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 back to .500 as bats go cold

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Playing an extended weekend schedule that likely felt like postseason play, Florida Gators baseball has likely come to the realization that seeing its season go beyond 56 games will be a difficult task going forward.

Florida (6-6), which hosted a double round-robin tournament featuring the Illinois Illini (6-6) and FGCU Eagles (6-4) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL from Thursday-Sunday, came away from the event winning just one of four games.

The event opened with a pitching duel between Gators freshman right-handed pitcher Logan Shore and Eagles righty Michael Murray. Shore (6.0 IP, 6 H, 7 K) had a strong outing but unluckily got the call to be on the mound during a contest in which his teammates were struggling mightily both at the plate and on the field.

Florida committed a season-high four errors, allowing two unearned runs to score, and failed to provide Shore with any run support. UF had its best shot to tie game in the bottom of the eighth with one out and runners on second and third but only managed one run – a two-out RBI single from freshman catcher Braden Mattson (1/3, RBI) – to fall 2-1 in the opener.

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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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Teddy’s Catch: Gators prepare for 2013 MLB Draft

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.

The 2013 season was a disappointing one for Florida baseball, but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan should be pleased about his team’s prospects going forward because there’s a promising future ahead considering the returning talent and the number one ranked recruiting class coming in. While the Gators will be returning plenty of players, the team will no longer have seniors Vickash Ramjit and Cody Dent in the fold, and chances are junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford will be gone, too. The future of righty Karsten Whitson, whether he returns for his redshirt junior season or decides to accept wherever he is going to be picked in the 2013 MLB Draft this week, remains to be seen. You can be sure O’Sullivan – and every Florida fan, for that matter – hopes Whitson returns for a fourth season and anchors a young rotation.

So now that you have a grasp on what Florida stands to lose as the offseason begins, let’s take a closer look at the players mentioned above and their draft prospects.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford
The only player guaranteed to be drafted out of this group, Crawford was seen as a potential top-10 pick coming off his sophomore year when he was hitting 97 mph regularly with a knockout slider and strong results in SEC and NCAA competition. Heck, he even threw a no-hitter last year that put scouts on notice had they not been looking at him previously. Unfortunately for Crawford, he failed to live up to the hype in 2013. Not only has his fastball velocity dropped to the low 90s, his command has raised some eyebrows about his future as a full-time, top-of-the-rotation starter.

Crawford started the year slowly, working more 90-92 mph pitches, but gradually built himself back up to the 90-95 range. His fastball has great sink and arm-side run, but he struggles to repeat his non-traditional delivery, which causes inconsistency with his pitch location. He throws too many balls over the heart of the plate and too many fastballs get yanked away from his arm-side (down and away to a right-handed hitter). His slider is above-average, not plus, with good tilt; he has the ability to throw it for strikes but relies on the pitch too often because he can’t locate the fastball.

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Gators baseball quickly eliminated from SEC Tournament, NCAA hopes in jeopardy

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Coming off losing three of their last four regular season games, eight-seed Florida Gators baseball (29-28) went one-and-out in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament, losing 6-3 to the nine-seed Texas A&M Aggies (31-25) in a single-elimination first round game on Tuesday.

After going on a winning streak in April where they won 11-of-12 games, the Gators looked to have significantly improved their chances of participating in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida has not done itself any favors since, losing nine of its last 13 games and putting its NCAA Tournament hopes in the hands of the selection committee, which must weigh UF’s difficult schedule against its disappointing finish to the season.

The Gators got the start they were looking for on Tuesday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Florida first got on the board without a hit as sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer (0/4, R) reached on an error, advanced to second on a balk, moved up to third on a failed pick-off attempt and scored on a ground out by senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/4, RBI). The Gators got their second run of the inning off three singles with sophomore designated hitter Zack Powers (1/4, R) crossing the plate when senior shortstop Cody Dent (1/2, RBI) knocked him home.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (6.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R [4 ER], BB, 6 K) started smooth by retiring the first 10 batters he faced but ran into trouble in the middle innings Aggies third baseman Hunter Melton tilted the score 3-2 in Texas A&M’s favor with a three-run homer in the fourth inning.

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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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Teddy’s Catch: Freshmen need to learn on the fly

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 now provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

The Florida baseball team finds itself in the midst of a five-game losing streak, which includes being swept at home by Florida Gulf Coast and bookending that series with losses to Georgia Southern and North Florida. Only nine games into the season, it is probably too early to push the panic button as fans but from a scout’s point of view, I guarantee you the coaches have already slammed that button.

The first big blow suffered by the Gators came before the season even started when junior right-hander Karsten Whitson went down with what was at first called “shoulder fatigue.” That fatigue turned into minor surgery for Whitson and he is now out for the season, dealing a major blow to Florida’s starting rotation. He and classmate RHP Jonathon Crawford were poised to be one of the top one-two pitching duos in the nation. Most scouts have both players at the top of their draft boards with almost all of them believing they will be off the board in the first two rounds.

While the Gators have had freshman pitchers play well in the past, it is not an easy task to expect what is basically a high school student to come in and pitch on weekends, especially against top-notch teams like those Florida will face in Southeastern Conference play. It was a sense of comfort for the Gators that they had two potential first-round picks at the top of their rotation. Now that one of them has gone down, team morale is suffering (as is Whitson’s draft stock).

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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Mike Zunino named 2011 SEC Player of the Year; seven teammates awarded All-SEC honors

The team’s leader in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage, Florida Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino was named the 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches on Tuesday.

He is the second University of Florida baseball player to ever win the award. Former Gators first baseman Matt LaPorta captured the honor in 2005 and 2007.

A terror at the plate for Florida all season, Zunino leads the conference in home runs (15), RBI (59), runs scored (62) and total bases (141); he is second in the SEC in batting average (.383, -.002) and slugging percentage (.701, -.008). Zunino is also tied for third in doubles (19), places fifth in on-base percentage (.455) and is tied for sixth in hits (77).

He was named to the 2011 All-SEC First Team alongside teammates junior outfielder Preston Tucker and sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson. Also on the team are Vanderbilt’s Aaron Westlake, Tony Kemp and Grayson Garvin; South Carolina’s Scott Wingo, Michael Roth and Matt Price; Kentucky’s Casey McElroy; LSU’s Mikie Mahtook; and Auburn’s Casey McElroy.

His Gators teammates – senior second baseman Josh Adams, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall – were placed on the All-SEC Second Team. RHP Karsten Whitson and third baseman Zack Powers were honored on the 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team, and both Zunino and Fontana earned spots on the 2011 SEC All-Defensive Team.

It is the first time in UF history that student-athletes representing the school have won SEC Player of the Year in baseball and softball (senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder). Florida now has 11 SEC Players of the Year for 2010-11 also including Chandler Parsons (men’s basketball), Bank Vongvanij (men’s golf), Christian Taylor (men’s indoor track & field), Will Claye (men’s outdoor track & field), Conor Dwyer (men’s swimming), Monica Dodson (women’s diving), Kathryn Williamson (women’s soccer), Allie Will (women’s tennis) and Kelly Murphy (volleyball). Gators lacrosse’s Kitty Cullen also won ALC Player of the Year.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner/Icon SMI

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