As if she hadn’t done enough to seal her legacy as the National Player of the Year with three pitching wins and two home runs that got the Florida Gators into the championship round of the Women’s College World Series, Lauren Haeger added an exclamation point Monday night. Taking a night off from the circle, Haeger got the job done at the plate, delivering a two-run homer in the first and a an RBI double in the third to lead Florida to a 3-2 win over Michigan that puts the Gators one win away from a second straight NCAA championship.
After Haeger’s nine-inning, 160-pitch effort that got the Gators past Auburn and into the championship round for the fourth time in the last seven years, Florida coach Tim Walton elected to go with freshman third team All-American Aleshia Ocasio in game one. It made sense since Ocasio already owned two wins over Michigan this season. It made even more sense when Haeger hammered a low and away change-up deep over the left field fence on the 12th pitch of her first inning at bat, scoring Kelsey Stewart ahead of her for a 2-0 lead. In the third, Haeger hit another low and away off-speed pitch into the right center field gap to drive home Nicole Dewitt.
Ocasio went five scoreless innings before she gave up a couple in the sixth, prompting Walton to bring in lefty Delanie Gourley to pitch the seventh. Gourley flirted with disaster by walking the leadoff batter then giving up a no-out single, but she came back to get a grounder that shortstop Katie Medina turned into a spectacular force at second, a strikeout and another grounder to Medina to end the game.
It was a calculated gamble by Walton to go with Gourley when he could have asked Haeger to go the last inning, but it paid off with a win that puts Florida in the driver’s seat. Florida only needs one win Tuesday to claim the national title while Michigan will have to beat the Gators twice.
And that means beating Haeger, who has won seven games in the NCAA Tournament, five by shutout. Monday’s home run was Haeger’s fifth in NCAA play this season. She now has 71 career homers and 72 wins in the circle. She’s the only player in college softball history who has accomplished a 70/70.
If you are one to wager, put some money on Haeger pulling off the rare double-double of National Player of the Year and MVP of the Women’s College World Series.
For the life of me I can’t figure out how UAB president Ray Watts still has a job. He’s the guy who was so intent on killing the UAB football program that he ran with flawed data and the misplaced assumption that Conference USA would keep UAB as a member even without a football program. Watts killed the
program and that forced enough of a public outcry that he was forced to reinstate football and two other sports Monday afternoon.
The way Watts went about killing the program – giving very little notice and without asking for input from the community, boosters and corporate sponsors – left a sour taste in the Birmingham community, which has rallied to preserve football with pledges of $17 million to cover the budget and another $13 million for facilities upgrades. Restoring football will be far more costly than it would have been to keep the program. All the players from last year’s team, which went 6-6 and was bowl-eligible, have dispersed to schools nationwide so UAB will start from scratch and hope it can find enough players to field a team in 2016. Watts is very fortunate that Conference USA is willing to take UAB back.
Although the UAB program is restored, Watts’ credibility in Birmingham and the state of Alabama is shot. How he remains employed is anyone’s guess but it’s probably safe to assume he will be looking for a new place to work relatively soon.
Fred Hoiberg becomes the second high profile Division I basketball coach to bolt the college game for the NBA. In a situation that was very much like the one at Oklahoma City where Scott Brooks, who had an outstanding record was fired and Billy Donovan lured away from Florida, the Bulls canned Tom Thibodeau and made Hoiberg their only viable candidate for the job. Iowa State, meanwhile, has to replace a head coach and due to the timing, choices are limited. Camp season begins this week and that’s critical to recruiting so established coaches will be reluctant to talk to Iowa State. The most viable options for Iowa State might be assistant T.J. Otzelberger, who is said to have the full support of athletic director Jamie Pollard, and former Iowa State great and NBA shooter deluxe Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek has never coached before but neither had Hoiberg when he was hired.
You can’t blame coaches like Donovan and Hoiberg for following dreams to coach in the NBA, nor can you blame NBA teams for needing to find the right coach to fill their vacancies, but no matter how you stack it, the timing stinks for college basketball programs. For the most part, college basketball recruiting for the next season is over and done with during the November early signing period. If a coach leaves and a player wants out of his letter of intent or if a player elects to transfer because of a coaching change, there is very little that can be done to replace the losses on the roster. And, since most college basketball hirings and firings are done in April, the pool of viable replacement candidates for a coach takes a serious slide after April 30.
College basketball and the NBA have the ability to work out the problems of the current one-and-done system, but there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change NBA teams poaching college coaches. Donovan and Hoiberg are taking over established teams with strong rosters so they both should have instant success, which will only cause NBA general managers to look to the college ranks whenever there is a coaching change. And that means more turmoil in the college ranks.
To say this is puzzling would be the understatement of the century. You could get better odds in Vegas that the Red Sea will part again than you will for Braxton Miller starting at quarterback next season for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Because he’s coming off serious shoulder surgery and won’t be able to start throwing something other than soft tosses before mid-July, there is absolutely no way Miller is going to beat out either Cardale Jones, the guy who won the Big Ten championship, a college football semifinal and the national championship in his only three starts, or J.T. Barrett, the guy who replaced Miller to win the Big Ten Player of the Year in his 11-1/2 games of work last season. Jones is healthy as a horse and Barrett is fully recovered from a broken ankle.
If Jones stays healthy and plays anything close to the way he did in his three pressure-packed starts, there is every good chance he will be the #1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. All Barrett did when he became the starter after Miller’s injury in preseason camp was produce 45 touchdowns (34 passing, 11 running).
And then there is Miller, who was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2012-13 but who hasn’t thrown a pass since last August. While Jones and Barrett are good runners, neither has the instincts that Miller has but at the same time, Miller couldn’t throw like Jones if life depended on it and he’s not nearly as accurate as Barrett. Miller is so athletic that more than a few NFL scouts believe he could be an outstanding wide receiver in the Anquan Boldin mold but Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer says there will be no position change.
So what is he doing coming back to Columbus? He’s not going to beat either Jones or Barrett out for the starting job and if he isn’t going to change positions, then it’s hard to imagine Miller content carrying a clipboard. As a graduate, Miller could transfer and play immediately providing his shoulder checks out in August and he can rebuild the arm strength quickly enough to throw the ball downfield. Both Alabama and LSU have been mentioned as ideal landing spots if Miller elected to bolt. Healthy, Miller could be the missing link that could bring either of those schools a legitimate shot at the national championship. The flip side of that is he could transfer and lack the arm strength it takes to play quarterback.
Perhaps Miller’s decision is fueled by an undying love for Ohio State and if it is, more power to him, but if he wants to play quarterback he needs to go somewhere else. If he is going to stay at Ohio State he needs to think about learning to run pass routes.
Matt Hayes of The Sporting News has come out with his annual rankings of SEC football coaches. The guys at the top stay the same – Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier – but there is a lot of movement in positions 3-14. Probably the biggest surprise is Bret Bielema of Arkansas ranked #3 and Gus Malzahn down to #6. Florida coach Jim McElwain is ranked #13 ahead of Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
3. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
4. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
5. Les Miles, LSU
6. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
7. Hugh Freeze, Mississippi State
8. Mark Richt, Georgia
9. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
10. Butch Jones, Tennessee
11. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
12. Jim McElwain, Florida
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
1. Depends commercials where everyone is walking in public showing off their Depends undies. I’m sure Depends makes a ton of money but I have yet to hear anyone discuss the merits of wearing them in public.
2. Today’s sitcoms. I still watch the re-runs of Seinfeld, Cheers and Frasier. They make me laugh. Maybe there is something on the networks today that is actually funny but I haven’t found it.
3. Sideline reporters who have no clue what’s going on asking “what adjustments did you make?” How about someone asking, “How come you threw those three interceptions” or “why did you strike out four times on the exact same pitch?”
Put yourself in Tim Walton’s shoes: Would you have gone with Ocasio Monday night or would you have stuck with Haeger?
I gained a new appreciation for Eric Clapton with his “Unplugged” album in 1992. The album won six Grammy awards and three outstanding singles including “Tears in Heaven” which made it to #1 on the adult contemporary charts. My favorite song on the album is the Bo Diddley song “Before You Accuse Me.”