Florida softball wins six-straight to open season

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 3 Florida Gators opened up the 2014 season with a clean sweep of the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament in Tampa, FL, winning six games over four days including a thriller over a ranked opponent.

Florida (6-0) outscored its competitors 40-13 over the weekend as junior right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger, who was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week on Monday, shined by tossing her first-career no-hitter in the event’s penultimate matchup.

Starting off the season with a win for the eighth time in head coach Tim Walton’s nine-year tenure, the Gators topped the South Florida Bulls in their opening game. Senior RHP Hanna Rogers pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while recording six strikeouts. UF literally weathered the storm – a 25 minute rain delay – with its bats coming alive in the fourth inning.

Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz led the way offensively with a bases-clearing three-RBI single in the fourth inning, which was part of a seven-run fourth for Florida. The Gators, which won 10-3, also benefited from some free passes. “We had 11 walks and five hit-by-pitches – that’s 16 free bases,” said Walton. “We had really solid plate discipline.”

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2014 Florida softball primer: Is this the year?

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Spring is here and No. 3/4 Florida Gators softball is set to kick off the 2014 season by playing six games in four days as part of the Wilson-Demarini Tournament in Tampa, FL.

The Gators open as the preseason favorite to with the Southeastern Conference title, according to the league’s coaches, receiving 10 of 13 first-place votes.

Florida hopes to improve successful 2013 season which saw it finish 58-9 on the year and advance as far as the semifinals of bracket play in the 2013 Women’s College World Series. While the Gators once again fell short in Oklahoma City, OK, they return the core of last year’s squad and possess the veteran leadership to make another deep postseason run, one which could result in program’s first-ever national title despite five WCWS appearances in the last six seasons.

KEY DEPARTURES

Outfielder Kelsey Horton: The 2012 Capital One All-American, Horton was a mainstay in the outfield for Florida, starting 65 games while also serving as a team captain. She was a steady offensive presence in the middle of the lineup, finishing the 2013 season batting .262 (slugging .524) with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. While Horton’s ability to impact the team on the field will be missed, her presence in the locker room and dugout might be the greatest loss for the Gators.

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Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

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FOUR BITS: Wambach, Horschel, Zunino, Moultrie

1 » Former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach scored her 156th career international goal on a penalty kick in stoppage time on Saturday as the U.S. Women’s National Team defeated Korea Republic 4-1 in a friendly. Wambach moves within two goals of former teammate Mia Hamm, whose 158 international goals are a worldwide record for either gender. The United States and Korea will square off again on Thursday as Wambach looks to close the gap even further.

2 » Former Gators golfer Billy Horschel, who entered the 2013 U.S. Open ranked fourth on the FedEx Cup standings, is tied for fifth at +1 entering Sunday’s fourth and final round at Merion in Ardmore, PA. Horschel shot a 67 on Friday, becoming the first player in at least 20 years to hit the green on all 18 holes in a U.S. Open event. He followed his dominant performance with a 72 on Saturday and is now two shots back of leader Phil Mickelson (-1). Horschel hopes to win his first professional major in style as he will be donning these pants on Sunday (2:47 p.m. tee time).

Check out two more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Wambach, Horschel, Zunino, Moultrie

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No. 4 Texas blanks No. 2 Florida 3-0, eliminating Gators from Women’s College World Series

Forced to take the field less than 13 hours after last leaving it, No. 2 Florida Gators softball simply could not make contact with the ball, only registering one hit and striking out 14 times as the No. 4 Texas Longhorns picked up a 3-0 win in Sunday’s Women’s College World Series elimination game.

Florida (58-9) got most of its base runners on walks and hit batters as Texas (50-9) ace Blaire Luna kept the Gators at bay with her great command and terrific riseball, shutting out UF for the first and only time this season.

After getting a lead-off batter on board and in scoring position for the third-straight inning, the Longhorns finally delivered in the top of the third. With one down and runners on first and second, Kim Bruins lifted a ball just over the left field fence and off the outstretched glove of Gators sophomore left fielder Brianna Little for a three-run homer that provided Texas an early 3-0 advantage.

Florida responded by loading the bases in the bottom frame on a walk and two batters being hit by pitches, but sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger stranded all three of her teammates by striking out on a full count to end the inning.

Luna no-hit the Gators for 3.1 innings until freshman catcher Taylore Fuller finally smacked a single down the left field line. Florida wound up with two down and runners on first and second but left the inning without plating a run as sophomore pinch hitter Bailey Castro registered UF’s ninth strikeout in the first four innings.

Junior right-hander Hannah Rogers (7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) allowed too many lead-off batters on but only struggled mightily in the top of the third. Luna (7.0 IP, 1 H, 5 BB, 14 K) simply out-pitched her as the Gators swung at too many pitches outside and off the plate. UF struck out 39 times during 29 innings of WCWS play (three games), an average of 1.34 times per inning.

Florida concludes the 2013 season by exceeding everyone’s expectations. The Gators swept the Southeastern Conference Championships (regular-season, tournament) and were ranked as a top-five team in the nation over their final 62 games of the 2013 campaign. UF advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th-straight season and moved on to the WCWS for the fifth time in the last six years.

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No. 2 Florida softball eliminates No. 14 Nebraska from WCWS with 9-8 win in 15-inning thriller

The fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College World Series ended in celebration for No. 2 Florida Gators softball, which needed 15 innings and more than five hours to prevail 9-8 and eliminate the No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers from the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida (58-8) lost two separate leads on Saturday before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th, exactly the number it needed to take down Nebraska (45-16) and continue its storybook season.

The Gators flashed offense by loading the bases in the third but did not score until the fifth, when UF posted all six of the runs it plated during regulation. An incredible bottom of the seventh kept the Cornhuskers in the game, and a run by each team in the 10th inning extended Saturday’s contest even further.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (8.0 IP, 11 H, 7 R [6 ER], 3 BB, K) – two days after lasting less than an inning in Florida’s WCWS opener – showed a renewed focus for the first six innings but unraveled in the final frame of regulation. She returned in the 15th and gave up another run but held on for the save. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 BB, 4 K) was terrific in innings 8-14, keeping the Gators in the contest and picking up the victory.

Continue Reading » No. 2 Florida softball eliminates No. 14 Nebraska from WCWS with 9-8 win in 15-inning thriller

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Tennessee blasts Florida 9-2 in WCWS opener

No. 2 Florida Gators softball (57-8) is now one loss away from elimination in the Women’s College World Series portion of the 2013 NCAA Tournament after the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (50-10) took it to the home team early and often, pulling away for a dominant 9-2 victory in Thursday’s opening-round game.

Florida, which edged Tennessee two games to one during a regular-season series that consisted of three-straight extra-inning affairs, struggled with its pitching in the early going and was never able to recover.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers got the start for the Gators but immediately loaded the bases as she had trouble finding the strike zone. Rogers (0.1 IP, H, 3 ER, 3 BB) walked two and gave up a single to load the bases before walking home the Volunteers’ first run of the game and putting her team in a 1-0 hole.

Florida head coach Tim Walton pulled Rogers for sophomore Lauren Haeger, who gave up a two-run double to Melissa Brown that fronted Tennessee a 3-0 lead.

Continue Reading » Tennessee blasts Florida 9-2 in WCWS opener

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Gators sweep SEC All-Sports awards yet again

Any doubt that the University of Florida had the dominant athletics program in the Southeastern Conference during the 2012-13 school year was put to rest Monday as the university was named the SEC All-Sports Tropy champion for the fifth-straight season by the Halifax Media Group. Sweeping all three titles – overall, men’s and women’s – the Florida Gators won by staggering numbers in each category, literally dominating the competition.

Team (OVERALL)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida160.5.7230
No. 2 Georgia144.0.6372
No. 3 Texas A&M137.0.6284
Team (MEN'S)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida70.5.6651
No. 2 Alabama59.0.5566
No. 3 Georgia58.5.5519
Team (WOMEN'S)Total PointsScore
No. 1 Florida90.7759
No. 2 Tennessee79.7315
No. 3 Texas A&M80.5.7188

Florida is the only school to sweep all three crowns in a single season, accomplishing the feat for the 13th time, sixth in the last seven years and fifth-in-a-row (2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13). UF has now won 23 overall titles (including seven-straight), 20 women’s titles and 17 men’s titles.

All 16 of the Gators’ sports (nine women’s, seven men’s) were counted with cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field combined into one unit per gender. (The lacrosse program competes in the American Lacrosse Conference.) Scoring was adjusted this year by the Halifax Media Group to account for the two teams (Missouri, Texas A&M) and one sport (equestrian) added to the conference this season.

Florida matched a school and league record by winning eight SEC titles over this period – basketball, gymnastics, men’s swimming, soccer, softball, volleyball, women’s cross country and women’s tennis – compared to three in 2011-12. UF soccer and women’s tennis each captured both the regular season and tournament championships.

The Gators lead the SEC with 213 all-time team titles.

The SEC All-Sports titles were previously awarded by The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group from 1994-95 to 2010-11.

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