Monthly Archives: April 2011

No. 1 Gators Baseball Looks to Sweep No. 5 Tigers

While most of Gatornation was celebrating the No. 2 seed Florida Gator basketball team’s exciting victory over the No. 7 seeded UCLA Bruins 73-65 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in Tampa, 700 miles away in Baton Rouge, the No.1 ranked Florida Gator baseball team (17-2) were stepping onto the field to take on the No. 5 ranked LSU Tigers (16-3).

Nine innings later, the Gators were victorious with a score of 1-0 over the Tigers in front of the 10,202 in attendance. It was the first time LSU was held scoreless at Alex Box Stadium, which opened February 20, 2009, and the fourth shutout by the Gators this season.

Hudson Randall, the right handed sophomore, pitched 6.2 innings, giving up eight singles, before junior Greg Larson (RHP) took over, followed by junior Nick Maronde. The lefty collected his first save of the year, striking out four batters in 1.2 innings.

This marked Florida’s second 1-0 win of the year after defeating the Miami Hurricanes on March 5th, a game Randall also started.

The Gators’ lone run came from junior Daniel Pigott’s 11th double (19 RBI) of the season, a shot into right center which scored sophomore Nolan Fontana, who had drawn a lead-off walk from Tigers’ freshman starting pitcher Kevin Gausman.

The Tigers threatened early in the bottom of the first inning but Pigott made a diving catch on deep drive to left center. LSU had runners on second and third after consecutive singles, however, Randall struck out junior Mikie Mahtook, and junior Austin Nola ended the inning on a third base ground-out.

During the top half of the second inning sophomore Mike Zunino reached first on a fielding error and stole his fifth base in five attempts on the year.

Randall retired seven Tigers in a row before giving up an infield single to sophomore Raph Rhymes with two outs in the third. Junior Preston Tucker caught a fly ball hit by junior Tyler Hanover to close the inning.

In the fourth, Zunino’s single through right with two outs extended his hitting streak to seven games. In the bottom of the inning, LSU sophomore Mason Katz had a two-out single up the middle and moved into scoring position with his third stolen base. The next batter, junior Grant Dozar, grounded out.

Sophomore Cody Dent drew a one-out walk from Gausman in the fifth but was caught trying to steal second. Fontana and Pigott went back-to-back with two-out singles into center and Tucker’s infield hit loaded the bases. Sophomore Austin Maddox grounded out to Nola at shortstop to end the visitor’s half. In the bottom of the inning, freshman Ty Ross started things off with a single into center, but Randall set down the next  two Tigers hitters with consecutive fly outs. A passed ball by Zunino advanced Ross to second, but a second base groundout by Rhymes kept the score 1-0 in favor of the Gators.

Hanover led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit up the middle, but was followed by Mahtook’s fly ball at the warning track for the first out. Nola hit a line-drive to third, which Dent quickly fired to Maddox at first to tag out Hanover for the double play.

Gausman started the seventh by walking senior Josh Adams who was sacrificed over to second on a bunt by Dent. Fontana’s fly out followed by Pigott’s ground out held the score. Randall set the first two down in the bottom of the seventh before ending his outing after surrendering back-to-back singles. Larson took the mound, and hit junior Trey Watkins with a pitch to load the bases. Larson forced Rhymes to ground out at first.

Gausman continued to pitch well late in the game when he forced the Gators to go three-up three-down in their half of the eighth. After Hanover’s ground out to open the bottom, Mahtook’s single would bring Maronde in to take over for Larson.  Maronde forced a Nola fly out to right, then issued a walk to Sophomore Mason Katz. Maronde would strike out the next four batters. Sophomore Kevin Berry entered the game for the Tigers at the top of the ninth, who retired the Gators in order.

Gausman settled down after the first inning and had a spectacular outing, surrendering one run on five hits, four strikeouts, and four walks in eight innings.

Pigott’s two hits gave him his tenth mutli-hit game of the season, leading all Gators.

The Gators look to sweep the series against LSU Sunday, April 20th at 1pm EST, a feat they have yet to accomplish in Baton Rouge.

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A Look at College Baseball’s Lack of Support

Gator fans are the best fans in the country. Not in the West Virginia University Mountaineer fire-setting kind of way, but in the Alex Brown (‘98-‘01) still chomps after a sack kind of way. Florida has always been a football school, win or lose. But for everybody else there is one rule:  You must win. Billy Donovan understood this and Florida is now a basketball school as well, maybe not as popular as football, but old habits die hard.

Baseball has been around in Gainesville since in 1912. For time saving purposes, let’s fast forward to the Jeremy Foley years. His first two hires, Andy Lopez and Pat McMahon were inconsistent with extreme highs – reaching the College World Series, followed by extreme lows – a losing SEC record and missing the NCAA Tournament all together. For a university where you must win, it’s understandable that the fan support fluctuated along with the teams’ records. When Mr. Foley hired Clemson pitching coach Kevin O’Sullivan in 2008, the pendulum began swinging upwards again. In his first three years as head coach, the Gator baseball team had a record of 126-63. They won the SEC East in 2009, and won the SEC Conference and reached the College World Series in 2010. This season, the Gators have been ranked No. 1 in the country since pre-season and to date boast a record of 20-2. Coach Sully is indeed winning.

McKethan Stadium holds 5,500 spectators, and only twice so far this season has had attendance over 5,000 (5, 157 season opener vs. USF 2/18 & 5,930 vs. FSU 3/15). As a fan of Gator baseball, it’s a little disheartening.

There was a recent article published on Yahoo Sports asking why college baseball isn’t very popular, listing five reasons from a fan’s perspective.

1. Television Coverage
During college football and college basketball seasons, you can find games on almost every night. Conferences sign contracts with ESPN and other networks in order to televise these games. You are likely to be able to see every football and basketball game that your school plays.
The same is not true of baseball.

Outside of the College World Series, it is almost impossible to find a college baseball game on a regular network. Exposure has improved with conference networks. I am a Penn State graduate, but never saw a Penn State game on television before the advent of the Big Ten Network. I still don’t watch a lot of games, but I will see them from time to time.

This is an extremely valid point. I live in Illinois, and have the ‘pleasure’ of Big 10 Network as part of my cable package. I know they televise some games, but I do not care nearly enough about the Big 10 Conference, or their network to pay attention to how many games are covered. ESPN the “World Wide Leader in Sports” doesn’t televise college baseball games until after March Madness, but does televise other college sports such as lacrosse and men’s hockey on ESPNU. Maybe if one of the brass’ sons over at Disney starts to play college baseball it will finally be televised more. Until then, you can go to games, or like me subscribe to Gatorvision (which comes in handy in other sports as well).

2. Geography
College baseball has virtually no life in much of the country. The Northeastern and Midwestern United States are largely shut out of the major events. Big schools like Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan haven’t appeared in the College World Series for close to 30 years.

Most schools come from the ACC, PAC-10, or SEC. That is no knock on those teams, but it does reflect how limited the sport is geographically

Another point I agree with. There’s a reason why MLB winter/spring training takes place in Florida or Arizona. It’s too cold in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, etc. If you are a high school baseball player from Kenosha heading to college, you can’t play at the University of Wisconsin – they don’t have a baseball team. You probably have your sights set on a school from the south, southwest or California anyway – if you’re good enough, that is. States below the Mason-Dixon and California produce  good ball players; you have to be really special to get from the state of South Dakota to the University of South Carolina. To reiterate the author on Yahoo it’s not a knock on those teams or states; it just reflects why the sport is limited geographically.

3.No Stars                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Unlike basketball and football, the best baseball players usually go to the minor leagues right out of high school. There have been exceptions, but this is generally the case. Until recently, many of the best basketball players skipped college to go to the NBA. However, the NBA has no minor leagues and limited roster spots. As a result, the bulk of the top recruits still went to college.

The same is not true of baseball players.

Teams have multiple teams in their farm system, and players are better served by playing there. When looking at the list of CWS MVPs, you are not likely to see many names you recognize.

Here is where the author and I differ in opinion. According to baseball-almanac.com, there are more current and past baseball stars that attended college then both the author, and many other people realize. I found five alone from Arizona State University: Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, Dustin Pedroia, Andre’ Ethier, and Ian Kinsler (who also went to Univ of Missouri – bonus for my argument). Then there are two of my favorites, Evan Longoria (University of California – Long Beach) and David Price (Vanderbilt). I’m sure most baseball fans have heard of all of them. Most would also contend that they are, by all accounts, stars.

I asked David Price via twitter if he would give me his opinion on the original yahoo post, but he never responded. I’m convinced it has everything to do with that fact he had just thrown 103 pitches when his expected pitch count was 90. It can be very tiring throwing that many pitches at a speed of 96-99, but I’m sure I’ll hear from him about it one day.

While I wait for his email, here’s a little information: David Price was drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but did not sign. He decided to attend Vanderbilt on an academic scholarship. This is an extremely common practice. When a player is drafted out of high school but does not sign with the MLB team (for whatever reason), they go to college and re-enter the draft three years later. This is exactly what David Price did and was drafted first overall in 2007 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Evan Longoria on the other hand, wasn’t even offered a scholarship by a Div 1 school. USC had considered making an offer, but pulled back citing his size. He attended Rio Hondo Community College where he played his freshman year and won first-team All State honors. He was offered a scholarship by Long Beach State University and transferred before his sophomore year. Because LBSU already had a short stop,Troy Tulowitzki (of the Colorado Rockies), Evan moved to third base. He was the 2006 Big West Co-Player of the Year, and drafted as the third player overall by the Rays that year.

Not every Florida Gator will be drafted by a MLB team, but six from last year’s squad were –Kevin Chapman (Kansas City Royals), Matt den Dekker (New York Mets), Tommy Toledo (Minnesota Twins), Hampton Tignor and Justin Poovey (LA Angels of Anaheim), and Matt Campbell (Cincinatti Reds). I think it’s exciting to watch a preview of who could be the next Cy Young or MVP Winner.

4. Metal Bats
To me, metal bats have the feel of little league. Much as been made of the safety of metal bats, but they were a problem long before that. The pinging sound has become almost a joke to the sporting world.

When I was little, I used metal bats. Granted, I never played baseball beyond little league, but I associated wooden bats with a mature game. If college baseball wants to help itself, it should make the switch. People would take it more seriously.

A lot of people agree with switching the aluminum bats to wood for many  for the reasons stated above. But I like the ping. To me, the aluminum bats are the last age of innocence for the boys of spring, before they become the boys of summer.

5. No History of Popularity College baseball is hindered because it never had an avid following. Most of us get in to a sport because our parents watched them with us. However, our parents never watched college baseball with us. Therefore, there is no tradition. You can’t force a fan to be passionate about something. It is just a part of someone.

Everyone has to start somewhere. I started being an MLB fan in 1998 when my hometown was rewarded with the Devil Rays. I started being a Gator baseball fan in 1994 when a boy I had a crush on in high school was a baseball player who was going to be attending UF. Because of that, I was able to watch David Eckstein play long before his two World Series Championships (02 Angels, 06 Cardinals – MVP).

Everyone becomes a fan of a sport or a team at some time, for some reason. You don’t have to be born one. If that was the case, the Rays wouldn’t have a fan older than 13.

College baseball is a great game. I will never knock the ability of those that play the game. But it is just not the same as the other major college sports.

While visiting the Duke campus once, I was surprised to be able to just find a seat in the bleachers while they played their most bitter rival in North Carolina. Even then, few students there seemed to care. Sadly, it’s like that in a lot of places. For college baseball to thrive, it has to start with its most passionate fans. They need to spread the word and get new fans on board.

Once that happens, college baseball can find some popularity

Agreed. So as a passionate fan I will say this: the best college baseball team in the country deserves the best fans in the country to go to one of the best college parks in the country and cheer on these stars. Our stars. So you can all say you had your “Eckstein” moment too.


Florida’s Run Ends in NOLA, Butler Advances to Final Four

Vernon Macklin’s last game in a Florida Gator uniform didn’t end the way he envisioned despite having one of the best and most dominating performances of his career. Alex Tyus gave another valiant effort just as he did in the previous game against BYU, but fell short. There was no Chandler Parsons buzzer beater like Mike Miller’s against Butler University in 2000. When the overtime buzzer sounded for the second consecutive game in the NCAA Tournament for the Florida Gators (29-8) it didn’t end the way Gatornation had hoped either. The Butler Bulldogs had defeated the Florida Gators 74-71.

Alex Tyus opened the game for Florida with a jumper, but Butler answered with back -to-back threes, the first from about the 28ft mark.

For the first five minutes, Vernon Macklin was aggressively effective in the paint with six of the Gators’ eight points.
After the first television timeout, Butler took the lead with a quick jumper, 10-8, but Chandler Parsons’ answered with his first three pointer and the Gators took the lead, a lead they would keep throughout the first half.

Butler’s Shelvin Mack drove on Scottie Wilbekin, elbowing him in the face, but Wilbekin was called for the foul because both of his feet were not.  Billy Donovan took him out of the game, but he would return a few minutes later.

Parsons missed a layup, got his own rebound, and made the layup for a five point Florida lead. Kenny Boynton extended the lead when he was fouled attempting a three pointer, and made all three shots from the foul line.

Butler went on a 7-0 run, which was ended on a Boynton breakaway to bring the score to 27-22. Butler answered with a three to come within two.

Butler cut the lead in half with one minute remaining in the first, capitalizing on a Tyus turnover with yet another three pointer, but Walker was fouled and made both shots at the charity line to put the Gators back up by three.

Kyle Marshall’s jumper in the waning seconds of the first half brought Butler within one, and Walker’s mid court three point missed, ending the half 33-32 Florida.

Macklin ended the first half with 15 Pts. (shooting 7-for-9) and 2 rebounds, and Parsons had the lone three pointer for Florida who went 1-4 3FG in the half. Mack and Zach Hahn had all five of Butler’s threes , shooting  5-for-9 behind the arc.

The Gators were 8-8 at the free throw line, and dominated Butler down low 16-10. There were seven total turnovers by both teams in the first half.

Vernon Macklin continued his domination in the paint to open the second half with the first basket,  but another three pointer for the Bulldogs, followed by a scoreless Gator possession, and a jumper by Butler gave them the first lead since  early in the first half.

Andrew Smith and Chase Stigall were called for back-to-back non-shooting fouls, keeping the Gators in possession with the game tied at 37.
Macklin had the first six second half points for the Gators, until Tyus exploded with consecutive dunks, keeping the front court dominated by the Florida forwards, bringing the Gator lead back up to four at 43-39.

Boynton heated up the back court, hitting his first two shots of the second half, to extend Florida’s lead 47-40.
Alex Tyus intercepted a pass off of a Butler inbound, fouled by Smith, made both FTs and made an inside jumper to give Florida their largest lead of the game at 11, 51-40.

Four consecutive points by the Bulldogs cut the Gators’ lead to seven, but a Tyus tip-in off of a Parsons baseline jumper put the Gators back up by nine. Erik Murphy picked up Florida’s eighth foul before the 8-minute television timeout.

A Florida turnover resulted in another field goal for Butler, as Boynton mis-fired at the other end, Butler got the rebound, and Chrishawn Hopkins made another three for Butler, bringing them to within five with just over six minutes left in regulation.

Parsons forced a turnover and sent the ball down court for Boynton, who made the easy layup. VanZant made the second Butler 3FG in a row, the eighth for the Bulldogs from behind the arc. Young was fouled on the following possession after a Tyus miss, making both shots from the FT, and keeping the Gators a perfect 12/12 from the line, and the score in the Gators’ favor at 57-52. Butler went on a five point run with just over three minutes left in regulation to tie it up at 57.  Macklin was fouled by Smith, and missed the first free throw which was also the first missed from the line for Florida with 2:33 left in the second half.

A foul by Young sent Matt Howard to the line, where he made one of two FTs, tying the game up at 60. The Gators had the last possession of regulation, but Walker mis-fired his jumper sending the game to overtime tied at 60-60.
Florida won the overtime tip-off to open overtime, and Boynton was fouled by Smith, sending him to the Butler bench and out of the game. Boytnon missed the first FT, but made the second for a one point Florida lead. Howard answered on the other end with a layup, but would foul Macklin on the next possession. Macklin made 1-for-2, and tied the game at 62.

Marshall was fouled on a jumper by Tyus, and made the and-1, giving the Bulldogs the three point lead 65-62 with 3:33 remaining in overtime.
Florida and Butler exchanged free throws and three pointers for most of the next two minutes. With 1:07 left, Marshall fouled Walker who could have tied the game at 72 if he made both shots, but missed the first, leaving Butler at a one point advantage.

Tyus intentionally fouled Mack to stop the clock at: 10, who made both free throws, giving Butler a 74-71 lead. Walker missed a three pointer with eight seconds left, Ronald Nored grabbed the rebound but the ball was stolen by Boynton with one second on the clock. Boynton fired the last shot from beyond half court, but didn’t connect, and Butler defeated the Gators with a final score of 74-71.

The Gators are losing three starting seniors (Parsons, Tyus, and Macklin), but next season will be adding Bradley Beal, ranked the seventh best out of possible 100 according to ESPNU, and  Walter Pitchford PF.

In the locker room after the game,  Billy Donovan addressed his players: “When a group of guys decide to come together and try to become a team, like a real team, a lot of great things can be accomplished,” Donovan said. “And what happens is when you go after trying to accomplish something, there is the threat, there is the other side that the losing is even more painful because you have so much vested in each other individually.”