-0 sweep on Sunday in Durham, NC. Though the duo of senior Lauren Embree and junior Sofie Oyen took down Duke’s No. 7-ranked team of Mary Clayton and Ester Goldfeld 8-4, Florida eventually lost the doubles point when junior Alex Cercone/freshman Brianna Morgan lost a 6-4 lead and fell 7-6(7-3) in the third doubles match. The Gators responded by winning the first set on five-of-six singles courts. However, No. 9 Oyen was upset by No. 45 Goldfeld (6-4, 7-5) to put the Blue Devils up 3-0 and Duke picked up one additional singles win despite UF leading in all three of the matches that did not finish. Florida, which was pushed out of the top national ranking at the start of the week by new No. 1 North Carolina, will be in Chapel Hill, NC to face UNC on Monday at 2 p.m.

2 » No. 3 Gators lacrosse (3-0) has won its first three matches of the season for the first time in program history after taking down the High Point Panthers (1-1) on Sunday in High Point, NC. Florida, which picked up a 13-7 victory, was led by three goals apiece from sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy and senior attacker Caroline Chesterman. Senior A Kitty Cullen and sophomore M Nicole Graziano added two goals each. UF will host Stony Brook in the program’s home opener on Wednesday.

3 » No. 5 Gators softball (12-0) spent its first weekend of the 2013 season plowing through opponents out west in the Kajikawa Classic. One weekend later, the location changed but the game play remained the same as Florida trounced its competition in the Lipton Invitational at the friendly confines of Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The Gators outscored their opponents by a combined 54-4 over six games in a three-day span. Florida beat the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks 10-0 on Friday and 9-1 on Sunday, shutout the Savannah State Tigers 12-0 on Friday and 14-0 on Sunday, took down the Western Carolina Catamounts 5-0 on Saturday, and squeaked past the Charleston Southern Buccaneers 4-3 on Sunday in an extra-inning affair.

Four Florida players led the way offensively with sophomore first baseman Lauren Haeger (7/15, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 R, 3 BB) at the top of the pack. Also making big contributions were sophomore outfielder Jessica Damico (4/11, HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, SB), freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart (8/20, HR, 4 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 SB) and freshman OF Kirsti Merritt (4/9, HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 2 SB – four games). A solo homer by Haeger in the bottom of the seventh on Sunday against Charleston Southern sent the game into extra innings, and Damico ended the contest in the bottom of the eighth as she tripled to score the final run of the game. Each of UF’s pitchers picked up a pair of wins over the weekend including Haeger (4-0, 11.0 IP, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, HBP, 15 K), sophomore right-handeder Alyssa Bache (3-0, 10.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 14 K) and junior RHP Hannah Rogers (4-0, 15.0 IP, 9 H, ER [3 R], 5 BB, 13 K).

4 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (6-1, 5-1 SEC) once again proved why it is being labeled as the best team in the country as it came from behind to take down the No. 9 Georgia Gym Dogs (5-5-1, 3-1-1 SEC) on Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,971 at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA. Florida ousted Georgia 197.30-196.175 despite losing two team events (vault, uneven bars) and barely winning the floor exercise. A strong performance on the balance beam gave the Gators a significant 49.300-48.125 advantage over the GymDogs in the event, catapulting them to victory. Freshman Bridget Sloan picked up her third-straight all-around title with a 39.60 and also won bars with a 9.95.

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Haeger, Horton combine for five homers to power Gators softball to Gainesville Regional finals

One day after suffering emotional turmoil both on and off the field, No. 5 Florida Gators softball kept their national championship hopes alive by taking down the Central Florida Knights and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in consecutive games on Saturday in the Gainesville Regional at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida (48-12) eliminated Central Florida (39-19) in the afternoon contest and topped Florida Gulf Coast (39-23) in the evening game, winning 7-1 and 6-2 respectively, thanks to solid offensive efforts and efficient pitching performances.

Freshman first baseman/right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger got it done at the plate and on the mound for the Gators, smacking two home runs and tossing the final two innings of the first game before starting the second game on the hill and smacking her third bomb of the day in the latter contest. Haeger combined to go 4/7 with three homers, four RBIs, three runs and two walks and also tossed 7.0 innings giving up three earned runs on six hits with four walks and three strikeouts while picking up her 15th victory.

Florida freshman left fielder Briana Little (2/4, 2 RBI, R) was solid against UCF as was sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers, who improved to 28-7 after striking out five while giving up just four hits and one walk in 5.0 innings.

Rogers returned in the evening game to close out FGCU, allowing one hit and striking out a batter in two innings of work. The Gators also received an offensive boost from junior catcher Kelsey Horton (3/4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R), who smacked two homers of her own and had a big smile on her face both times she crossed the plate.

Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie, who also threw out a runner at the plate to save a run, went 4/4 with two runs scored in the second game

Florida will take on South Florida on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the finals of the Gainesville Regional. UF will have to defeat USF twice in order to move on to the Super Regional round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

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Florida softball falls 2-1 to FGCU in Gainesville Regional; three players suspended, one returns

Friday was a rough day for No. 5 Florida Gators softball, which not only lost 2-1 to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the second game of the 2012 NCAA Gainesville Regional at Pressly Softball Stadium but did so without three of their star players.

Prior to the game, head coach Tim Walton announced that junior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, sophomore outfielder Kasey Fagan and freshman third baseman Sami Fagan were suspended for undisclosed reasons. He said following the contest that the situation is being handled internally but that the trio is suspended indefinitely for the remainder of the season and could be kicked off the team permanently.

More definitive on the subject was Kevin Fagan, the father of Kasey and Sami, who told the Ocala Star-Banner the three players are no longer with the team and are “free to go anywhere they want.” He added that “an altercation on the team…[left] the team sort of divided and Walton felt like it was in his best interest to get rid of those three.”

It was not all bad news for Florida before the game, however, as the Gators also learned junior catcher Brittany Schutte would return after missing more than two months of action with a broken jaw. Schutte went 0/2 with a walk.

FGCU (38-22) got on the board first as Florida (46-12) sophomore right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers gave up a solo home run in the top of the second. The Gators tied things up in the bottom of the next inning, rallying to score a run brought home by a single from freshman first baseman Lauren Haeger (2/3, RBI).

The Gators and Eagles stayed tied at 1-1 for the next two innings, but Florida Gulf Coast went back on top in the sixth as Rogers (27-7, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) coughed up her second solo homer of the game. Florida was unable to answer and lost the game, which dropped them into the loser’s bracket of their own regional.

UF has lost seven of their last 11 games and now must win four-straight contests to advance to the Super Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida will face Central Florida at 3:30 p.m. in an elimination game for the opportunity to advance to a second elimination game immediately following the contest at 6 p.m.

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TWO BITS: baseball falls again, softball splits

1 » Falling to 8-8 in their last 16 games dating back to March 30, No. 2/5 Florida Gators baseball (31-10) was edged 5-3 by the South Florida Bulls (28-14) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday. Florida fell behind 2-0 in the top of the second after a fielding error by sophomore third baseman Cody Dent allowed the inning to continue and two runs to eventually score. Freshman right-hander Johnny Magliozzi (4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 K) was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson in the fifth but things did not get any better for the Gators on the mound. Gibson gave up solo homer in the sixth, but Florida immediately answered with a pair of dingers from juniors shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R) to tie the game 3-3. However, Gibson (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB) allowed a lead-off walk in the seventh that eventually scored and registered as the game-winning run. USF added another bomb in the top of the eighth to increase their lead to two runs and UF faltered late offensively by stranding six runners on base over the final three innings (Zunino grounded out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth).

2 » No. 2/4 Gators softball (42-6, 19-3 SEC) split a Tuesday doubleheader with the LSU Tigers (33-16, 14-8 SEC), winning the afternoon contest 2-1 in eight innings before dropping the evening game 1-0. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (25-3, 8.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 5 K) went the distance in the extra innings affair that saw Florida fight tooth and nail for a victory. The Gators trailed 1-0 after Rogers allowed a run to score in the top of the seventh but evened things out in the bottom frame when junior right fielder Ensley Gammel (1/3, HR, RBI, R) homered to right. Rogers then forced three ground balls in the eighth with her defense completing a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning and give the offense another shot. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2/4, RBI) responded to the opportunity, doubling down the left field line to knock in the game-winning run. The latter contest was a true pitchers’ duel with freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-3, 7.0 IP, 6 H, ER, 3 BB, 9 K) and LSU’s Brittany Mack (7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K) both tossing complete games. The Tigers scored after a triple was driven home in the second and the Gators’ offense stalled just like the baseball team’s did down the stretch by stranding five runners on base over the final two innings.

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Moultrie, Haeger lead Florida in series sweep

No. 3 Florida Gators softball (38-5, 18-2 SEC) triumphed over the weekend, outscoring the Auburn Tigers (26-18, 5-14 SEC) 11-5 over three games to earn a hard-fought series sweep at Pressly Softball Stadium in in Gainesville, FL.

Strong efforts from senior center fielder Michelle Moultrieand freshman right-handed pitcher/first baseman Lauren Haeger propelled Florida. Moultrie combined to go 2/9 with a home run, three RBIs, two runs and a stolen base, while Haeger excelled both on the mound and at the plate (3/8, HR, 2 RBI, R, 2 BB). She was outstanding on the hill Saturday, improving to 11-2 while allowing just one earned run on two hits and a walk with 11 strikeouts in a complete game effort.

The Gators triumphed 3-2 on Friday, fighting back from a 2-1 deficit through 3.5 innings to pull out the victory. Florida won 3-1 behind Haeger’s solid pitching on Saturday and used a four-run fifth on Sunday to cap the weekend with a 5-2 win.

Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (22-3) earned bookend victories with nearly identical outings on Friday and Sunday, tossing two complete games while combining to give up four earned runs on 11 hits with six walks and 11 strikeouts.

Florida has now earned sweeps in consecutive weekends and has four more series to play before postseason action begins in early May. UF will host Florida International in a three-game series including a doubleheader on April 20 and a third game on April 21.

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SIX BITS: Macklin, lacrosse, softball, Gilbert, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin was recently set down to the NBA Development League for no other reason than that the Detroit Pistons wanted to see him get some in-game action rather than sit stationary on the end of the team’s bench during NBA games. According to M Live, Macklin has been playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and has been dominating. In his first five games with the team, Macklin is averaging 16.6 points and 17.2 rebounds (10.6 on the defensive glass) in more than 36 minutes a game. He will remain with the team through April 7 before returning to the Pistons. “He’s playing with a lot of energy and effort. He’s gotten better each and every game,” Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. “It’s great for him to get that experience. We see continued development. We see progress in Vernon.”

2 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (11-2) hit two major milestones on Wednesday, recording their first-ever shutout while registering the highest goal total in school history in a 29-0 beat down of the Fresno State Bulldogs (2-6) at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman midfielder Nicole Graziano scored a game-high and career-high six goals on seven shots, and freshman attacker Nora Barry joined her in dominating on offense with five goals on six shots. The duo also combined for six ground balls and six draw controls in the contest. Junior As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand combined for six goals and three assists with Bruns becoming the first player in team history to eclipse 200 career goals. In addition to scoring the most goal sand allowing the fewest in team history, the Gators set or tied a number of other records. Florida had the most points (41), assists (12) and draw controls (24) in team history, tied their records for shots (44), first-half points (17) and second-half points (12) and also committed a record five fouls, the fewest in team history. The Gators accomplished all of this without Juniors A Kitty Cullen and M Brittany Dashiell, two of the team’s leading scorers.

3 » Despite falling to a ranked opponent, No. 4 Florida softball (29-3) suffered a tough 4-1 defeat on Wednesday in Gainesville at the hands of the No. 21 South Florida Bulls (30-5). Freshman right-hander Lauren Haeger (9-2) tossed a complete game, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits along with five walks and four strikeouts. In addition to going up arguably the nation’s best pitcher in Sara Nevins, the Gators committed a pair of costly errors that put them in a 4-0 hole through three innings. A solo homer by Haeger (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB) in the bottom of the fifth was the only run to cross the plate for Florida, which left eight base runners on including three in the bottom of the sixth and two in the bottom of the seventh with the game-tying run at the plate. UF defeated USF 3-2 in extra innings on Feb. 12 but will not have another chance to earn revenge.

4 » Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert will receive a bump in responsibility next season as head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Wednesday that he will help protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side as the team’s new left tackle. Gilbert, who played both left and right tackle in college, was drafted to eventually hold down the former role but was relegated to the latter position in 2011 due to experience and depth issues. “We fully expect him to [move],” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I probably had more concerns about him being the right tackle than I did him being at left tackle just because of his college experience.” Gilbert is the second Gators offensive lineman to recently be drafted and become an starter for Pittsburgh as center Maurkice Pouncey won his job out of training camp two seasons ago.

5 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for an interview this week with CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd to discuss a number of topics mostly concerning his return to the sidelines and how the Ohio State program is coming along heading into his first season at the helm. However, Meyer also touched on a few things at Florida including what he called an “awful” team that the Gators fielded for his first season in 2005. “We’re not a good team. As a matter of fact, we’re bad, a really bad football team – not aligned, selfish. We had some really good players on defense. On offense we’re a mess. Chris Leak wasn’t ready. Then we lose to South Carolina,” he recounted. “I remember walking to my radio show and there are some boos. The phone calls were absolutely brutal. I’m looking at [Mick Hubert] and I’m just getting greased. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What are you doing here?'” Meyer said the Florida State win really turned things around both on the field and off the field in recruiting. He also spoke about other issues he faced including “the Spurrier culture” in the SEC.

6 » While the Denver Broncos were in the process of signing quarterback Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow was in Tampa, FL helping open up the new D1 Sports Training facility while working out with, meeting and greeting children, teenagers and adults. Despite so much being on his mind about his NFL future, Tebow was obviously thinking about plenty of other things during this special occasion (photo gallery).

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FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, softball, gym

1 » Having returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, nine-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-12) picked up a hard-fought 70-65 victory over the eight-seed Ohio State Buckeyes (25-7) in first-round action on Sunday. Florida led early and maintained their advantage throughout the contest, eventually pulling away in the final few minutes for the win. Junior forward Jennifer George led the way for the Gators with 16 points (she also added six rebounds), but senior guard Lanita Bartley was the player of the game with 15 points, four boards, three assists and two steals. Florida will now face top-ranked Baylor (35-0) and player of the year Brittney Griner on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. live on ESPN2.

2 » No. 1 Gators baseball (19-1, 3-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 17 games, sweeping their series against the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-13, 0-3 SEC) with another pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday. Florida outscored Vanderbilt 23-5 over the weekend, beginning with a 10-2 victory in their Southeastern Conference opener on Friday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The Gators pulled out a 5-1 win on Saturday on the heels of one of junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson’s best outings. Johnson improved to 3-0 while recording a career-high nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings and giving up just two singles. UF was up 1-0 through 4.5 innings but scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth including two RBIs apiece from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, HR, R, BB) and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/5, R). Florida captured Sunday’s contest with an 8-2 victory behind another solid outing from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (2-1, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K). The Gators offense was fueled by a trio of solo homers from Tucker (1/3, RBI, 2 R, BB), freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1/4, 2 RBI, R) and freshman second baseman Casey TurgeonSEC Player of the Week award in his career on Monday.

3 » No. 4 Florida softball (26-2, 7-1 SEC) also swept a conference opponent over the weekend, taking down the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-12, 2-6 SEC) by a combined score of 17-3 over three days at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers and freshman RHP/first baseman Lauren Haeger dominated the weekend for the Gators. Rogers (14-1, S 2) earned two victories and a save, while Haeger (8-1) picked up a win and also went 5/8 over the three-game stretch with a homer, six RBIs and a run scored.

4 » No. 6 Florida lacrosse (8-2) defeated the William & Mary Tribe (2-6) 21-8 on the road Saturday. Junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell led Florida with five goals, and UF added four more each from junior attackers Kitty Cullen and Gabi Wiegand and freshman M Shannon Gilroy.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, gymnastics, Leak

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (17-1, 1-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 15 games on Friday by toppling the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-11, 0-1 SEC) 10-2 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-0, 6.2 IP) matched a season-high with six strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on six hits. Behind 2-0 through 4.5 innings, Florida rallied for a five-run bottom of the fifth as eight batters stepped to the plate. The Gators added four more runs in the bottom of the seventh and another in the eighth to pull away for the decisive victory. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/5, 3 RBI, R) and freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue (1-4, 2 RBI) led the way offensively but junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4, RBI) and senior outfielder Daniel Pigott (3-5, RBI) each crossed the plate twice for Florida. Game two against the Commodores is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday (CSS), and the Gators will conclude the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. (FSF).

2 » No. 4 Florida softball (24-2, 5-1 SEC) got back to their winning ways on Friday with 9-1 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-10, 2-4 SEC) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (13-1) put together a complete game in a run-ruled five-inning outing, giving up one earned run while striking out two, walking two and scattering four hits. Freshmen 1B Lauren Haeger (2-3) and designated hitter Bailey Castro (1-1, HR, R, 2 BB) each notched three RBIs to help fuel the Gators’ offense. UF will wrap-up their three-game series USC by hosting them twice more on Saturday (Sun Sports) and Sunday at 1 p.m.

3 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics (11-1) posted the second-highest total in the nation this season to conclude the 2012 regular season with a 197.900-196.475 victory over the No. 7 Utah Utes (7-3) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville. Sophomore Alaina Johnson captured event titles in the vault (9.90), uneven bars (9.95) and balance beam (9.925) while also winning the all-around (39.675). She split two of her titles with teammates as juniors Ashanée Dickerson (uneven bars) and Marissa King (balance beam) matched her scores. King also split the floor exercise event title with freshman Kytra Hunter (9.95). The Gators will next compete in the 2012 SEC Championships on March 24 before moving on to the NCAA Regionals on April 7.

4 » In his first game as starting quarterback of the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak completed 21 of 31 passes for 196 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Jacksonville, the league’s defending champion, scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to pull away for a 52-28 victory.

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