SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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Gators baseball wins series, falls in finale at UK

No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (35-13, 14-10 SEC) fell just short of their first weekend series sweep in over a month, winning two of three games on the road against the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats (37-11, 15-9 SEC) at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington, KY.

Florida won Thursday’s contest 5-3 and pulled out a late 5-1 victory on Friday before dropping the series finale 2-1 to Kentucky on Saturday. UF faces an uphill battle to defend their conference championship as they are currently behind both South Carolina and LSU in the standings.

The Gators saw their starting pitching return to form over the weekend.

Junior right-hander Hudson Randall improved to 5-1 on with a 6.2-inning outing on Thursday. He held the Wildcats to one run through six innings but coughed up two more before heading to the dugout (6 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) and allowing junior left-handed reliever Steven Rodriguez (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 K) to pick up his first save of the season.

Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson followed Randall’s effort by putting forth his best performance since returning from injury on Friday, holding Kentucky to one earned run over 4.2 innings despite allowing six hits, walking three batters, hitting another, throwing two wild pitches and striking out just two. Whitson was relieved by a trio of throwers including freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, 2 H), senior RHP Greg Larson (W 6-0, 1.1 IP, HBP) and Rodriguez (S2, 2.0 IP, 2 K).

Florida brought junior LHP Brian Johnson out for the finale and saw him work his way through four innings before allowing a run on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the fifth. Johnson (L 5-4, 5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) was replaced by sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (3.0 IP, 3 H, R, 2 K), who would have held the Wildcats scoreless had it not been for two fielding errors in the bottom of the eighth.

Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker powered UF through the first two games of the series, hitting a homer on Thursday and finishing the three-game trip 5/11 with three RBIs, three runs scored and a walk.

Johnson (4/11, 2 RBI) and freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (4/10, 2 RBI) knocked in runs as part of Florida’s two wins though senior center fielder Daniel Pigott was the only player to get on the board in the finale with a solo homer in the top of the ninth. The Gators had the tying run on second but were unable to finish their rally on Saturday.

Florida will look to get revenge against North Florida on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Gainesville, FL before hosting their final home games of the season in a three-game series against Mississippi State Friday-Sunday.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, Leak, Parsons, Horford

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (32-10) got back to its winning ways on Wednesday, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (24-18) in the team’s second meeting of the season. Florida won 10-1 behind plenty of hitting and a reassuring start from sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 4.0 IP, 4 H, K). The Gators only hit two homers in the game – a two-run shot by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the sixth and a solo shot by freshman pinch hitter Brandon Sedell (the first of his young career) – but still managed to manufacture seven more runs. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (0/1, 2 RBI, R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, RBI, 2 R) also had big nights at the plate. Florida will conclude its nine-game homestand (4-2) with a weekend series against Arkansas.

2 » Two days after announcing his signing, the AFL’s Orlando Predators finally obtained quarterback Chris Leak in a trade with the Jacksonville Sharks. Leak, who went 21-of-31 for 196 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in the season opener for Jacksonville, was moved to a reserve role the next week in practice and refused to continue playing for the team. The Predators tried to sign him on Monday and make him the “face of the franchise,” but he was still under contract to the Sharks, which refused to cut him outright. Instead Jacksonville and Orlando (with the managing partner of each team brothers with the other) swapped Leak for offensive lineman/fullback Ailao Eliapo to complete the transaction.

3 » A second-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Gators forward Chandler Parsons knew he could impact the Houston Rockets as a rookie but not even he could be sure how much he would be able to do for the team this season. Parsons’s rookie campaign was so impressive that he has landed at No. 7 on Grantland.com’s final list of “best rookies of the NBA season.” Writes Sebastian Pruiti:

Chandler Parsons is another player who was drafted late but who was productive as soon as he stepped on an NBA court. He was best when defending isolation possessions. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons held opponents to 26 percent shooting and a PPP of 0.648 in one-on-one situations, placing him in the top 20 percent of all NBA players. The key to Parsons’s defensive game is his length. His long arms allow him to back off quicker offensive players and contain their dribble penetration while still being able to contest their shots.

Parsons also has the potential to be a very versatile offensive player. I say potential because he struggles in some situations, especially as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays. Parsons just doesn’t have a feel for the pick-and-roll game yet, and he commits turnovers 25 percent of the time in these situations. As he becomes more comfortable as a ball handler and learns to read defenses, he should improve.

4 » Despite telling OGGOA last week that it was “realistic” he would be able to return for the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and mentioning the same thing to media in his local market, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford will indeed miss his team’s series against Boston as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral that has sidelined him basically the entire season. Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to play in his team’s second round series should they make it that far.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Midseason slumps happen – every team has at least one – though the one Florida Gators baseball went through (losing five of seven games from March 30 – April 7) may have been especially painful for fans.

Florida has seen the light though. As much was obvious over the last two weekends as junior left-hander Brian Johnson helped power the Gators to a series win at Tennessee and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott picked up the offensive slack against Georgia. Florida won both series but did not necessarily do so in the convincing fashion that many fans are accustomed to seeing. This is what SEC baseball is all about.

The biggest issue the Gators have is their offense. It was a question mark to start the season and remains a concern going forward. Their pitching and defense remain outstanding, especially considering the injuries that sidelined sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson and Friday night ace junior RHP Hudson Randall.

During one of my first columns here, I mentioned how Florida had nine players capable of hitting .300. At his point in the season only Pigott, Johnson, junior catcher Mike Zunino, junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (five players) have eclipsed that mark.

The Gators’ lineup has become top-heavy. After these first five hitters, Florida’s lineup is manageable for opposing pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gushue has cooled off from his hot start and Zunino is hitting sub-.250 in SEC play. Every team goes through midseason struggles but to see some of the veterans off of their game is a bit alarming.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did everything they could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six on Saturday but came just short of earning their first national title as the Alabama Crimson Tide edged Florida 197.850-197.775 to win the 2012 NCAA Championship. One of four teams in 31 years to win the national title, Alabama captured their sixth in school history by a 0.075 margin thanks to a stellar 49.500 effort on the balance beam in the final rotation. The Gators led the Crimson Tide by 0.025 heading into the final rotation; however, Florida posted a 49.400 on the floor exercise, allowing Alabama to leap them and earn the championship. All is not lost for the Gators as UF’s individual gymnasts will compete for event national titles on Sunday. Freshman Kytra Hunter already won the NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday.

2 » Looking to carry some momentum from the 16-inning marathon win Friday night, No. 1 Florida baseball (30-9, 10-7 SEC) was not as fortunate Saturday night falling 5-3 to the Georgia Bulldogs (24-16, 8-9 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. UF led 2-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run bomb by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB) but found themselves in a 4-2 hole after UGA rallied for three runs in the top of the third. A solo homer by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, HR, RBI, R) cut the Gators’ deficit to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but Bulldogs’ starter Michael Palazzone and reliever Blake Dieterich combined to no-hit Florida over the final five innings of the game. Georgia’s timely pitching and clutch defense handed the loss to junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-2, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 5 K). UF has not swept a weekend series in over a month hopes to pick up a series win in the rubber match on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

3 » No. 1-seed Gators women’s tennis (20-1) swept the No. 4-seed Ole Miss Rebels (17-8) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday, using a 4-0 victory to propel them into the finals on Sunday against No. 3-seed Georgia. Florida captured the doubles point in entertaining fashion having split the first two matches 1-1 before the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen earned a 9-8 (7-5) victory. Singles action was a more of a breeze for the Gators with No. 23 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 10 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-0) and No. 51 Oyen (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) picking up three wins to end the match. UF, which improved to 25-0 all-time in SEC Tournament quarterfinals action on Friday, is now 23-2 in the semifinals and competing for their 18th conference tournament title.Florida defeated Georgia 4-3 on March 4 in Athens, GA in the teams’ sole meeting this season.

4 » No. 3/4 Gators softball (41-5) completed their sweep of the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-23) with a 7-1 victory on Saturday at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida and FIU were scoreless through four innings with Gators sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers (24-3) holding the Golden Panthers hitless for most of the contest. Florida jumped ahead 1-0 in the fifth on a RBI double by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/3, RBI, BB), but Rogers allowed FIU to even things up in the top of the sixth. Junior RF Ensley Gammel (1/2, HR RBI, R) put the Gators ahead for good in the sixth with a solo homer that spurned a six-run bottom of the inning including two RBIs by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) and another solo bomb by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1/1, HR, RBI, R). Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K) completed the outing and her team’s third-straight weekend series sweep.

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No. 1 Florida baseball drops first series this season to No. 16 Ole Miss in Oxford

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (24-4, 6-3 SEC) dropped their first series of the 2012 campaign and first regular-season series in 11 months by losing two of three games over the weekend to the No. 16 Ole Miss Rebels (20-8, 5-4 SEC) in Oxford, MS.

Florida found themselves fighting from behind the entire weekend, dropping the series opener to Ole Miss 3-0 on Friday, overcoming a one-run deficit to pull away with a 9-4 win on Saturday and losing a late lead in a 7-6 walk-off defeat on Sunday.

Gators junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (3-1, 6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, BB, 4 K) gave up three earned runs in the bottom of the first inning on Friday but threw five strong innings to conclude his outing. His teammates were unable to make up for his rough start, however, only registering three hits (two singles and a triple) while on their way to being shutout for the first time since March 8, 2011.

It did not take long for Florida’s bats to come alive as the team combined to tie a season-high with 17 hits in the second game of the series on Saturday. The Gators took a one-run lead in the top of the first but kept swinging back and forth with the Rebels, falling behind 2-1 through four innings and 3-2 through five. UF took the lead for good in the top of the eighth, scoring six runs on six hits including a three-run homer by junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (3/5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R). Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R [2 ER], BB, K) got the start, but freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (4-0) picked up the victory by registering just one out in the seventh.

Florida fell behind early once again on Sunday with sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, BB, K) struggling in his start. However, junior LHP Steven Rodriguez replaced him and steadied things for the Gators, striking out six in four shutout innings. His teammates capitalized on his steady arm by tying the game 5-5. A four-run fourth inning began with a solo shot by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/5, HR, RBI, R), and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (3/4, HR, RBI, 2 R, SB) added a solo homer of his own in the sixth.

Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, RBI, 2 R) gave Florida a lead for the first time with UF’s third solo dinger of the game in the top of the seventh, but Ole Miss rallied to tie the contest in the bottom frame. The game appeared to be headed towards a tie as travel time restrictions would have cut off the contest following the ninth inning, but the Rebels took advantage of a throwing error by Tucker with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth for the walk-off victory. Junior closer Austin Maddox (2-1) picked up the loss after giving up two hits in the final frame.

The Gators will look to end their eight-game road trip on a high note when they take on North Florida in Jacksonville, FL on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Florida is 4-3 in the first seven games of the road trip.

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida is playing at another level

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

The Florida baseball team is good. Check that, they’re really good. I know that is putting it in simple terms, but the Gators have not lost a game since the opening weekend of the year, running off a school-record 18-straight wins including plenty of tough victories in that stretch. How has Florida been so good for so long? The answer is indeed that simple: they’re really good.

The Gators starting pitching continues to be outstanding. In the game against Florida State last week, freshman right-hander Bobby Poyner looked extremely sharp. When I first walked into the stadium, he immediately reminded me of former Florida lefty Stephen Locke. He’s not a very big kid, but he was mixing in a lot of off-speed pitches (curveball and changeup especially) to get the job done. When he finally let a fastball go, the radar gun clocked him at 90 mph. He may not have pitched deep into the game, but Poyner gave UF fans a glimpse of a future Friday night starter and someone who should have a promising college career.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida is playing at another level

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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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