GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Remember, I was late to the Florida party, arriving at GatorZone in November. But I saw some pretty impressive performances by UF student-athletes, including some absolute show-stoppers.
Also missed some moment that I wished I’d seen.
None of these will soon be forgotten, no matter who saw them.
1. Oh, no-no he didn’t!
All Jonathon Crawford did to start UF’s NCAA run was throw a no-hitter in a 4-0 defeat of Bethune-Cookman, marking the first time a Florida pitcher no-hit an opponent since John Burke iced Furman in the NCAA’s opening round in 1991.
Crawford, whose longest previous outing of the season was six innings, faced the minimum 27 batters in going the distance -- the lone BCC base-runner drew a walk, then was caught stealing -- to become just the seventh pitcher in NCAA history to hurl a no-hitter.
2. One of those “As” in NCAA must stand for “Alex”
Sophomore Alex Cercone played No. 5 singles for the better part of her two seasons with the UF tennis team, but she can stake a claim to No. 1 clutch player when it comes to the postseason.
Cercone, who was undefeated in NCAA Tournament play as a freshman, faced an 0-2 hole in the third set of the team championship semifinals against Duke, but rallied to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in a 3-hour, 14-minute gut-check match that propelled the Gators to a 4-3 victory and advanced the team into the title match vs. UCLA.
Against the Bruins, Cercone was the first Gator to win her singles match, making quick work of Channelle Van Nguyen with a 6-2, 6-3 defeat en route to UF’s 4-0 win in the team final.
Her last match gave Cercone a perfect 9-0 mark in NCAA play during her two seasons at No. 5 singles with the Gators.
3. Killer Kytra
When she rolled out for the first collegiate meet of her career -- on the road at North Carolina State -- and promptly won the all-around competition, Kytra Hunter announced herself as a freshman force to be reckoned with.
She ended the season as the best gymnast in the country.
Hunter not only became the first UF gymnast to capture two individual titles at the NCAA championship meet (winning the all-around and the vault events), she also became only the fifth freshman in the meet’s 31-year history to claim multiple titles as a freshman.
Her performance helped the Gators finish within 0.075 points from the program’s first NCAA team crown. That was tough to swallow.
But in the coming weeks, word came that Hunter was the 2012 Honda Sports Award recipient for gymnastics, an honor given annually to the nation’s top female. Put another way: the Heisman Trophy winner for gymnasts.
4. He definitely was the “Real Deal” in the postseason
Speaking of freshmen, Bradley Beal arrived at UF as arguably the most decorated men’s basketball recruit in the program’s history. The 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year had his ups and downs early in the season, but everything started clicking in March. When it mattered most.
A first-team All-SEC selection (the first UF freshman ever to be so recognized), Beal was spectacular during the postseason. In two SEC Tournament games and four NCAA Tournament games, he combined to average 16.5 points, making 53 percent from the floor and nearly 46 percent from long-distance, eight rebounds and 3.7 assists, as the Gators rolled to the Elite Eight only to lose to Louisville one win shy of the Final Four.
His performance in the spotlight of March Madness, vaulted the 6-foot-5 guard to the top of pro scouting charts. He announced for the NBA in April and on June 28 -- his 19th birthday -- was selected by the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, tying for the second-highest a UF player had been chosen.
5. From NCAA champion to two-time U.S. Olympian
Winning the 200-meter backstroke at the NCAA Swimming Championships proved to be a warm-up act for Elizabeth Beisel.
The UF sophomore, who made the U.S. Olympic team as a 16-year-old Rhode Island high school junior in 2008, doubled down on her international resume by winning the 400 individual medley at the 2012 Olympic Trials last month, then placed second in the 200 back to lock up two spots with the American team bound for London.
While a handful of swimmers with Gator ties (See Lochte, Ryan) will be swimming for U.S./UF coach Gregg Troy in England, Beisel was the lone current UF student-athlete to make the squad.
6. And while we’re on the subject of Gator Olympians ...
Junior sprinter Tony McQuay is headed across the pond with Beisel too, only he’ll be sprinting on dry land.
McQuay finished second at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 400 meters, an event he has claimed as his own three times at the NCAA level. He sped to personal-best time of 44.49 to finish behind world leader LaShawn Merritt’s 44.12 in the national outdoor meet.
Just three weeks earlier, though, McQuay ran the anchor leg of UF’s victorious 4x400 relay at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, securing the winning points on the meet’s final event to give the Gators (and Coach Mike Holloway) the program’s first men’s outdoor national crown.
7. Gilroy was there -- all day long
Northwestern had won seven of the last eight NCAA women’s lacrosse championships and were the odds-on favorites to make it eight in nine years.
But first, the Wildcats wanted to avenge a rare home loss to the upstart Gators that gave Florida, in just its third year of existence, the regular-season title. The two teams met in the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament title game in Gainesville.
Northwestern came to UF having allowed just 6.9 goals per game, which ranked No. 1 in the nation. Think about that stat when digesting the next one.
Gators freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy scored seven goals her herself in a 14-7 route of the nation’s top-ranked team, as the blossoming Florida program celebrated a rare regular-season and tournament ALC sweep on its home field.
8. NCAA’s fastest indoor man
Running back and return man Jeff Demps didn’t have the senior year he wanted on the football field, nor did the focus of his Olympic pursuits come to fruition.
But in between, Demps erupted for one big burst in winning the 60-meter dash at the NCAA Indoor championships for the third straight year, this time in a school-record 6.52 seconds.
Demps’ title also helped the Gators claim a third straight men’s indoor national crown.
Nearly every award from A to Z(unino)
Consensus first-team All-American. Dick Howser Trophy recipient. Baseball America 2012 College Player of the Year. Johnny Bench Award as nation’s best catcher. Golden Spikes Award finalist.
Those were the honors junior Mike Zunino threw into his U-Haul and pulled out of town with after being taken by Seattle with the third overall pick in the MLB Draft; the highest ever by a Gator, no less.
In helping guide Florida to its third College World Series in his three seasons, Zunino also claimed the UF team version of theTriple Crown, leading the club in average (.322), home runs (19) and RBI (67) during the 2012 season.
10. Fitting finish for Embree
A year earlier, she fought back from four games down in the third and decisive set to win the crown-clinching point in the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships at reigning champ/dynasty Stanford.
This year’s task wasn’t nearly as daunting nor dramatic, but once again it was UF junior Lauren Embree setting off the celebration for her teammates.
Her defeat of UCLA’s McCall Jones at No. 2 singles gave Florida its fourth point and merely reinforced what anyone who follows college tennis already knew.
No one is tougher in the clutch than Embree.