FOUR BITS: baseball, Tebow, Watkins, Mincey

1 » No. 18 Florida Gators baseball (24-13) smacked the ball around Tuesday on its way to a 7-1 victory and regular-season series win over the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (24-14) at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, FL. The Gators were embarrassed in a Gainesville, FL round robin from Feb. 27-March 2, splitting a pair of games with the Eagles, but came up big Tuesday. Junior catcher Taylor Gushue (3/4, 2 RBI, R) was one of six Florida players to drive in a run, and sophomore shortstop Richie Martin (3/5, RBI, 2 R) did his job in the batter’s box as well. UF used four pitchers to seal the deal against FGCU with junior right-hander Ryan Harris (2.0 IP, H) earning the start and victory. Freshman lefty Kirby Snead (4.0 IP, H, K) ate up the most innings, and freshman RHP Shaun Anderson (1.0 IP) closed the door. The Gators have now won three-straight and four of their last five games.

2 » Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow last week spoke at the Mississippi Coliseum as part of a fundraiser to help support Afghanistan war veteran CJ Stewart. Not only did Tebow himself pledge $10,000 and get four more audience members to do the same – meeting Stewart’s $100,000 goal – he also fielded questions about his life and football. Tebow said he hopes people won’t “talk about football when they talk about me in 50 years,” preferring his legacy to be “how I cared about people, and that I did something to make their lives better.” Seeing as he was in Mississippi, he also discussed UF’s loss to Ole Miss in 2008. “I consider that one of our biggest blessings,” he said, according to The Clarion Ledger. “We were a very talented team, but we needed more motivation. We went to practice in full pads that Sunday, and it was the most intense practice I’ve ever been in. So, thank you very much, Ole Miss.”

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No. 25 Florida baseball bests No. 4 South Carolina in dramatic fashion; Gators lead SEC East race

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 25 Florida Gators baseball (23-13, 9-6 SEC) sits atop the Southeastern Conference East division after coming through big over the weekend by taking two of three from the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (28-7, 8-5) in dramatic fashion on the road at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, SC.

Florida jumped out to a 1-0 advantage in the first inning of the series opener, but it was the only run it could muster against South Carolina lefty Jordan Montgomery, who struck out eight batters. A one-out walk issued in the fifth by UF freshman right-handed pitcher Logan Shore (7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, BB, 2 K) snowballed into a three-run inning for USC, which added an insurance run in the seventh and held on for the 4-1 victory.

The Gamecocks looked to be on their way to securing a series win during game two on Saturday, but the Gators turned things around in a major way with just six outs to go.

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Florida baseball drops two of three at Miami

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 20 Florida Gators baseball (5-3) fell short on the road against the No. 17 Miami Hurricanes (4-3) over the weekend, dropping the annual three-game series between the in-state rivals but ultimately avoiding a sweep on Sunday at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, FL.

The Gators opened things up Friday night with their second loss of the season, dropping the season opener 6-4 despite scoring three runs in the first inning.

Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (4.0 IP, 5 H, BB, 3 K) took the loss for Florida, struggling after retiring the side in order and leaving the first inning with a three-run lead. Poyner (1-1) threw 71 pitches in the 6-4 loss and gave up home runs to Miami right fielder Willie Abreu in the third and center fielder Dale Carey in the fifth.

“We just have to get a better start out of our starting pitcher,” remarked head coach Kevin O’Sullivan after the loss.

Inside the batter’s box, junior catcher Taylor Gushue (4/4, RBI, 2 R) extended his hitting streak to six games. The four-hit game by Gushue was a career-best.

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Florida baseball wins season-opening series

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Winning their season-opening series could have been easier for the No. 20/23 Florida Gators, but coming out of the weekend with a 2-1 record was nevertheless a good start for a young squad that fought to the finish over the last three days.

Florida bookended the weekend with victories over the Maryland Terrapins (1-2) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, kicking things off with a 4-0 shutout Friday on opening night in the only game of the series that was televised.

Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K) delivered a solid outing as the opening night starter. Primarily used as a reliever and midweek starter during his first two seasons with the Gators, the third-year lefty made his case for a rotation spot this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, posting a 1.71 ERA over seven starts with the Orleans Fire. His five strikeouts Friday were a career-high, and Florida’s offense did a good job making him feel comfortable with some early runs.

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2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

The unanimously top 25-ranked Florida Gators are hoping to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw the team go 29-27 in the regular season and get bounced out of both league and national postseason play without winning a single game.

UF also lost five players to the 2014 MLB Draft – including three top pitchers – and enters 2014 with a young but talented roster filled with up-and-coming prospects.

In the offseason, seventh-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan signed a top-notch 2014 recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. The 15-member class makes up 43 percent of Florida’s roster, which features two fourth-year players (redshirt juniors) but not a single senior.

One year ago, the departures of nine MLB draft selections loomed large on opening night. This Friday, when UF begins the 2014 campaign with a three-game home series against Maryland, the most notable absence from the lineup card will be a current Gators outfielder in sophomore Harrison Bader. Bader was indefinitely suspended after police suspected alcohol played a role in a Feb. 2 scooter accident. Without him, Florida lacks its best hitter (.312) and one of only four designated outfielders.

Here’s what O’Sullivan (252-132) has to work with as the Gators open the 2014 campaign looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointments and begin moving in the right direction toward another College World Series berth.

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Florida baseball falters, drops series to Auburn

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

With the season is winding down, Florida Gators baseball (28-25, 13-14 SEC) is limping to the finish line rather than charging towards it the way head coach Kevin O’Sullivan had envisioned. UF dropped two of three games to the Auburn Tigers (31-20, 11-16 SEC) in its last home series of the regular season and once again fell below .500 in conference play. Florida has now come up short in six of its last seven Southeastern Conference contests, dropping back-to-back series to LSU and AU.

The Gators struggled to hit consistently all weekend, falling behind early in all three games. In Friday’s series opener, the Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 lead, notching three runs apiece in the fourth and fifth innings. A four-run seventh helped UF get back in the game but ultimately did not change the outcome as AU held on for a 7-4 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) did not have his best stuff in the series opener and Auburn took advantage. O’Sullivan yanked Crawford early, hoping his bullpen could tame the Tigers, but the move did not work.

AU busted the game open, scoring three more runs to extend its lead to 6-0. Florida fought back, but the deficit proved to be too much. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/5, RBI) and freshmen outfielders Harrison Bader (1/4, RBI, R) and Richie Martin (1/4, RBI, BB) knocked runners home in UF’s four-run seventh, but the Tigers kept the Gators off the board in the other eight innings.

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Florida baseball sweeps No. 8 South Carolina; Gators above .500 for first time since Feb. 20

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

It has been a season of ups and downs for Florida Gators baseball (19-18, 8-7 SEC), but the home team was able to end the week on a major high note by completing a three-game sweep of the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The series sweep was Florida’s first of the season. Saturday’s victory pushed the Gators above .500 for the first time since Feb. 20 while simultaneously extending their winning streak to five games including four-in-a-row over top-10 ranked opponents.

Following a big come-from-behind 4-3 victory over No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday in Tallahassee, FL, Florida started its series against South Carolina on Thursday with its ace – junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford – on the mound.

Crawford (2-5) carried his team with a solid 6.2-inning outing in which he allowed only two runs to help UF pick up the 3-2 victory.

It was Crawford’s second longest outing of the season and an indication that he may finally be ready to return to his role as staff ace. Crawford was bumped from the No. 1 spot in the rotation after he struggled in non-conference play, but he has won his last two home SEC starts and looks to be the Gators’ top starter going forward.

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Teddy’s Catch: Glimmer of hope for UF baseball

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now attending law school after serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets last season. He joined OGGOA in 2012 as a baseball columnist who will continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

Just a few weeks into the 2013 college baseball season, most fans probably decided to stop following Florida because, let’s face it, the team was playing poorly. While the Gators are still under .500, Florida captured their its SEC series of the year last weekend against a very talented Ole Miss club that was ranked No. 11 going into the series. These past few games have shown signs of improvement from a young and inexperienced team. Though those improvements may not foreshadow a deep postseason run, they do at least shows signs of a bright future.

The Gators have improved in almost every area of the game, but this team is still making too many mental errors, even for a young squad. Against Florida State, the Seminoles loaded the bases with nobody out and Florida was able to respond with two quick outs while keeping the FSU off the scoreboard. Before they could get the third out though, UF walked a run in. While the result is acceptable (one run scored after having the bases loaded with no outs), coaches and scouts notice things like this. Mental toughness is a huge aspect of what they look at when evaluating pitchers for the draft. The good news is that many of these pitchers are young and have another year or two to mature and grow both physically and mentally.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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