Sunday June 28, 2015 Craybas reflects on Serena upset, Frazier a summer Warrior, more Gators tidbits
Updated: 10:57am, June 28
Welcome to Carter's Corner!
Updated: 10:57am, June 28
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Hey folks, hope everyone is having a good summer weekend. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Meanwhile, here is a look at fresh links from around the Internet of interest to Florida fans:
--Former Gators guard Michael Frazier II and forward Chris Walker went undrafted in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Frazier has landed a spot on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors’ summer-league team. Frazier will have good company in competing for a spot on Golden State’s roster in Chasson Randle, Stanford’s all-time leading scorer.
--A decade later, former Gators standout Jill Craybas treasures her upset of Serena Williams at Wimbledon writes Melissa Isaacson of ESPNW.com.
--Former UF player Abby Wambach played only four minutes in the USNWT’s win over China on Friday in the World Cup, but she contributed loudly writes Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times.
--Longtime Gators broadcaster Larry Vettel signed off at WRUF on Thursday afternoon. Vettel is relocating to New York City and made it clear he is not retiring, just exploring new challenges. Here is a Q&A with Vettel via the Stuart News from three summers ago that discusses his more-than-30-year career in Gainesville.
Note: Vettel references legendary UF alum Red Barber’s book “The Broadcasters,” which I happened across in Jackson Street Booksellers in Omaha during Florida’s trip to the College World Series and added to my library.
--The Gators were knocked out of the CWS by eventual national champion, but don’t be surprised if Florida returns next season writes Teddy Cahill of Baseball America.
--Billy Donovan sees a bright future for former Kentucky big man Dakari Johnson in Oklahoma City writes the Associated Press via BostonHerald.com.
Updated: 6:28pm, June 24
“I don’t know whether you know it, but baseball’s appeal is decimal points. Baseball fans pay more attention to numbers than CPAs.” – Late Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray
“Statistics are about as interesting as first base coaches.’’ – Former big-league pitcher and “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Regardless of which view you prefer, there is no doubt baseball is a game of failure, inches and, yes, numbers. For more on the topic read “The Numbers Game” by Alan Schwarz.
The college baseball season ends tonight with either Vanderbilt or Virginia being crowned national champion in Omaha.
The Gators’ stay in Omaha ended late Saturday night with a 5-4 loss to the Cavaliers. Speaking of numbers, the Cavaliers finished 15-15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season and are now one victory away from a championship.
As one is apt to hear around the ballpark, “that’s baseball.”
Before we close the book completely on the 2015 season, here are some interesting tidbits gleaned from the Gators’ end-of-season statistics book:
-- Senior 3B Josh Tobias led the team in hitting with a .355 average, 86 points above his career average entering the season. Tobias’ turnaround raised his final UF career average to .301, an impressive feat for a player who earned playing time most of his career because of his glove.
-- Freshman C/DH JJ Schwarz hit .491 (28-for-57) in 15 postseason games with five doubles, four home runs and 19 RBIs. Three days after his final at-bat in Omaha, Schwarz pinch-hit during the USA Baseball National Collegiate Team’s 9-2 loss to Chinese Taipei on Tuesday night in Cary, N.C.
-- Sophomore starter Logan Shore (11-6, 2.72 ERA) had just two no-decisions in 19 starts. As documented in this blog from Omaha, Shore was excellent in five postseason starts, going 5-0 with a 2.43 ERA.
-- Sophomore OF Buddy Reed showed tremendous improvement at the plate in his second season. Reed’s batting average (.305) increased 61 points over his freshman season and his .566 on-base percentage was second to Schwarz’s .629 among UF’s regulars.
-- Florida’s top four starting pitchers, all set to return next season, combined to finish 31-13 with a 3.35 ERA. Shore, A.J. Puk (9-4, 3.81), Alex Faedo (6-1, 3.23) and Dane Dunning (5-2, 4.03) offer a lot of optimism heading into next season. Faedo was especially good at home (5-0, 1.50 ERA), striking out 36 and allowing 30 hits in 36 innings.
-- The Gators committed only 42 errors in 70 games, 58 miscues less than their opponents.
-- After hitting only 26 home runs in 2014, the Gators clubbed 66 this season, led by 18 from Schwarz and 17 from junior OF Harrison Bader, who led the team with five in the postseason.
-- No player enjoyed stepping into the batter’s box more at McKethan Stadium as opposed to on the road than Bader, who hit .370 at home (36 games) compared to .181 on the road (19 games). Meanwhile, Reed hit .288 at home (38 games) compared to .338 (19 games) on the road. Overall, the Gators hit .320 in 39 home games and .249 in 19 road games. Note: Neutral site games not included.
-- Tobias (.414) was the Gators’ best hitter in games Florida won; freshman C Michael Rivera was the team’s top hitter (.273) in games lost.
-- Junior SS Richie Martin, the only player to start every game in the field, led the team by getting hit by a pitch 16 times, or seven more errors than Martin made in 316 defensive chances. Martin made 12 less errors than his sophomore season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans have been familiar with soccer star Abby Wambach since she arrived at UF from Pittsford, N.Y., 17 years ago and led the Gators to the program's only national title in her freshman season.
The 35-year-old Wambach is now a veteran international soccer figure, trying to help the U.S. National Women's Team win the 2015 World Cup in what is expected to be her final appearance in the event.
Wambach had an opportunity to tie former Brazil star Marta -- you know you're good when you only need one name -- as the all-team leading goal scorer in women's World Cup history in Monday's 2-0 win against Colubia.
However, Wambach's second-half penalty shot missed wide, leaving her one off Marta's mark of 15.
Wambach and the USWNT next plays on Friday night against China.
FoxSports.com profiled Wambach and her family prior to the World Cup. Check out the above video to get to know more about the large Wambach clan.
Updated: 2:30pm, June 22
OMAHA, Neb. -- Logan Shore wasn't worried even if Florida fans on social media seemed a bit anxious after Virginia scored a run in the first inning Friday.
Shore was far removed from that vortex as he worked on the mound on a sunny afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park.
Virginia leadoff hitter Adam Haseley reached on an infield single, and after shortstop Daniel Pinero sacrificed him to second, Haseley scored on a single up the middle by Matt Thaiss to put the Cavaliers ahead three batters into the game.
Shore buckled down and retired the next two hitters to end the inning.
"The first inning I thought I made some good pitches,'' Shore said. "They just did a good job and put a couple of balls into play that found a hole. I really didn't think about that run too much."
Making his fifth start of the postseason, Shore settled in and didn't allow another Virginia runner to reach third until the seventh inning.
By that time the Gators had a comfortable lead in their 10-5 victory.
Shore won his fifth consecutive postseason start (5-0, 2.43 ERA) and once again showed why he is considered Florida's ace. The sophomore right-hander became the first UF pitcher to win two games in a College World Series and won his 11th game, the most since Hudson Randall won 11 in 2011.
Shore (29 2/3 IP, 27 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 5 BB, 24 SO) has been money in the postseason, twice staving off elimination with stellar outings. He defeated Auburn in the SEC Tournament after the Gators lost their opener to Arkansas.
"He's very, very consistent,'' Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's finally getting some run support. He wasn't getting any run support on Friday nights. You look back, and we're 0-1 in five of the 10 [SEC] weekend series.
"A lot of that had to do not with because he didn't pitch well, but because we hadn't scored any runs for him. We're giving him some run support so he can get a chance to breathe and every pitch isn't a nail-biter. He's being able to relax and settle into a game."
If the Gators advance to the CWS championship series with a victory tonight against Virginia, Shore is likely to start Game 3 if necessary on Wednesday.
If Friday's outing was his final appearance of the season, Shore will enter his junior season ranked among the top returning pitchers in the country. He's won 18 games the past two seasons.
Shore said he used the same approach Friday that he did a month ago in his victory over Auburn. In a win-or-lose situation, you limit the damage and give your offense a chance.
The plan worked to perfection as Florida scored four runs in the third and five in the sixth.
"I've got to credit a lot to my offense and defense,'' he said. "Every time I go out there, they put up 10 runs. And they're making great plays behind me. [Josh] Tobias had a great play at third. Richie [Martin] is making plays, [Dalton] Guthrie is making plays -- I mean everybody is making plays, everybody is contributing."
That list includes Shore. In a big way.
Updated: 11:22am, June 15
OMAHA, Neb. -- The Gators won their 10th consecutive game on Saturday, hammering Miami 15-3 in their first game of the College World Series.
Next up is Virginia, a 5-3 winner over Arkansas on Saturday.
The Cavaliers (40-22) are back in Omaha after making it all the way to the championship series a year ago before falling to Vanderbilt.
Florida (50-16) reached the 50-win mark for just the fourth time in school history in its impressive victory over the Hurricanes, using an 11-run fourth inning to win their first CWS game since 2011.
The Gators will take the field tonight as the hottest team in Omaha. However, it will be later than planned.
With Sunday's Cal-State Fullerton-Vanderbilt game suspended in the sixth inning due to inclement weather and the Titans leading 3-0, that game is scheduled to resume at 2 p.m. CT today. The Arkansas-Miami loser's bracket game, originally scheduled to start at 2 CT, will start 55 minutes after the conclusion of the suspended game.
Meanwhile, when the Gators do take the field tonight, they hope to stay hot. Florida has outscored opponents 68-15 in six NCAA Tournament games and 98-21 during its 10-game win streak.
Every player in the starting lineup scored Saturday, and five players scored at least twice as the Gators scored the most runs in a CWS game in seven years.
Let’s take a closer look at Monday night's UF-Virginia matchup (ESPN released a statement this morning that said networks will be announced for the rescheduled games later today):
- GAME 4 - Resumes at 2 PM CT - GAME 5 - (55 Min after Game 4) Arkansas vs. Miami - GAME 6 - (55 Min after Game 5) Florida vs. Virginia— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 15, 2015
PLAYER TO WATCH: Virginia shortstop Daniel Pinero played a pivotal role in the Cavaliers' victory over Arkansas.
Pinero had three hits, stole three bases and scored two runs. He became the first player to steal three bases in a CWS game since Brad Boyer of Arizona against Arkansas in 2004.
Pinero entered the CWS hitting .300 with six home runs and 28 RBIs. However, he was not a huge threat to steal until Saturday. Pinero stole just six bases in eight attempts in 60 games prior to taking off against the Razorbacks.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Two left-handers take the mound for this one. Florida sophomore A.J. Puk (9-3, 3.96 ERA) makes his CWS debut about 250 miles away from his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Meanwhile, Virginia junior Brandon Waddell will make the 51st start of his career, matching the school record held by Danny Hulten. Waddell pitched a complete game in Game 2 of last year's CWS championship series against Vanderbilt.
While Waddell (3-5, 4.15) has an edge in experience over Puk, his numbers are not as impressive. Waddell has allowed 102 hits and walked 41 in 91 innings, a WHIP (1.57) more than a half point higher than Puk's 1.02.
"We're feeling pretty confident. I mean, the past four or five games everybody's been contributing. Our whole lineup is producing." -- Florida third baseman Josh Tobias on his team's 15-run outburst against Miami in CWS opener:
"I'm just really, really proud of our team for again finding a way to win a ballgame. That ballgame is kind of how we've played the last couple of weeks." -- Virginia coach Brian O'Connor on his team's win over Arkansas, its fifth comeback win of postseason:
NOTABLES: This is only the sixth meeting between the schools ... The Gators are 4-1 against the Cavaliers, sweeping a two-game series in Gainesville in their last meeting 26 years ago ... Virginia closer Josh Sborz, who tied for the ACC lead with 14 saves, earned the victory Saturday by pitching three scoreless innings ... Florida's Nos. 7-9 hitters -- Michael Rivera, Dalton Guthrie and Ryan Larson -- combined to go 6-for-8 with three RBIs in the win against Miami.
Updated: 8:37am, June 12
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida and Miami have trotted onto the diamond and played baseball against each other for 75 years.
But they have never done it at the College World Series. This heated rivalry breaks new ground on Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
The No. 4 national seed Gators (49-16) face No. 5 seed Miami (49-15) as the two teams begin their chase for a national championship.
The Gators seek their first title. They made it to Omaha three consecutive seasons from 2010-12 -- advancing to the championship series in 2011 before losing to South Carolina -- but came up empty each time.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes return to Omaha after a seven-year absence, their longest streak of not making the CWS since the program's first trip in 1974.
Miami has won four national championships, the last coming in 2001.
The Sunshine State matchup is the marquee game on opening day in Omaha. Florida is one of four Southeastern Conference schools that make up half the field, joining Arkansas, LSU and defending national champion Vanderbilt.
The Gators enter on a season-high nine-game win streak, sweeping Florida State in the Gainesville Super Regional last weekend. The Gators also enter with recent success against their SEC foes in the field.
Florida defeated Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt during its four-game win streak to win the SEC Tournament last month.
Meanwhile, Miami overcame a loss to Columbia in the Coral Gables Super Regional to advance. Miami defeated Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game.
Without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at Saturday night's UF-Miami matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Third baseman David Thompson is the player in Miami's lineup that scares opposing pitchers the most.
And for good reason. Thompson leads the nation in home runs (19) and RBIs (87).
A fourth-round pick of the New York Mets in this week's MLB Amateur Draft, Thompson also leads the Hurricanes in doubles (18), total bases (159) and slugging percentage (.677).
Thompson is batting .333 and is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Award. In what has been a breakout season following two seasons full of injuries, Thompson is within reach of former big-leaguer Aubrey Huff's school-record of 95 RBIs in a single season.
PITCHING MATCHUP: This is a highly anticipated matchup that was scheduled to take place Feb. 20 at McKethan Stadium.
However, Gators starter Logan Shore (9-6, 2.50 ERA) lasted only nine pitches after suffering an injury in the first inning. Still, that was nine more pitches than Hurricanes junior lefty Andy Suarez (9-1, 2.96) threw.
Suarez was scratched due to an oblique strain that cost him four weeks of the season. Four months later Shore and Suarez are slated to start each team's CWS opener at TD Ameritrade Park.
Shore has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, tossing 10 2/3 scoreless innings against Florida A&M and Florida State. Meanwhile, Suarez recovered from his injury to win nine of his 14 starts.
A second-round pick of the San Francisco Giants this week, Suarez has struck out 74, walked 19 and allowed 76 hits in 79 hits. Opponents are batting .252 against him with four home runs.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: "I feel good about this team. They’re playing with emotion. We’re playing great defense. Pitching has been really good -- starting pitching has been good, relief pitching has been good. We’re getting some timely hits.”
Miami's Jim Morris: “You know, it’s been a long time since we’ve been to Omaha, so needless to say, we’re very excited. I got spoiled, just like our fans and everybody else in this program. It’s a tough, tough thing to do, and there’s so many good programs out there that have never been to Omaha, or so many programs that didn’t make it to the NCAA tournament this year, period.”
NOTABLES: Florida is making its ninth appearance in the CWS, and fourth under O'Sullivan in eight years ... The Gators won two of three against the Hurricanes in the regular season and have won 19 of the last 24 meetings overall ... Florida eliminated Miami from the postseason from 2009-11 ... Miami is making its 24th appearance in Omaha, second all-time to Texas' 34 CWS berths ... Morris has led the Hurricanes to 12 trips to the CWS in his 22 seasons ... Miami leads the all-time series 127-112-1 in a series that started in 1940.
Updated: 3:31pm, June 11
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Sometimes life throws a curveball your way that makes you shake your head and chuckle. Those are curveballs you don’t mind.
If someone had told me three months ago Florida’s baseball team was going to make it to the College World Series and travel to Omaha in the Rolling Stones’ private jet, I would have circled the date on the calendar and marked off the days like an 8-year-old waiting on Santa Claus.
No way would I miss that trip.
As an enthusiastic (but not psychotic) Stones fan, I have spent more disposable income on their music – and don’t let me forget that cool skull cap -- than probably recommended over the years. I once paid a silly sum for a rare imported CD at Bleecker Street Records in New York.
Sales clerk: “You really like the Stones, huh?”
Me: “Yeah, too much today.”
So, you can imagine my surprise Wednesday night, while picking up my wife at the Gainesville Regional Airport, at the sight of a Boeing 737-400 with the Stones’ iconic tongue logo on the runway with the doors open.
Before I could even text my wife to ask her to take an up-close photo with her iPhone, she texted me one as her plane passed the Stones’ jet on the runway.
In fact, she will be with me at the Stones’ show Friday night at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Mick Jagger and Co.’s sixth stop on their 15-city “Zip Code Tour.”
But back to that airplane. And no folks, we’re not talking about the famous “Starship” jet the Stones chartered for their tour 40 years ago across America.
That was then:
“For the Stones, there was an added bonus: when the group leased the plane for their 1975 tour, it solved the longstanding problem of Keith Richards’s tardiness. The often comatose guitarist could now be propped up, wheeled onto the tarmac and tossed aboard the plane, where Suzee would be waiting with his favored drink, a Tequila Sunrise.” – Steve Kurutz, New York Times.
Those days have passed these 70-year-old Stones by. This is now: Rolling Stones’ private jet gets upgrade at PTI
If you’re wondering how the Gators ended up leaving for Omaha on Thursday as passengers on the Stones’ plane, more coincidence and the machinations of the charter jet business than anything else.
The Stones played at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday night, and flew to Orlando early Wednesday for their show Friday night at the Citrus Bowl. They don’t play again until next Wednesday in Nashville, so with a weekend off in Florida, the plane was bid out for other charter flights.
The NCAA, in conjunction with an independent charter travel company, arranges flights for the eight schools and their traveling parties to get to Omaha. As it turns out, the Stones’ plane matched Florida’s criteria, was close by and most importantly, available.
And while, yes, it would have been cool to join the Gators today on the flight to Omaha, I will settle for seeing Mick and Keith and the boys Friday night in person. After the show, I have a 5:15 a.m. flight from Orlando to Omaha for Florida’s game against Miami on Saturday night.
In coach. Oh well.
It’s Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It).
Updated: 9:13am, June 10
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University Athletic Association Board of Directors approved a $112.8 million budget for the 2015-16 academic year on Tuesday, including an estimated $3.5 million of additional funds to enhance the student-athlete experience.
The Board also approved funding of $1.04 million for a joint venture between the UAA and UF Division of Housing to renovate the Keys Dorm Complex.
The renovation of the Keys Complex includes new entrance breezeways to improve security, stainless steel appliances, larger beds, new flooring and furniture.
Five of the nine buildings are being renovated this summer and plans are under discussion for additional buildings next summer.
“These improvements are crucial for the program and crucial for the university,'' Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said.
A large portion of Wednesday's meeting centered on a $14.3 million line of credit backing a bond issued in 2001 that needs to be remarketed. The UAA is evaluating proposals from five banks in an attempt to keep its debt service at a reasonable figure in today's economy.
Foley has tried to keep the UAA's debt service under $100 million and enters a new budget year managing $95.6 million in outstanding debt.
"You've got schools out there with $200, $300, $400 million in debt,'' he said. "But that hasn’t been our philosophy."
Finally, the board approved final expenses for the Gators' trip to the Birmingham Bowl. The Gators cleared about $56,000 from the trip after their projected budget fell in line with the actual costs.
Overall, Foley and the Board voiced an upbeat tone about the future and the latest budget proposal.
"They're a number of items in this budget that significantly impact our student-athletes,'' he said. "We will continue to look at ways to enhance their experience here."
Updated: 4:19pm, June 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first one, a mammoth two-run homer in the second inning, tied Saturday's Super Regional game against Florida State.
No less towering, the second one was like an unexpected encore when you thought the show was over, a solo homer that gave the Gators a six-run lead in the sixth inning.
"They were both no-doubt shots,'' said FSU slugger DJ Stewart.
For Gators slugger JJ Schwarz, his two home runs in Florida's 11-4 victory over FSU rewrote the school record books. Schwarz now has 18 home runs, surpassing the record held by Austin Maddox (17 in 2010) for the most in school history for a freshman.
If you have been watching Schwarz of late, does that surprise you?
Still, what Schwarz has done in the Gators' run to the College World Series is, well, remarkable.
Since the start of the postseason, Schwarz is hitting .564 (22-for-39) with four homers, five doubles, 14 runs and 17 RBIs. In five NCAA Tournament games, the National Co-Freshman of the Year is hitting .600 (12-for-20) with four homers, nine runs and 11 RBIs. And in the sweep of the Seminoles, Schwarz went 5-for-7 with three homers, five RBIs and six runs.
Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan made another attempt at putting Schwarz's hot streak into perspective after Saturday's game.
"He’s just got a knack. The barrel gets to the right spot a lot. He doesn’t miss pitches and he is seeing the ball really well,'' O'Sullivan said. "He has really caught fire here. This is what happens, if you are going to win a championship, then a couple of guys really have to get hot. Obviously, he is getting to that point where he is carrying us a little bit right now."
As good as it's going for Schwarz, he knows sister Taylor will have the edge in their sibling rivalry if the Gators don't win a national title.
Taylor Schwarz's two-run single in the championship game of the Women's College World Series helped the Gators defeat Michigan and claim the program's second consecutive national title.
"This week's been un-describable," Schwarz said. "My sister winning the national championship. That's such an accomplishment. I'm so happy for her, and my parents are happy for her. I think it's our turn now. We're really excited to get out to Omaha and hopefully take one home."
For more on the Schwarzes, check out this column by Gene Frenettte of The Florida Times-Union.
Updated: 11:04am, June 5
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NCAA Selection Committee has taken heat this week for some of the matchups in the Super Regionals.
If the committee re-seeded teams following regional play as many think it should, the Gators and Seminoles would not be meeting until Omaha if they both advanced. But as the system is, these two in-state rivals are playing a best-of-three series starting tonight at McKethan Stadium for a trip to the College World Series.
Regardless of your view, this matchup has diehards and casual fans talking about college baseball.
The series is sold out and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
The Gators (47-16) lost twice in three meetings with FSU (44-19) during the regular season. Florida won 14-8 at home, lost 8-3 in Jacksonville, and then dropped a 4-3 decision in extra innings in Tallahassee.
This is just the second time the Gators and Seminoles have met in a Super Regional with a berth to Omaha at stake. Ten years ago Florida swept FSU.
The No. 4 overall national seed, Florida has a deeper pitching staff and a more balanced lineup than the ACC champion Seminoles, but FSU has proven its resiliency in the postseason. The Seminoles enter with a seven-game win streak.
So do the Gators, their longest of the season. In other words, two feisty rivals playing their best with a trip to Omaha on the line.
What else can you ask for?
Let’s take a closer look at tonight's UF-FSU matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH:
FSU's DJ Stewart is always a difficult out. Stewart leads the Seminoles in average (.322), home runs (13), RBIs (55) and slugging percentage (.580). He also leads the team in walks (69) while striking out only 45 times.
Stewart is one of those natural hitters who is in his domain when he steps into the batter's box. The Gators will be careful in how they approach Stewart, a 6-foot, 230-pound left fielder who played at The Bolles School in Jacksonville.
Florida did have success against Stewart in the three regular-season games, holding him to only one hit in eight at-bats. However, Stewart walked six times as the Gators often pitched around him.
A pair of sophomore right-handers gets the nod in this one as Florida's Logan Shore (8-6, 2.64 ERA) opposes FSU's Boomer Biegalski (7-4, 2.80). Neither Shore nor Biegalski pitched in the three regular-season meetings.
Shore has looked extra sharp of late, throwing five scoreless innings against Florida A&M in the Gainesville Regional. Over his last four starts, Shore has allowed only 16 hits and five runs in 26 2/3 innings. He has walked six and struck out 20 over that span.
Meanwhile, Biegalski leads FSU in wins and has limited opponents to a .201 average. In 106 innings, he has struck out 119. However, Biegalski is prone to giving up the long ball.
Of the 78 hits Biegalski has allowed, 12 of those are home runs (15 percent). No other pitcher on FSU's roster has allowed more than six home runs.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “I want them to play relaxed. We’re more focused on ourselves. With the fans and outsiders looking in, it’s going to be a fun weekend, an interesting weekend matching up with one of your rivals. There’s a lot of respect between both programs.”
FSU's Mike Martin: “We know we’re going to a Super Regional that is in one of the toughest places to play. Playing a team that is the SEC champion, playing a team whose numbers are really, really impressive. But we’re excited to be in the position that we’re in.”
NOTABLES: O'Sullivan said catcher Mike Rivera, who was hit on the knee and missed a game in the Gainesville Regional, is 100 percent ... The Gators won their 11th regional title in school history last weekend. Five of those have come with O'Sullivan at the helm ... This is the first Super Regional series at McKethan Stadium since the Gators faced N.C. State in 2012 ... Gators freshman catcher/designated hitter JJ Schwarz has a nine-game hitting streak, batting .500 (18-for-36) with five doubles, a homer and 12 RBIs ... Florida is 7-1 against FSU at home in O'Sullivan's eight seasons ... FSU is playing in its 38th consecutive NCAA Tournament and 14th Super Regional in 17 opportunities ... The Seminoles are 1-6 on the road in Super Regionals and have not played this round on the road since their 2005 trip to UF ... FSU's last trip to the CWS was in 2012, the same as Florida ... FSU first baseman Quincy Nieporte, whose 12th-inning walk-off home run defeated the Gators on April 14, became the first FSU player to drive in seven runs in a game since Buster Posey in 2007. He did it March 11 in a 15-11 win against UCF.
Updated: 12:40pm, June 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly two months have passed since former Gators football coach and athletic director Ray Graves died at the age of 96.
Graves passed away on April 10 in Tampa, prompting an outpouring of tributes in his honor from the University of Florida football family, coaching colleagues, friends and the state media which recalled Graves' significant impact on the Gators.
On Sunday the Gators are holding a memorial service for Graves at the place he called home as Florida's head coach from 1960-69.
Here is the official release:
The University of Florida football family lost an iconic figure when Ray Graves passed away in April at the age of 96. In his role of UF football coach and athletic director for nearly 20 years, Coach Graves had a positive impact on the lives of many. A memorial service for Graves will be held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in the Holloway Touchdown Terrace on Sunday, June 7th at 1:30 p.m. We welcome Ray Graves' family and friends, especially his Silver Sixties football player and coaches, to share the remembrance and celebration of his life with us.
Updated: 12:56pm, May 30
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators erupted for 19 runs in Friday night's NCAA Tournament opener against Florida A&M. The victory earned Florida (45-16) a matchup tonight against USF (34-24-1) in the Gainesville Regional.
The winner advances to play for a potential regional championship on Sunday afternoon.
These two teams are no strangers. They played twice during the regular season.
The Gators won 13-3 in Tampa on Feb. 18 and 5-1 earlier this month at McKethan Stadium.
The No. 3-seed Bulls advanced with a 5-3 victory Friday against No. 2-seed Florida Atlantic, as shortstop Kyle Teaf went 4-for-5 and starting pitcher Jimmy Herget pitched seven innings in USF's first NCAA Tournament game in 13 years.
Meanwhile, the Gators cruised behind a solid outing by starter Logan Shore (5 scoreless innings) and 17 hits. Freshman designated hitter JJ Schwarz led the way with four hits and five RBIs, including his team-leading 15th home run.
Florida snapped a six-game losing streak in the NCAA Tournament that dated to the 2012 College World Series.
Let’s take a closer look at tonight's UF-USF matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH: USF catcher Levi Borders has baseball in his blood, His father, Pat Borders, was a long-time major-league catcher and World Series MVP in 1992 when he played for Toronto.
Borders has started all 59 games for the Bulls behind the plate and hits fourth in the lineup. He was 0-for-4 in Friday's win but is hitting .284 with a team-leading nine homers and 44 RBIs.
A unanimous first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection, Borders also knows how to mow down runners. He has thrown out 25 of 71 potential base stealers.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Sophomore lefty A.J. Puk (8-3, 4.23 ERA) gets the nod for the Gators. USF is going with junior right-hander Ryan Valdes (5-3, 3.16).
Puk is coming off a dominating performance against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. He pitched a three-hitter over seven innings in Florida's 10-0 run-rule victory. Puk struck out 11 Razorbacks and now has 85 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings.
Valdes made 22 appearances this season for USF, including 10 starts. He has struck out 70 and allowed 70 hits in 77 innings. In Florida's 13-3 win at USF in February, Valdes allowed three hits, three runs and three walks in one inning of relief.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “The pivotal game in a regional is the second game. If you win that one, somebody's got to beat you twice. Anytime you are familiar with your opponent, that takes the edge off a little bit.”
USF's Mark Kingston: “We didn't look like the moment was too big for us. I thought our guys were really excited to play, but they also stayed loose and stayed focused."
NOTABLES: Gators second baseman Dalton Guthrie returned to the lineup Friday after missing the SEC Championship game with a wrist injury. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI ... Florida freshman catcher Michael Rivera left Friday's game after getting hit by a pitch on the left knee; his status for tonight's game is uncertain ... O'Sullivan improved to 13-2 in regional play with Florida's 19-0 victory Friday night ... The Gators are 19-5 overall under O'Sullivan at home in the NCAA Tournament ... USF shortstop Teaf leads the nation with 228 consecutive starts ... Kingston is in his first season at USF after five seasons as head coach at Illinois State; Kingston was an assistant at Miami for two seasons early in his career, including 2001 when the Hurricanes won the CWS.
Updated: 11:52pm, May 29
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a brief moment -- and we’re talking very brief -- you wondered if there was something to all the talk about the Gators not facing many soft-tossing lefties like Florida A&M starter Ricky Page.
Would that make Florida’s NCAA Tournament opener on Friday more interesting than the Gators would like?
As one of the season’s biggest crowds at McKethan Stadium continued to file in, Page struck out the side in the first inning on an assortment of 70-mph breaking balls.
“I thought we were overswinging at first,’’ Gators skipper Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We don’t see many of those types of guys. That was the main concern I had.”
Hmm, this could be trouble. About an hour later you realized how silly that stray thought was.
So did Florida A&M head coach Jamey Shouppe, who rolled out eight different pitchers in Florida’s 19-0 win in the Gainesville Regional.
“Florida is hot right now,’’ said Shouppe. “They kept coming at us and coming at us. As the game wore on, it was like the tide coming in. Too much orange and blue.”
Too much everything for the Rattlers in their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Gators, meanwhile, played about the way they envisioned after that shaky first inning.
Florida scored a run in the second, five in the third, and then continued to batter FAMU into submission the rest of the way for its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2012.
“To come out with this team and do what we did tonight is a special feeling,” junior outfielder Harrison Bader said. Bader went 1-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs as the Gators pounded 17 hits.
But that was just part of the story.
The most important element for the Gators was they didn’t let up after a stirring comeback in the SEC Tournament. After losing their opener in Hoover, the Gators won four consecutive games to claim their first SEC Tournament title in four years.
They talked this week about coming out Friday and playing with an edge, unlike the past two regionals when they went 0-4.
After the shaky first inning against Page, O’Sullivan told the Gators to relax and play ball. They obviously listened.
“As long as we stay out of our own way and we can play relaxed and do our thing and play like we’ve been playing, we’re going to be tough to beat,’’ he said. “I think this team has a chance to make a deep run here.”
Others think so, too.
The reason is that Florida is a team built for success. The Gators can pitch, led by starter Logan Shore’s five scoreless innings Friday. They can play defense. If you haven’t seen Buddy Reed’s highlight-reel catch against FAMU, find it. And they can hit.
JJ Schwarz had four hits and five RBIs, Jeremy Vasquez had three hits, and the rest of the lineup produced from top to bottom.
There’s a lot to like about the Gators. O’Sullivan certainly knows that.
“This whole thing is about how you are feeling as a player and a club,’’ O’Sullivan said. “When you get more players feeling good about themselves, the club plays better. We came off of a very, very difficult and intense SEC Tournament, and I thought we did what we needed to do.
“We played great defense, we got a chance to get everybody in the game to get some experience, and we had great pitching. In all three phases, we were good. We stayed the course, we stayed focused for nine innings. We should feel going going into tomorrow.”
The Gators face USF on Saturday night in the winner’s bracket. Lefty A.J. Puk is on the mound. He has been dominant of late.
Yes, there’s a lot to like about this team. If one game into the NCAA Tournament is any indication, expect this Florida team’s fan club to grow over the next three weeks.
Updated: 10:04pm, May 28
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators open the NCAA Tournament at home against Florida A&M on Friday night at 7 (SEC Network) in the Gainesville Regional.
Florida earned a No. 4 national seed after winning the SEC Tournament last week in Hoover, Ala. The Gators stormed back to win four consecutive games after losing their opener to Arkansas.
Meanwhile, FAMU made history by earning its first trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament. The Rattlers, the No. 4 seed in the Gainesville Regional, defeated rival Bethune-Cookman in the championship game.
FAMU enters the postseason playing its best of the season, riding a season-high six-game win streak under second-year coach Jamey Shouppe. The longtime Florida State pitching coach took over a program that was 14-90 in the two seasons prior to his arrival and changed the culture. The Rattlers (23-23) have won nine of 10 overall.
The Gators (44-16) are favorites to advance from the Gainesville Regional, which also includes No. 2-seed Florida Atlantic and No. 3-seed USF.
However, they want to get off to a good start against FAMU and snap a six-game NCAA Tournament losing streak that started in the 2012 College World Series.
“That’s always in the back of our minds and that gives us a chip on our shoulder in a sense,’’ sophomore outfielder Buddy Reed said. “We went 0-4 in the past two regionals. That definitely gives us an edge. We are definitely not going to come out flat this time around.”
This is Florida’s eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, which is a school record.
Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who led the Gators to three consecutive trips to Omaha from 2010-12, anticipates the Rattlers to arrive at McKethan Stadium charged up for their first NCAA Tournament game.
He wants his team to continue playing like it did in Hoover.
“I think they are enjoying the moment. They are enjoying their teammates. They are having fun,’’ he said.
Let’s take a look at the Florida-Florida A&M matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH: FAMU senior first baseman Ryan Kennedy leads the team with six home runs and 34 RBIs. From Merritt Island, Kennedy started his career at Wake Tech (N.C.) Community College before returning to his home state to finish his final two seasons.
Kennedy anchors a lineup that hit only 20 home runs this season. Kennedy was a member of the MEAC Preseason All-Conference Team and is hitting .273 (44-for-161) with more walks (30) than strikeouts (26).
PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore right-hander Logan Shore (7-6, 2.79 ERA) faces FAMU left-hander Ricky Page (2-0, 1.32).
Shore earned a victory in the SEC Tournament by limiting Auburn to six hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings. Over his last three starts, Shore has pitched at least seven innings in each outing and has not allowed more than two runs.
Page pitched a career-high seven innings in a victory over Delaware State in the MEAC Tournament. Page grew up in Ocala and played at College of Central Florida before transferring to FAMU. He has made eight starts and eight relief appearances, allowing 26 hits, 19 walks and striking out 28 in 34 innings.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “Our guys are motivated. They are coming off such a good week. We’ve got a very good feel for our club right now. I think everybody’s in a good place. I think our guys are confident. That’s pretty much what we’re going with right now.”
Florida A&M’s Jamey Shouppe: “It's so gratifying to see their success. And it's been so fun for me. When we got here the program needed to improve. And now here we are looking at a chance to play for the first time in an NCAA regional tournament.’’ – Via the Tallahassee Democrat
NOTABLES: The Gators are 18-1 all-time against FAMU … The Rattlers’ only win in the series came in the schools’ last meeting, a 4-3 win at McKethan Stadium last season … In his eighth season, O’Sullivan has a 21-14 record in the NCAA Tournament, including a 12-6 record in regional play … Gators OF Harrison Bader went 4-for-9 in the final two games of the SEC Tournament after starting 0-for-8 … FAMU had 38 hits and scored 26 runs in three games at the MEAC Tournament … Former FSU pitcher Bryan Henry, the 2007 ACC Pitcher of the Year at Florida State, is the Rattlers’ pitching coach.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The SEC spring meetings are taking place this week in Destin.
Here is a Florida-flavored batch of links from Tuesday’s gathering:
--Rookie UF coaches Jim McElwain, Mike White all ears at SEC meetings writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Florida’s most experienced offensive lineman, fifth-year senior Trip Thurman, is back in the weight room after missed spring camp, plus more notes from Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Keeping recruits, team intact key for Gators coach Michael White writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Alabama coach Nick Saban expects big things from McElwain writes Thompson.
--McElwain praises former Gators coach Will Muschamp for culture he left behind at Florida writes Brandon Marcello of AL.com.
--McElwain updates transfers and injuries, Grady to play QB writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.
Updated: 10:34am, May 26
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A huge weekend for the Florida baseball and softball teams.
The UF baseball team won its first SEC Tournament in four years and the Gators softball team won the Gainesville Super Regional against Kentucky to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
If you were hanging at the beach instead of the ballpark over the holiday weekend, here are some fresh links from around the Internet to catch you up:
--Billy Donovan said goodbye to the Gators and the Gainesville community with a full-page ad in the Gainesville Sun.
--It took awhile, but the Gators beat Vanderbilt on Sunday to win the SEC Tournament as Drew Champlin rewinds the day for AL.com.
--The Gators earn the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun.
--Gators coach Jim McElwain tries to win over cynical fans writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun writes about the Florida softball team’s dominance of Kentucky on the way to the WCWS.
--Florida’s Josie Kuhlman and the doubles team of Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan saw their impressive runs at NCAA Finals come to a close Sunday writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--A Q&A with Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley from Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.
--A good read from Greg Hansen of Tucson.com on former Gators head baseball coach Andy Lopez choosing life over baseball. Lopez is retiring after 14 seasons at Arizona.
Updated: 1:24pm, May 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators are back in the SEC Tournament championship game for the second consecutive season following an impressive come-from-behind victory over No. 1-ranked LSU on Saturday.
The Gators (43-16) face defending national champion Vanderbilt (42-18) today at 4:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. (Link to watch via WatchESPN).
If you prefer your baseball accompanied by nail-biting, Florida’s 2-1 victory Saturday was your kind of game. LSU starter Alex Lange handcuffed Florida for most of the afternoon. It wasn’t until Lange departed that Florida scratched through with a run in the eighth inning to tie the game.
A pair of costly base-running mistakes threatened to doom the Gators, but when freshman catcher Mike Rivera stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth, he rendered them a moot casualty with a solo homer that proved to be the game-winner.
Florida returns to the SEC Tournament title game a year after losing to LSU 2-0 in last year’s final. The Gators are seeking their first tournament championship since 2011.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt had no trouble disposing of Texas A&M, 12-3, setting up an all-SEC East championship game.
The Commodores last won the tournament in 2007 but have been regulars in the championship game under head coach Tim Corbin, who is 1-6 in SEC Tournament finals in his 12 seasons.
This is a rematch of one of the best regular-season series of the season. After losing 2-0 at Vanderbilt in the first game of the series two weeks ago, the Gators won the final two games, including a 9-7 comeback win in 10 innings in the series’ finale.
With both of these teams expected to earn national seeds in the NCAA Tournament, today could be a primer for more postseason duels between these two. For now, let’s take a look at the Florida-Vanderbilt matchup for the conference tournament title:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Vanderbilt junior shortstop Dansby Swanson is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming MLB amateur draft by ESPN.com, so each time Swanson steps to the plate or fields a ground ball today, scouts will be watching his every move.
Swanson has been red hot in Hoover, batting .412 (7-for-17) with four homers, two doubles and eight RBIs. When the Gators won two of three at Vanderbilt two weeks ago, the Gators kept Swanson in check until the final game of the series when he hit a pair of homers in Florida’s 9-7 win. He was 3-for-12 overall.
On the season, the Most Outstanding Player in the 2014 College World Series is hitting .352 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs. Swanson is also a splendid defensive shortstop like LSU’s Alex Bregman, who made a highlight-reel play in Saturday’s game but ultimately watched Florida celebrate a dramatic win.
The Gators will take the same outcome today.
PITCHING MATCHUP: O’Sullivan has tabbed junior right-hander Eric Hanhold (1-0, 3.91 ERA) to start today. Redshirt freshman lefty Ryan Johnson (5-0, 2.52) gets the start for Vanderbilt.
Hanhold has not pitched in the tournament. He made 13 appearances during the regular season and started three times. In 23 innings, Hanhold has allowed 26 hits, walked nine and struck out 22. If Hanhold struggles, expect O’Sullivan to quickly turn to the bullpen with plenty of fresh arms available in Danny Young, Bobby Poyner and Shaun Anderson.
The Gators did not face Johnson in Nashville two weeks ago. Johnson was a regular mid-week starter for the Commodores and pitched out of the bullpen. In 50 innings, he has allowed 43 hits, walked 12 and struck out 31.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “To win a game like that it should help us moving forward with our confidence and dealing with some adversity. LSU is a great ball club and there is a reason they are the No. 1 team in the country. It was a great ballgame all the way around by both clubs.”
Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin: “What is noticeable about Dansby and guys that play at that level is that they rise to another level when things matter. Not to minimize the level of his play throughout the season, but when something is on the line he thrives in it.”
NOTABLES: Florida seeks to win the SEC Tournament championship for the seventh time (1981, ‘82, ‘84, ‘88, ‘91, 2011); Vanderbilt seeks its third title (1980, 2007) … Florida is 6-6 all-time in the championship game … Gators reliever Taylor Lewis has pitched 24 ⅔ scoreless innings over his last nine appearances, and has earned the victory in five of those outings … The Commodores have hit eight of the 17 home runs in this year’s tournament … Vanderbilt’s bullpen has pitched 14 ⅔ innings without allowing a run.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The last time Florida played LSU, the SEC Tournament title was on the line.
That was a year ago in Hoover, Ala. When the schools meet this afternoon at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, a berth in the SEC Tournament championship game is at stake.
The Gators (42-16) won their second consecutive game in the tournament on Friday night behind a dominant pitching performance from left-hander A.J. Puk. In a 10-0 run-rule victory over Arkansas, Puk pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out 11.
During one stretch Puk struck out six consecutive batters and nine of 10. Puk’s performance followed a strong outing Thursday from Logan Shore in an 11-2 victory over Auburn.
Meanwhile, No. 1-ranked LSU (48-9) stormed back from an early deficit to defeat Auburn on Wednesday, 9-8, and advanced Thursday with a 10-5 victory over Arkansas. The Tigers had a bye Friday, awaiting the Florida-Arkansas winner.
In last year’s SEC Tournament championship game, LSU won 2-0 in a pitching duel that included six scoreless innings from UF’s Karsten Whitson in the final start of his college career. The Tigers have won nine consecutive SEC Tournament games dating back to 2013.
Today’s winner faces the winner of the early game between Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game. (Link to watch WatchESPN).
Let’s take a look at the Florida-LSU matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH: This game features two of the best shortstops not only in the SEC, but in the nation in Florida’s Richie Martin and LSU’s Alex Bregman. Florida fans have watched Martin continue to improve for three seasons.
The same can be said for LSU fans and Bregman.
A junior, Bregman is hitting .330 with 22 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is also handy with the glove, committing only seven errors in 307 chances. No secret why MLB draft analysts have Bregman going high in the first round in the upcoming draft.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Two freshmen square off in this one. Two Alexes, too.
Florida right-hander Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.59 ERA) faces LSU right-hander Alex Lange (10-0, 2.11).
Faedo started the season in the bullpen and eventually became a regular in the rotation, providing the Gators with some stability as Puk wobbled through a tough spell. Faedo has struck out 45 in 47 ⅔ innings and allowed 47 hits, including a team-leading nine home runs. He will want to locate his pitches against an LSU team hitting .321 overall with 47 home runs.
Lange was the SEC Freshman Pitcher of the Year after going undefeated and striking out 91. He has allowed only 60 hits in 81 innings. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lange came to LSU from Lee’s Summit, Mo., where he was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014 after going 12-0 with a 0.82 ERA.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “For us the whole thing is about being consistent. That’s two nights in a row where we’ve swung the bats really well and it’s two really good starts by Logan and by A.J., and that’s kind of what we need. We’ve swung the bat fairly good the whole year, but to put these performances back-to-back, that’s a step in the right direction.”
LSU’s Paul Mainieri: “It’s great to be in the ‘Final Four’ of this tournament and compete against some of the best teams in the nation. We’re going to continue to play our fast-paced, aggressive style and give ourselves a chance to advance. We’re very comfortable in this environment.”
NOTABLES: The Gators are hitting .337 in three SEC Tournament games … Florida has scored 27 runs in the three games … First meeting of season between the teams … LSU has won five of last seven SEC Tournaments, with Florida (2011) and Mississippi State (2012) interrupting Tigers’ grip on title … The Gators have won 60 SEC Tournament games, second only to LSU’s 74 entering today.
Updated: 9:38am, May 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators swung back hard Thursday after their loss to Arkansas with an 11-2 thumping of Auburn in the SEC Tournament, pounding Tigers pitchers for 15 hits.
By staying alive in the tournament, Florida (41-16) earned a rematch with Arkansas (35-21) tonight at 7:30. The Razorbacks lost to No. 1-ranked LSU 10-5 on Thursday night.
The stakes are easy to understand for both teams: win and keep playing, or lose and go home.
When the teams faced off Wednesday night/Thursday morning -- the game didn’t end until 2:33 a.m. ET -- Florida owned a 6-3 lead after six innings but Arkansas scored a run in the seventh and rallied for three in the ninth to win 7-6.
It was a difficult loss for the Gators to digest, and making matters worse, they only got a few hours sleep before they had to be back at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium for Thursday afternoon’s tilt against Auburn.
No worries, The Gators scored eight runs in the third inning and cruised behind a strong outing from ace Logan Shore, who limited Auburn to two runs over 7 ⅔ innings before turning it over to reliever Frank Rubio.
Today’s winner faces LSU on Saturday. (Link to watch WatchESPN).
Let’s take a look at the Florida-Arkansas matchup:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Gators senior 3B Josh Tobias went hitless against Arkansas on Wednesday, snapping his 12-game hitting streak.
However, he led Florida’s barrage of hits on Thursday by going 4-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. A career .269 hitter entering this season, Tobias was a regular in the lineup because of his glove. He is an excellent defensive player and has only one error all season.
A decision to turn back into a switch hitter this season has made Tobias into one of the SEC’s most dangerous hitters. He his hitting a team-high .372 with 12 doubles, five triples, five homers and 36 RBIs.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore lefty A.J. Puk (7-3, 4.77 ERA) faces Arkansas freshman right-hander Dominic Toccolini (6-3, 3.96 ).
When Puk is in control, he’s as good as any pitcher on Florida’s staff -- or any team’s staff. However, an up-and-down season cost him a regular spot in the rotation late in the season. Puk routinely hits 96-98 mph on the radar and leads the Gators with 74 strikeouts in 54 ⅔ innings. If Puk can deliver Florida a strong start tonight, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan will have plenty of options over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Toccolini is a formidable challenge for Florida’s lineup. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Texan has made 12 starts and has 67 strikeouts in 75 innings. Opponents are batting .230 against Toccolini, ranked the 158th best prospect in the country by Baseball America coming out of high school.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think we are in pretty good shape now. In all we have six guys who have not thrown yet. Everybody else should be close to ready to go. It should come down to our starters, specifically A.J. If he gives us the start we need him to then we should have a chance.”
Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn: “It just started out bad. We got behind the eight-ball real quick. You can’t make five, six errors against anybody, much less one of the best teams in the country and expect to win, that’s for sure.”
NOTABLES: Arkansas committed a season-high six errors in its loss to LSU … Razorbacks OF Andrew Benintendi, the SEC Player of the Year, is 1-for-12 in the SEC Tournament. His average has dropped from .415 to .395 … The teams’ only meeting this season was Wednesday … Gators OF Harrison Bader (0-for-3) was the only player in the starting lineup without a hit in the victory over Auburn.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators face Auburn in an elimination game this afternoon at the SEC Tournament. (Link to watch WatchESPN).
The teams got here in similar fashion.
Florida owned a three-run lead entering the seventh inning on Wednesday night against Arkansas, but the Razorbacks rallied with a run in the seventh and three runs in the ninth for a 7-6 win. Meanwhile, Auburn scored five runs in the first inning against No. 1-ranked LSU but watched as the Tigers came back for a 9-8 victory.
Holding a lead will be premium this afternoon as the loser goes home.
The teams got to know each other well last weekend at McKethan Stadium in the final series of the regular season. After dropping the first game, the Gators won the final two games of the series to earn the No. 4 seed in this week’s conference tournament.
Auburn is the No. 9 seed and had to beat Kentucky in the first round Monday to advance.
Let’s take a look at the Florida-Auburn matchup scheduled to start at approximately 2 p.m. ET after the Missouri-Alabama game. The games at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium are live on the SEC Network:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Florida freshman JJ Schwarz had a pair of doubles and three RBIs in Wednesday’s loss. A second-team All-SEC selection, Schwarz finished 3-for-4 and scored a run.
One of three Gators to start every game this season – shortstop Richie Martin and second baseman Dalton Guthrie are the others – Schwarz is hitting .296 with a team-leading 14 home runs and 57 RBIs.
In last weekend’s three-game series against the Tigers, Schwarz went 1-for-11. The Gators hope his bat stays awake today after his three hits against the Razorbacks.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore right-hander Logan Shore (6-6, 2.83 ERA) faces Auburn junior right-hander Dalton Rentz (3-3, 2.10 ERA).
Shore opened the season as Florida’s ace and has been very good at times and inconsistent at others. He’ll need to be sharp today to help out a bullpen that used four pitchers on Wednesday after starter Dane Dunning lasted just 1 1/3 innings.
Shore limited Auburn to two hits and two runs over seven innings in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers seven days ago.
As for Rentz, he has split time between the rotation and the bullpen, making seven starts and 15 relief appearances. In the Gators’ 3-1 win over Auburn on Saturday, Rentz pitched three innings in relief and suffered the loss (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO).
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “It was a tough loss, but we’ve got no other choice but to bounce back. It’s a quick turnaround but it is what it is. We’ve just got to be ready to play.”
Auburn’s Sunny Golloway: “The things that are important at this point of the season: Make sure your starting pitchers are doing a good job, feel good about them going into next weekend. Sure, you want to win the SEC Tournament, you want to stay in the winners' bracket, but what's truly important is to train a program and get a program to Omaha, is to make sure you're in tournaments like this that your starting pitching does a good job, the offense is clicking, the defense is playing well.”
NOTABLES: Gators senior 3B Josh Tobias’ 12-game hitting streak was snapped Wednesday. Tobias’ homer off Auburn reliever Izaac Yarbrough was the game-winning hit on Saturday … Auburn CF Anfernee Grier’s diving catch against LSU on Wednesday earned top spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays … Auburn’s eight runs against LSU were its most in the SEC Tournament since 1998 when the Tigers claimed their last title … In the last meeting between the schools in the SEC Tournament, Florida won 6-1 in 2012.