Florida baseball falls to Auburn in series finale

An opportunity to capture a share of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season slipped through the grasp of No. 3 Florida Gators baseball on Saturday after a game-ending double play thwarted the Gators’ chances. Florida (40-16, 18-12 SEC) fell 5-4 to the Auburn Tigers (30-26, 13-17 SEC) in their regular season finale after winning the first two games of the weekend series played at Plainsman Park in Auburn, AL.

After shutting out Auburn 6-0 on Thursday, UF routed their hosts 10-1 on Friday in a game that featured junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (6-4) giving up just two hits and two walks while allowing one run (unearned) and striking out seven in 7.0 innings. The Gators used a trio of homers from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (3/5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) and first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) to defeat the Tigers.

Florida hoped to receive some help from their SEC rivals to make them eligible for the league title and got just that on Friday as LSU toppled South Carolina 3-2 in 10 innings to open the door for the Gators. A victory by the UF would have netted them a share of the title, but Florida fell just short of that goal after outscoring AU 16-1 in the first two games of the series.

Sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R [1 ER], 2 BB, 2 K) took the hill for the Gators on Saturday and (with some help from his offense) earned a 4-2 lead before exiting the game. Florida rallied to score three runs in the top of the second and added another in the fourth to achieve that advantage.

UF led until the bottom of the seventh when Auburn took advantage of junior LHP Steven Rodriguez, who surprisingly struggled in his relief outing. Rodriguez (3-2) gave up three earned runs on three hits while striking out two in his one inning of work.

Down one run, the Gators rallied in the top of the ninth and had runners at the corners after Tucker singled to right and Zunino doubled to left. However, Johnson flied out to right field and Tucker was thrown out at the plate to end the game.

Despite losing the game and their opportunity at a conference regular season title, Florida received three solid outings from their starters and showed renewed offensive efficiency over the weekend by scoring 20 runs over the course of the three games.

The Gators will now move on to take part in the 2012 SEC Tournament from May 22-27 in Hoover, AL.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, gymnastics, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (30-8, 10-6 SEC) prevailed in a 16-inning marathon on Friday, defeating the Georgia Bulldogs (23-16, 7-9 SEC) 3-2 in the teams’ series opener at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida gave up a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth as Georgia tied things up but neither team posted a run in the following 16 frames. Finally the Gators ended the game by forcing the Bulldogs to commit the first error of the contest for either team. Junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved over to third thanks to a wild pitch. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana stepped up to the plate with hopes of driving Ramjit home but struck out swinging; however, Fontana’s third strike was dropped and an error by the catcher (a bad throw to first) allowed Ramjit to cross the plate. Right-handed relievers junior Austin Maddox and senior Greg Larson tossed the final 8.2 innings of the game. Maddox struck out five and allowed four hits in 5.2 innings, but Larson (5-0) earned the win after striking out two in three no-hit innings to conclude the contest. Friday’s game was the longest UF has participated in since 1996.

2 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics finished second in Session II of the 2012 NCAA Championships on Friday, advancing to the 2012 NCAA Super Six for a chance to win the first national title in team history. UF finished with a final score of 197.650, just 0.025 behind session winner Alabama. Freshman Kytra Hunter also captured the NCAA all-around individual national title – the first in team history – with a 39.725 in the event. The Gators will compete for the team national championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. (streamed live on ESPN3.com) and the rest of the individual titles on Sunday.

3 » No. 1-seed Florida women’s tennis (19-1) swept the No. 8-seed Tennessee Volunteers (14-12) in 2012 SEC Tournament second-round action on Friday, advancing to the semifinals where they will face No. 4-seed Ole Miss on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Gators easily won the doubles point and got three quick wins from sophomores No. 68 Alex Cercone, No. 51 Sofie Oyen and No. 121 Olivia Janowicz to end the contest relatively early. Florida will participate in the semifinals for the 25th time in school history, continuing their undefeated streak (25-0) in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The No. 4-seed Gators’ men’s tennis team (14-9) was not as fortunate, falling 4-1 to the No. 5-seed Ole Miss Rebels (13-7) and eliminating themselves from the event.

4 » No. 3/4 UF softball (40-5) swept a doubleheader against the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-22) on Friday and will look to close out the series with a victory in game three on Saturday. Florida won the early contest 7-4 behind the offense of freshman left fielder Briana Little (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) and closing ability of freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (S2, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 K). The Gators used the strong arm of freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-2, CG, 5.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 4 K) to help them coast to a 9-0 shutout victory in the evening game. Haeger (1/4, HR, R), freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2/3, 2 R, BB), sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/1, HR, R, 2 BB) and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1/3) contributed two RBIs each in the contest.

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida has hit a rough patch

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.

Here on Wednesday the Florida Gators baseball team still sits atop the recent top 25 polls as the No. 1 team in the country but UF is lucky that ranking came out on Monday because it certainly does not reflect their recent performance.

Florida began their long eight-game road trip by travelling to Columbia, SC for a three-game series in which they managed to squeak out two wins. Then it was down to Jacksonville, FL for a victory over another top-five team in Florida State and things were looking up for UF with a 3-1 start to their trek.

That was until the Gators travelled to Oxford, MS for their second away series in as many weeks. After giving up a run in the final inning of Sunday’s rubber match, Florida had managed only one win against a top-20 opponent in Ole Miss. This disappointing weekend, as you now know, was followed by what can only be described as a lackluster effort against North Florida in Jacksonville on Tuesday.

While the wheels may appear to be falling off, the last few games are relatively typical of any baseball team on the back end of a long road trip. Even though you get to return to Gainesville, FL between games/series, you are going to class and catching up on work that you’ve missed while trying to find some time to relax at home. Sometimes it is tough to wrench up the energy and motivation for what many consider to be “meaningless” mid-week games. This is not a valid excuse, but it happens to every team – college or professional. The four losses may be ugly even if three came to ranked opponents, but it is easy to forget that the Gators beat the Gamecocks on the road twice and followed that up by taking their second game of the season from the Seminoles.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida has hit a rough patch

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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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No. 1 Florida tops No. 4 FSU 4-1 in Jacksonville

A three-run sixth inning led No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (23-2) to a 4-1 victory over the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (21-4) in front of 10,751 fans on Tuesday night at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL. The win was Florida’s second against their in-state rival this season and clinched the three-game season series that is spread over 27 days in three separate locations.

The Gators defeated the Seminoles 9-2 on March 13 and will travel to Tallahassee, FL on April 10 to play the final game of the series.

Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson got the start for UF and began the contest on fire by allowing just one hit over his first three frames. However, Larson (3.2 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 4 K) encountered some resistance in the top of the fourth as a lead-off double came around due to some solid base running and questionable fielding decisions. He was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (1.2 IP, H, 2 BB, K), who got the final out of the inning to limit the damage.

Florida stranded pairs of runners on base in the fourth and fifth. Gibson struggled in the top of the sixth, giving up a leadoff walk and a single before throwing two passed balls and an intentional walk to load the bases. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi entered the unenviable situation but was able to force a grounder that the Gators’ defense turned into a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the inning unscathed.

The momentum appeared to swing at that point as Florida capitalized in the bottom of the inning. With two on and two out, freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, 2 RBI, R, BB) lofted a ball just over the center fielder’s head and legged it out into a triple to score both base runners. He reached home one batter later when junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (2/4, 2 RBI) hit a sharp single to right to give the Gators a 4-1 lead.

Magliozzi (3-0, 0.2 IP) earned the victory as junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 2 K) and junior closer Austin Maddox (S8, 1.0 IP, 2 K) shut the door on FSU.

The victory marked UF’s first over Florida State in Jacksonville since 2007. It was also the first time the Gators had defeated the Seminoles in a regular season series since 2009. Turgeon and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4) each registered their first career triples in the contest.

Florida now has 13 come-from-behind victories in 2012 as well as a 10-2 record against ranked opponents (7-1 against top-10 teams).

The Gators are now halfway through their eight-game road trip and will pick it up on Friday for the beginning of a three-game series against Ole Miss in Oxford, MS.

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Gators baseball takes series from Gamecocks

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (22-2, 5-1 SEC) traveled to Columbia, SC face the defending NCAA champion No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5 SEC) over the weekend and came away from the three-game series with a victory after coming from behind to win the final two contests.

Florida was hoping for a measure of revenge on South Carolina, a team that swept them in the finals of the College World Series one year ago. The Gators looked to have cracked under the pressure with a late loss on Thursday but fought back to earn victories on Friday and Saturday to take the series from their rival.

USC triumphed 9-3 in Thursday’s series opener, breaking out of a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and holding on for the victory. UF rallied for a run in the third but was lapped 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth after junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K) gave up a two-run homer. Florida rallied again to tie things up in the top of the sixth, and Randall exited with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom frame.

Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (3-1, 0.1 IP, H, ER, K) came on in relief; however, after getting out of the sixth, he gave up a single in the seventh that wound up scoring after junior RHP Austin Maddox replaced him and imploded. Maddox let Rodriguez’s batter to score along with three others, giving up two hits and two walks while allowing three earned runs. South Carolina piled it on with three more runs in the bottom of the eighth and held on for the win.

The Gators played an all-around better game on Friday, posting five runs in the opening frame and pinching lights out for the duration of the contest to earn an 8-2 victory. A three-run homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) was backed up immediately by a solo shot from junior LHP Brian Johnson (2/5, HR, 2 RBI, R), who made an impact before he even got a chance to take the mound. Johnson (4-0, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) stared the game off with three scoreless innings and added a second RBI in the top of the next inning to give his team a 6-0 lead.

Junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R), a replacement during the game, added a pair of homers (one in the sixth and another in the ninth), finishing the contest with the most impressive offensive performance of the evening. UF’s relievers closed things out by pitching three one-hit innings to clinch the win.

Saturday’s rubber match was a fight to the finish even though Florida never fell behind in the contest. The Gators got out to an early 3-0 lead thanks in part to a pair of solo homers in the third by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/5, HR, RBI, R) and Zunino (1/3, HR, 2 RBI, R). South Carolina erased that deficit over the following two innings, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (5.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) for three runs though only one was earned as the others were attributed to an error in the outfield.

Rodriguez (2.1 IP, BB, 3 K) replaced him in the sixth and Maddox (2-0, 1.2 IP, H, ER, BB, 2 K) came to close out the game even though he struggled once again by throwing two wild pitches in the eighth. Florida retook the lead in the top of the ninth after junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/5, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-RBI triple to right center, but Maddox allowed a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to bring the score to 5-4 before forcing two more outs to end the game.

The Gators’ school-record 18-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday, but Florida hopes that it has started a new one which they will look to keep up as they play a neutral site game against Florida State in Jacksonville, FL on Tuesday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on Sun Sports.

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FOUR BITS: O’Dome, summer, Bullard, awards

1 » Having just completed a $900,000 renovation that included – most notably – brand new seats in the lower bowl along with wider aisles and handrails – the Stephen C. O’Connell Center continues to remake itself year after year. Through the brand new seats will be more comfortable for students and season ticket holders, they still do not have seatbacks (an addition that would have cost the arena nearly 1,000 seats, according to O’Dome director Lynda Reinhart). As it stands now, the capacity has been reduced by approximately 200 seats and is now somewhere around 11,800, according to The Gainesville Sun. The paper also reports that “the men’s basketball practice courts inside the arena were re-surfaced” and “gate signs were re-numbered and work was done on the pool deck.” Financing for the project came directly from the arena’s reserve with no additional contributions needed.

2 » Three Florida Gators baseball players – redshirt junior first baseman Vicksah Ramjit, senior infielder Jeff Moyer and redshirt freshman INF Alex Freedman will be playing for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League over the summer. Freedman, who redshirted the 2010-11 season, has been with the team all summer; Ramjit and Moyer joined this week. All three will be back in Orange & Blue next year.

3 » As OGGOA has reported numerous times, former Gators defensive lineman Thaddeus Bullard continues to work toward being a full-time WWE wrestler as he competes with Florida Championship Wrestling, the organization’s primary developmental territory. On Friday, Bullard (who wrestles as Titus O’Neil) will return to Gainesville, FL for a FCW show at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multipurpose Center.

4 » Florida redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard and junior tackle Xavier Nixon were both named to the 2011 Outland Trophy Watch List on Friday. The Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best interior lineman in college football, has never been awarded to a Gators player. The closest one has come to winning it was when tackle Jason Odom finished in the top three alongside Ohio State’s Orlando Pace and UCLA’s Jonathan Ogden (the award’s winner) in 1995. Howard was also named to the watch list for the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, an award presented to the country’s top defensive player.

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Tucker’s three-run blast powers Gators past Bulldogs 8-6 and into College World Series

It took a day longer than they may have liked, but No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (50-17) advanced to its second-straight College World Series on Sunday with a come-from-behind 8-6 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (38-25) in game three of the Super Regionals at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators will compete at the CWS in Omaha, NE in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history, using a three-run homer by junior right fielder Preston Tucker in the seventh to take back a lost lead and propel themselves to victory. UF hit five bombs Sunday, setting a season-high for home runs in a single game as part of their win.

Florida jumped on Mississippi State early, hitting three home runs in the first two innings and taking an early 4-0 lead. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino got things started by cranking a solo shot with two outs in the first. Junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott lined a two-run homer over the left field wall in the second and the very next batter, redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB), followed suit with the first dinger of his college career.

Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis got the start for the Gators and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced through three innings. Things fell apart for him in the fourth after he allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning. With no outs, Bulldogs second baseman Nick Vickerson tagged Panteliodis for a three-run bomb to left-center, cutting Florida’s big lead to 4-3.

Pulled after allowing the tying run on in the fifth, Panteliodis (4.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H) was substituted for with junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson, who let the runner advance to second on a wild pitch but got out of the inning unscathed. Larson was pulled just one inning later after getting Vickerson to ground out but allowing the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base via consecutive singles.

At that point Larson (IP, 2 H, K) was replaced by junior LHP Nick Maronde (1.1 IP, ER, H, K), who got out of the sixth but left in the seventh after giving up a two-out double. Junior RHP Tommy Toledo looked to save the day but struggled mightily at first, walking the first batter on four-straight pitches and allowing Vickerson to hit a liner to right to tie the game 4-4. He then gave up a bases loaded single to left fielder Brent Brownlee, who plated two more and put Mississippi State ahead 6-4 on six unanswered runs.

The Gators started the bottom of the inning with back-to-back walks before Bulldogs closer Caleb King was called upon to get Zunino out. Zunino (2-4, HR, RBI, R) instead threw down a sacrifice bunt to place the game-tying run on second with one out. Faced with a 3-1 count, Tucker (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) powered the ball to deep center field, hitting a go-ahead three-run homer to give Florida a 7-6 lead.

Toledo sat down all three batters he faced in the top of the eighth, sending the game into the bottom of the inning where Pigott (3-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) hit his second homer of the afternoon to put the Gators ahead 8-6 with just three outs to go. Toledo (6-3) returned for the ninth and retired the side again, forcing Vickerson to fly out to center for the final out of the game. He finished the contest with 2.1 strong innings and threw the final seven outs of the game after giving up two earned runs on two hits with two walks.

Panteliodis set a school record with his sixth NCAA Tournament start, and senior second baseman Josh Adams set another for most games played in a Florida uniform (248). With his three-run homer, Tucker joined the school’s three-man 200 RBI club (Brad Wilkerson, Matt LaPorta) and proved how dangerous he is behind Zunino.

The 65th College World Series is set to begin on June 18 with the Gators holding the No. 2 overall seed as long as top-seed Virginia advances.

 

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