Florida softball captures SEC regular-season title

No. 2/3 Florida Gators softball did not have to take the field on Sunday to register a big victory. When the Southeastern Conference regular season slate concluded with five games on Sunday, Florida (49-7, 18-6 SEC) stood above the pack as the winner of the regular-season 2013 SEC Championship.

Gators softball claimed the fourth regular-season SEC title in program history, the first since winning back-to-back championships in 2008-09, despite being picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches’ polls. Florida was also the only team in the conference to win all eight series in which it competed over the course of the campaign.

Softball’s SEC crown is the eighth for the Gators in the 2012-13 season (basketball, gymnastics, men’s swimming, soccer, volleyball, women’s cross country, women’s tennis), matching both a school and league record. Florida has also captured two SEC Tournament titles (soccer, women’s tennis) as well as the American Lacrosse Conference regular-season championship.

On Sunday, the Gators learned that they will be the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 SEC Tournament. Florida receives a first-round bye before facing the winner of No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 9 Texas A&M on May 9 at 11 a.m. live on ESPNU.

The tournament will continue on Friday (semifinals) and Saturday (championship game). Gators softball has not won an SEC Tournament title since 2008-09.

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SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.

On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

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FOUR BITS: swimming, WNIT, softball, lacrosse

1 » The Florida Gators swimming program won its second national title of the season on Friday when the men’s 800 Meter Freestyle Relay team took down the competition at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, IN. Freshman Pawel Werner, redshirt junior Sebastien Rousseau, junior Marcin Cieslak and sophomore Dan Wallace swam the race in a school-record time of 6:13.27 to bring home the title for the second time in the last three seasons. A week earlier on March 22, junior Elizabeth Beisel captured the NCAA title in the 400 Meter Individual Medley in 4:00.49. It was her second individual national title (first in the event) as she previously won the 200 Meter Backstroke in 2012. The Gators men’s and women’s swimming programs each finished in sixth place overall.

2 » Florida women’s basketball certainly did not have a successful regular season, but head coach Amanda Butler’s squad has been playing with renewed intensity in the 2013 Women’s NIT and advanced to the Final Four of the event over the weekend with an 85-80 victory over the James Madison Dukes (25-11) in Harrisonburg, VA. The Gators (22-14), which trailed by one with 1:06 to play, jumped ahead on a jumper by freshman guard January Miller with 53 seconds remaining and never lost the lead again. Junior G Jaterra Bonds hit four free throws down the stretch to extend Florida’s lead and help the team move on in the tournament. Freshman forward Sidney Moss led the way for UF with a game-high 27 points, and Bonds added 20 of her own including the game-clinching free throws.

Florida is in the semifinals of a postseason tournament for just the second time in program history (first since 2000) and are two victories away from their first-ever title. The Gators will next take on Drexel on April 3 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, PA.

3 » No. 3 Florida softball (35-3, 10-2 SEC) concluded the month of March on Sunday by picking up a road series win over the Ole Miss Rebels (19-21, 1-11 SEC) in Oxford, MS and extending their winning streak to nine games. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (20-2) threw a pair of complete games on Friday and Sunday morning, giving up six hits and one earned run while striking out 11. Rogers also earned her second save of the season in the second half of Sunday’s double-header, pitching three innings in relief of sophomore RHP Alyssa Bache (6-0). The Gators’ hitting was well-rounded throughout the weekend with junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft, senior right fielder Kelsey Horton, sophomore left fielder Briana Little, freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz and sophomore second baseman Jessica Damico reach registering at least one multi-RBI outing.

4 » No. 2 Florida lacrosse (13-1, 1-1 ALC) is undefeated no longer as it suffered a tough upset loss at the hands of the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0 ALC) while on the road in State College, PA. The Gators fell 16-11 on Saturday as the Nittany Lions battled back from a three-goal first-half deficit to outscore the visitors 10-2 in the second half and pull off the victory. Florida will close out the regular season in April and next takes on Johns Hopkins on April 6 at noon in Gainesville, FL.

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One night, two late game-winners for Gators

Florida women’s basketball was facing elimination from the 2013 Women’s NIT while Gators softball was about to fall to a heated rival when a late-game swish of the net and an extra-inning crack of the bat turned the fortunes of the respective teams in a pair of nail-biter situations Wednesday evening.

Though Florida women’s basketball did not receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the Gators have been fighting for their lives on the road. After taking down Florida International 75-68 in first-round action last Thursday, UF earned a dominant 85-53 victory over Winthrop on Monday to advance to the WNIT round of 16.

On Wednesday, the Gators (21-14) took on the Charlotte 49ers (26-6) and were engaged in an absolute dogfight. Florida coughed up its lead with less than six minutes to play and found itself in a four-point hole with possession and 1:05 remaining.

Just 13 seconds into the possession, freshman guard January Miller drained a three-pointer with 52 seconds left to cut the Gators’ deficit to one. On the ensuing possession, freshman forward Christin Mercer swiped the ball from Charlotte’s Ny Hammonds and junior G Jaterra Bonds got fouled on a shot attempt.

At the line with a chance to go ahead by a point with 20 seconds remaining, Bonds made the first free throw but missed the second. Suddenly, senior F Jennifer George swooped in for the rebound and head coach Amanda Butler called a 30-second timeout with 15.6 seconds remaining.

Continue Reading » One night, two late game-winners for Gators

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16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Though President Barack Obama‘s official 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket will be released on Wednesday at 9 a.m. on ESPN, the network released his Final Four late Tuesday night. President Obama chose the Florida Gators to win the South Region and also has Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State advancing to the Final Four.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had a hellacious experience during his team’s game on Monday evening. With 5.7 seconds left in overtime and Chicago trailing Denver by a single point, Noah got in perfect position underneath the basket and tipped in what otherwise would have been a missed shot. Though Noah scored the apparent game-winner and the referees did not call interference on the play, they checked the replay and eventually reversed their decision. The problem? Referees are only allowed to use replay to review on-court calls of interference, not to check on non-calls. Take a look at the video below to see what transpired on Monday.

Read 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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TWO BITS: Young to NBA? Brown off ESPN?

1 » When Florida Gators junior center Patric Young climbed the ladder and snipped his piece of Florida’s 2013 SEC Championship on Wednesday evening in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, fans in attendance serenaded him with chants of, “One more year!” Asked after the game if he does indeed plan on remaining in Gainesville, FL for his senior season, Young said he is unsure at this point. “[The fans] are thinking about it, but I’m not thinking about it too much,” said Young, according to The Gainesville Sun. “You know I love being here. There’s no better program in America. I love playing for coach [Billy] Donovan. I’m going to do what’s best for me and my family and whatever makes me happy, honestly.” Young is currently projected to be a mid-to-late second-round selection by numerous NBA Draft analysts. His stock has actually dropped over the last two years as scouts have not seen him progress as much as they would prefer. Sticking with the Gators and putting the finishing touches on his game – improving his mid-range jump shot, becoming a more consistent rebounder, providing a sustained level of energy – could help him in the long run.

2 » According to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitch, who received confirmation Wednesday from the network, ESPN sideline reporter Jenn Brown has decided to leave the company. “Jenn Brown is no longer working for ESPN,” spokesman Mike Humes told SI. “We wish her well.” Brown first began working for ESPN in 2006 and signed full-time with the company in 2010. She had her workload increase with the departure of Erin Andrews but appears to have been one-upped by Samantha Ponder, who took some of the higher profile network assignments that Brown may have been expecting to receive. Brown, a former Florida softball player, is the second member of the Gators family to leave the network in the last seven months after Andrews (a former UF dazzler) departed for FOX Sports in August. Former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer remains with the network as a college football analyst.

Extra BIT » FOX Sports Florida announced on Thursday that the Gators’ spring game, the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut previously set for April 6, will air live on Sun Sports at 1 p.m. Additionally, FSF will be airing the game live online at FOXSportsFlorida.com and replaying the contest on television the following Sunday and multiple times thereafter (check your local listings). Larry Vettel (play-by-play), Nat Moore (color commentary) and Brady Ackerman (sideline reporting) will be on the call.

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SIX BITS: NBA, baseball, Tebow, women, Gillespie

1 » Former Florida Gators currently playing in the NBA collectively had an interesting last three days. Centers Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls each started March off on fire after concluding February with a career game. Horford averaged 22 points, six rebounds, 3.5 assists and three steals in two weekend games, while Noah posted two more double-doubles and averages of 17.5 points, 10 boards, five assists and 2.5 blocks in his two games. Washington Wizards rookie guard Bradley Beal posted a career-high 29 points in a double-double performance (11 rebounds) on Friday but then went down hard on Sunday with a sprained left ankle that was so painful it reportedly caused him to blackout on the court. X-rays came back negative but Beal remains day-to-day for the Wizards. Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons capped off the weekend with an explosive performance Sunday, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-13 shooting (6-of-7 from downtown) in just 30 minutes. He became the first player since Larry Bird to score 30+ points, shoot 92 percent or better and attempt at least five three-pointers. Parsons, a second-round pick and second-year player, continues to be an incredibly valuable player for the Rockets; he has scored 20+ points in four-straight games.

2 » Entering the weekend unranked and losers of five-straight games to Georgia Southern, Florida Gulf Coast (three) and North Florida, Florida baseball first dropped its sixth-straight contest before rallying to win the final two games of its weekend series against the Miami Hurricanes. The Gators (5-7) handed the Canes (10-2) their first two losses on the season, toppling their foes with a four-run eighth inning on Saturday and a four-run third inning on Sunday. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (3/8, 4 RBI, R, 2 BB) led Florida offensively and helped both freshman right-handed reliever Jay Carmichael (1-1) and sophomore RHP Johnny Magliozzi (1-0) pick up their first victories of the season. UF plays five games in the next seven days including a home-and-home against Jacksonville and a three-game series at home against Indiana.

Read five more BITS of Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: NBA, baseball, Tebow, women, Gillespie

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