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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No. 1 Florida takes down No. 6 Florida State 9-2

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (16-1) extended their winning streak to 14 games on Tuesday evening (tying a school record) with a 9-2 victory over the No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (14-2) in Gainesville, FL.

The first of three games to be played between the schools over the course of the season (a home-and-home and one neutral site match-up), Tuesday’s contest also set a school record as 6,005 fans entered the gates of McKethan Stadium.

Florida State scored a pair of runs off an error in the top of the third, sending Florida’s freshman left-handed starting pitcher Bobby Poyner (2.2 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K) to the bench early. However, the Gators responded immediately in the bottom of the inning as senior right fielder Preston Tucker smacked a three-run homer to put his team in front.

UF scored another run in the fourth, got on the board with a solo shot from junior shortstop Nolan Fontana in the sixth, plated another in the seventh and put the game out of reach by rallying for three more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Tucker (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led the way, but Florida also got two RBIs each from senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) and junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-2, 2 BB).

Senior right-hander Greg Larson (3-0) came on for Poyner in the third and earned the victory after just 1.1 innings of work. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 2 K) did the heavy lifting down the stretch, and junior RHP Austin Maddox (S6, 1.1 IP) closed things out by striking out one of the four batters he faced.

The Gators will head back to McKethan Stadium on Wednesday to take on the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Florida will then have one day off before opening conference play with a three-game series against Vanderbilt on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (1 p.m., FSF) in Gainesville.

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TWO BITS: Gators baseball, softball win three

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (12-1) won their 10th consecutive game with a 15-2 thrashing of the Florida A&M Rattlers (1-12) on Wednesday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman outfielder Justin Shafer (1/2) notched a career-high six RBIs on a double and three sacrifice flies. He also pitched the final frame of the game, striking out the side on 14 pitches. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (3.0 IP, 6 H, K) got the start but gave up two earned runs in his outing, giving senior RHP Greg Larson (2-0, 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K) the opportunity to supplant him and pick up the victory. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/1, 2 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB) was also stellar at the plate, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) picked up the 274th hit of his career on a double in the fifth, tying Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05) for fourth on the school’s all-time list. Florida remains undefeated (17-0) against Florida A&M and will have one day off before hosting Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m. on Sun Sports).

2 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-1, 2-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to 11 games with a doubleheader sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-7, 0-2 SEC) to open Southeastern Conference play on the road in Starkville, MS. Florida defeated Mississippi State 1-0 behind a complete game one-hit shutout by sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-0) in the first game and earned an equally hard-fought 8-5 win in the second contest with freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (4-0) earning the victory and Rogers (S1) picking up the save. Rogers struck out eight in the opening contest but was only supported by three hits from the Gators including what would be a game-winning RBI by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1-3) in the fifth. Freshman RHP Lauren Haeger started the second game but was roughed up for five runs (two earned) on three hits with three walks in just 1.2 innings. Bache (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, K) and Rogers (3.0 IP, H, 3 K) closed the game out as sophomore RF Kasey Fagan (2-3, 3 RBI, BB) led the way at the plate. Haeger (1-3, R, 2 BB) and sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (0-1, R, 2 BB) added a RBI each, and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1-4) drove in two runs with yet another homer. Florida will close out the week by playing a three-game weekend road series at Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon).

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FOUR BITS: baseball, McCray, violations, Macklin

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (11-1) continued their early season dominance, thrashing the visiting Florida Atlantic Owls (8-5) on Tuesday evening at McKethan Stadium. Florida topped FAU 16-1 in the contest, taking a 9-0 lead through two innings and cruising the rest of the way. Freshman left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner got the spot start and picked up the first victory of his young career, striking out three batters while allowing one run (unearned) on three hits in four innings. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (3/3, 5 RBI, 2 R) smacked two home runs in the game, hitting a two-run shot in the first and a three-run bomb in the second. Senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2/4) added a homer of his own and matched Zunino with five RBIs and two runs. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, 2 RBI, 3 R) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (2/3, RBI, R) were also efficient from the plate, adding to the Gators’ impressive total. Florida will step back on the diamond Wednesday night when they host Florida A&M at 7 p.m.; the game will air live on Sun Sports (check your local listings).

In other baseball news…freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. Gushue hit .400 with two homers, four RBIs and three runs over the weekend in Coral Gables, FL.

2 » The New Orleans Saints are currently under investigation by the NFL league office for maintaining a bounty for hard hits and knockout plays maintained by former defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Williams, a member of the team’s coaching staff from 2009-11, was with the squad for their Super Bowl XLIV season. Also on the team that year was former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray, who had incredible postseason and wound up hitting a pair of veteran quarterbacks – Minnesota’s Brett Favre and Arizona’s Kurt Warner – exceptionally hard in their respective matchups during the playoffs. The NFL fined McCray $25,000 for some of his hits on Favre, including one which caused an eruption on the Saints’ sideline. According to Sports Illustrated, “an on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, ‘Pay me my money!’” following the play.

3 » Florida has self-reported a total of 12 secondary violations to the Southeastern Conference since April 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Tuesday. Spread amongst the football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming programs, 10 of the 12 violations included some form of impermissible contact with four instances being incidental pocket dials. Most punishments, whether mandated by the school or convergence, included lengthened non-contact periods with the particular recruits. One notable exception was the women’s basketball team taking part in an “off-campus, team-building exercise” with each player forced to pay $12 for participating and coaches losing two hours of instruction per student.

4 » Power forward Vernon Macklin has not seen much court time this season with the Detroit Pistons as he stuck depth-wise behind four/five other players, but he told the Detroit Free Press this week that he has kept a positive disposition in spite of his not being able to play on a nightly basis. “It’s tough, but it’s not hard to stay focused because I got guys like Ben Wallace and Greg [Monroe] and those guys talking to me a lot and telling me to get my work in,” he told the paper. “It’s not really hard to stay focused. I just got to understand that I’m going through a bump in the road right now. But I’m going to get better and keep on learning, and one day I will be able to play.”

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

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 end of the Miami series is an appropriate time to take a step back and look at what the No. 1 Florida Gators baseball team has accomplished up to this point early in the season. The Gators have lived up to expectations thus far, passing every test and checking in with a 10-1 record, the sole blemish being a loss in a Sunday game after a series was already clinched to then-No. 16 Cal State Fullerton.

The Gators opened up against the season without the usual cupcake series people are used to seeing in many sports and still walked away by winning two of three games at home. Since their loss to the Titans that first Sunday, UF has reeled off eight-straight wins, including last weekend’s sweep at then-No. 8 Miami.

The reigning SEC Player of the Year, junior catcher Mike Zunino, has kept up his offensive dominance by batting .425 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Florida has eight or nine players capable of hitting above .300, and this consistency throughout the lineup is important as it makes every inning a stressful one for opposing pitchers.

On the mound, junior closer Austin Maddox is making the most noise and looks to have turned into the dominant closer the Gators desperately need. He has already amassed 17 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings.

It should be a relief for fans to see the Florida bats heat up Friday and Saturday down in Miami as they struggled a bit opening weekend against Cal State Fullerton’s quality pitching. The usual suspects like Zunino, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, senior right fielder Preston Tucker, senior left fielder Daniel Pigott and junior first baseman Brian Johnson powered the Gators throughout the weekend but there was also a new face who stepped into the lineup and produced in a big way.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

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No. 1 Florida shines in sweep of No. 8 Miami

In their second three-game series against a top 25-ranked opponent this season, No. 1 Florida Gators baseball swept the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, FL thanks to a come-from-behind victory in Sunday’s finale. Florida (10-1), extending their winning streak to eight games with the three victories, has now won 11-straight contests over Miami (8-3) dating back to 2010.

The Gators defeated the Hurricanes 7-5 in the season opener, scoring in five of nine innings and never falling behind once in the game. Florida rallied for single runs in the top of the first, second, third and fifth and used a solo homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino to spark a three-run fourth inning. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (2-0) earned the victory in 5.1 innings, striking out six while allowing four earned runs on seven hits and one walk.

Zunino (4-5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-3, 2 RBI) each knocked in a pair of runs, while junior first baseman/closer Austin Maddox (3-3, RBi, R) was dynamite from the plate and on the mound, notching his third save of the season with seven strikeouts in 3.1 innings.

Miami took the early advantage in Saturday’s contest, hitting a two-run homer off of left-hander Brian Johnson in the bottom of the first and taking a 3-0 lead through three innings. Johnson got a measure of revenge in the top of the fourth, smacking a two-run bomb to right; UF first baseman Taylor Gushue immediately followed with a solo shot, knotting the game at 3-3.

The Hurricanes regained the lead in the bottom of the inning by hitting another two-run dinger of Johnson, who was quickly pulled for senior RHP Greg Larson. The Gators turned up the intensity from there, rallying for five runs in the top of the fifth and crossing the plate at least once in every remaining inning.

Gushue (3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) homered for a second time in the fifth and was matched hit-for-hit by Johnson (4-5, 5 RBI, 2 R). Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-5) crossed the plate three times, and Pigott (4-5) and Zunino (1-6) each scored two runs as well. Larson (1-0) picked up the win in the 13-5 victory by striking out four Miami batters on 51 pitches in 4.2 no-hit innings.

Having already clinched the series with consecutive victories, Florida found themselves in danger of floundering in the finale on Sunday afternoon. Though the Gators got on the board first by plating a run in the top of the second, the Hurricanes bested them with three runs in the bottom of inning, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford for four hits in the frame. Crawford, starting the first game of his career, regrouped and struck out eight in 4.2 innings but also gave up another earned run (four total) on seven hits with a walk in his appearance.

A solo homer by Fontana reduced Florida’s deficit to a single run in the top of the fifth, but Miami rallied for a matching run in the bottom frame. The Hurricanes repeated that process in the seventh, negating another Gators’ run with one of their own to maintain a two-run advantage heading into the top of the ninth.

With starter Bryan Radziewski already out of the game for UM, E.J. Encinosa entered in the eighth to close out the final 1.2 innings. UF left two on base in the eighth, seemingly putting a major dent in their chances of making a comeback as only three outs remained.

Fontana walked on five pitches to lead off the inning, and Pigott (1-4, RBI, R) soon joined him on base after being hit by Encinosa. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-5) grounded out and advanced the runners, who were both sent home to tie the game when Zunino cleared the bases by doubling to center. Encinosa then imploded even further, advancing Zunino to third on a wild pitch, hitting Gushue on a 3-2 count, allowing Gushue (1-3, R, BB) to move to second and Zunino to score the game-winning run on another wild pitch, and finally walking Maddox (0-4, BB) before being pulled.

Florida crossed the plate twice more before the frame ended, scoring five runs to take an 8-5 lead. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (1-0) earned the victory in 1.0 inning of work after coming on in the seventh with two outs, and sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson picked up his first save by striking out the final batter of the game. Zunino (1-4, 2 RBI, BB) and Fontana (2-5, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) led the way for the Gators at the plate on Sunday, concluding an impressive three-game performance for each player.

Florida will begin a 10-game homestand spanning two weeks by hosting Florida Atlantic on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. The Gators will face six non-conference opponents (including Florida State in the first of three scattered games and the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition contest) before beginning their SEC slate against Vanderbilt on March 16.

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Tucker sets Florida career RBI record as Gators baseball earns first series sweep of 2012

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (7-1) cruised over the weekend to their first sweep of a three-game series in 2012, defeating the William & Mary Tribe (2-5) by a combined score of 14-5 from Friday-Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida did not trail for a single frame in the series’ first two games, scoring in the bottom of the first inning on Friday, adding a solo home run in the fifth by senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2-4, RBI, R) and rallying for two more runs in the eighth to pull away with a 4-1 victory. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-3, R, 2 SB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (0-3) added a RBI each, and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, R) and freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (2-3, R) also had impressive outings at the plate.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) picked up his first win of the season by striking out four and allowing just one earned run on five hits in 6.1 innings. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S2) came on in the seventh to close out the game, fanning four batters of his in the final 2.2 innings.

The Gators picked up where they left off the next day with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, 2 R, SB) hammering a solo shot in the bottom of the third. He became Florida’s all-time RBI leader with the dinger, amassing a school record 215 runs batted in over 205 games played (at that point). Tucker received a standing ovation from the home crowd, a highlight moment in the young season.

He continued his stellar outing by singling to lead off the bottom of the sixth, following it up by stealing second and eventually coming around to score thanks to a one-out double by Gushue (1-4, RBI, R), who earned his first start at first base. Turgeon (2-3, 2 RBI, R) concluded Florida’s three-run inning with a two-run homer, the first round-tripper of his career in orange and blue.

Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (1-0, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 2 K) pitched six innings of shutout ball but was relieved shortly after giving up a solo bomb in the top of the seventh. Senior RHP Greg Larson pitched the final 2.2 innings in relief, striking out three and walking just one to clinch the victory for Johnson.

Florida fell behind early on Sunday as sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson took the hill to start the game and looked a bit out of sorts. He gave up an earned run on two hits and a walk while only registering two outs before being pulled by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2-0) and freshman RHP Jonathon Crawford came on in his stead and combined to earn the win by striking out seven and walking two while allowing three hits and two earned runs in the final 5.0 innings of the weather-shortened game.

Tucker (1-3, RBI, R) and Fontana (1-2, 2 RBI, R, BB) each homered in the contest, and the Gators also got solid performances at the plate from freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2-2, 2 RBI, R) and junior 1B Austin Maddox (2-3, R).

UF faces a tough test next weekend, travelling to Coral Gables, FL to take on Miami in a three-game series from Friday-Sunday. Florida will follow that series up with an 11-game home stand, playing from March 6-20 in Gainesville.

Photo Credit: Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

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