Perhaps the two most important stats you need to know as the Gators (47-16) head into the Gainesville NCAA Super Regional against Florida State (44-19) are 7-1 and 35 as in Florida’s record against he Seminoles in Gainesville since Kevin O’Sullivan became the head coach is 7-1 and the Gators have committed only 35 errors all season. With the home field where the Gators are 31-6 this season including 1-0 against FSU and a defense that rarely makes a mistake, the #4-seeded Gators have some very serious advantages as they try to punch their ticket for a fourth trip to Omaha in O’Sullivan’s eighth year on the job.
This is a Florida team that is peaking at just the right time. Since losing the first game of an SEC weekend series to Vanderbilt in Nashville back on May 7, the Gators are 11-2. After losing their first game at the SEC Tournament, the Gators won the next four to shock both LSU and Vanderbilt to take the championship. At the Gainesville Regional last weekend, the Gators outscored three opponents 29-3 while playing flawlessly in the field.
Florida State comes into Gainesville on a similar streak. The Seminoles won the ACC Tournament and went 3-0 in their own regional last week, but they’ve had their problems beating the Gators in Gainesville over the last eight years. When they played at McKethan Stadium back on March 17, Florida got a homer from national freshman of the year J.J. Schwartz to lead a 16-hit attack that was aided by five FSU errors. The Gators, meanwhile, played error-free defense as seven pitchers combined for a 14-8 UF win.
The Gators have been hitting the ball very well lately, but their bats have had their peaks and valleys this year. What has remained consistent throughout the entire season is the glove work. Florida currently leads the nation in fielding at .985 which tells opponents they’ll have to earn everything because the Gators just aren’t going to give games away. As long as Florida’s pitchers find the strike zone (they’ve only walked 161 batters all year; opponents have walked 240 Gators), it’s going to be very tough for anyone to come into Gainesville and beat UF two out of three.
Pitching Matchup: Florida’s likely starter will be sophomore righty Logan Shore (8-6, 2.64 ERA) while FSU will probably go with sophomore righty Boomer Biegalski (7-4, 2.80 ERA). Saturday, the Gators will go with lefty A.J. Puk (9-3, 3.80 ERA; 14 consecutive scoreless innings; 48 strikeouts in his last 30-1/3 innings).
By now Tim Walton has figured out how to replace a superstar. After the 2014 NCAA championship, the question was how do you replace Hannah Rogers, who put the Gators on her back and pitched them to UF’s first national championship. The task ahead is replacing Lauren Haeger, whose bat and arm made the Gators the first non-Pac 12 team to ever win back to back. Replacing Haeger, the only 70-win/70-homer player in softball history is a monstrous task but Walton has turned the Florida program into one that never rebuilds but simply reloads.
Next season will be Kelsey Stewart’s turn to assume the superstar mantle. Already a three-time All-SEC and two-time All-American, Stewart (.453, 19 doubles, 11 triples, 2 homers, 41 RBI, 26 stolen bases) was the SEC Player of the Year. She’s already the school’s all-time leader in batting average, hits, triples and stolen bases.
Aleshia Ocasio (18-3, third team All-America as a freshman) will take over as the #1 starter in the circle backed up by junior lefty Delanie Gourley (career 25-3) and incoming recruit Kelly Barnhill, the nation’s #2 recruit who regularly tops 70 mph with her fastball.
There is experience everywhere else except shortstop where incoming freshmen Sophia Reynosa (nation’s #33 recruit) and Alexandra Voss (nation’s #86 recruit) are expected to battle it out to replace slick fielding Katie Medina, the best defensive shortstop in the nation the last two years. Starters return at first base (Taylor Schwartz and Kayli Kvistad platooned and combined for 8 homers, 50 RBI), second (Stewart) and third (Taylore Fuller 14 homers, 56 RBI). Three starters return in the outfield in Kirsti Merritt (career 28 homers, 128 RBI), Nicole Dewitt (.331 average, 2 homers, 28 RBI as a freshman) and Justine McLean (.360 batting average). Behind the plate will be Aubree Munroe (All-Tournament at the WCWS last two years), the best defensive catcher in the country.
Incoming freshman Amanda Lorenz, the nation’s #1 recruit, will start somewhere from day one and Walton will want to find a place for the power bats of freshmen Brooke Clemens (nation’s #42 recruit) and Theresa Swertfager.
Michigan, Auburn and LSU will also return stacked lineups next year, but given Walton’s success (two championships, two runner-up finishes, three other trips to the WCWS) in the last 10 years, figure the Gators will be in the hunt once again.
The day after the Gators took home the NCAA women’s softball national championship, the men’s team from LSU defeated Southern Cal to win the NCAA golf championship bringing the Southeastern Conference to five national titles this year. Actually, it’s six national titles but the NCAA doesn’t sanction equestrian as a sport. South Carolina brought home the title this year.
The Pac-12 and Big Ten each have brought home seven NCAA titles this year but the SEC has a chance to finish on a serious roll with championships still to be decided in baseball and men’s and women’s track and field. Super Regionals in baseball begin this weekend with LSU, Florida and Arkansas hosting while Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are on the road. Just as the SEC took up five of the eight spots at the Women’s College World Series, no one should be shocked if all five SEC teams win their Super Regional to advance to Omaha. If that happens you would have to like the odds that an SEC team brings home the big trophy.
Florida’s men rank #1 in track and field with the NCAA championships looming in Eugene, Oregon June 10-13 and the way the Gators blew past the field in the SEC meet, they are the favorites to bring home his second outdoor NCAA title (he owns three indoor championships). Florida isn’t the only SEC contender, however. Four of the five top ranked teams and six of the top ten are from the SEC (1. UF; 3. Texas A&M; 4. LSU; 5. Arkansas; 7. Georgia; 10. Mississippi State) so there is a really good chance one of them wins another national title for the SEC. Over on the women’s side, Oregon is #1 but four of the top six teams and six of the top ten are from the SEC (2. Arkansas; 3. Kentucky; 4. Texas A&M; 6. Florida; 7. Georgia; 8. LSU). The Arkansas women won the NCAA indoors, have superior depth to Oregon and have a great chance to win.
The words “Lack of institutional control” are among the five level one violations listed in the 59 pages of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations that the University of North Carolina revealed to the public Thursday. The other four violations involve the largest academic scandal in the history of collegiate athletics. On the surface, this looks like a cut and dried case that, at the very least, should result in serious sanctions against the basketball program and other sports, perhaps taking away the 2005 NCAA basketball championship and drastically reducing the number of scholarships.
What we have learned through the years about the NCAA, however, is that the more it looks like a no brainer case for dropping the hammer on an athletic program the more likely it is the NCAA will find a reason to wimp out.
Remember the FSU academic scandal of 2006-07? The NCAA had the Seminoles by the short and curlies because 61 athletes in 10 varsity sports took a fraudulent Music Appreciation course. The NCAA could have hit FSU with serious sanctions and sent a shot across the bow of cheaters everywhere, but when the dust cleared on this one, FSU folks were giggling. Sure, they were stripped of an NCAA track championship and 12 football wins and 22 basketball wins were vacated along with a postseason win in baseball and women’s basketball but it could have and probably should have been much, much worse. Instead, the NCAA took pity on poor ole Bobby Bowden, who was in the twilight years of one of the great coaching careers in college football history. Because scholarships weren’t lost, FSU folks thought they had come out with a win.
And how about the Miami case in 2011? Booster Nevin Shapiro doled out excessive benefits from 2002-10 to both football and basketball players. He even documented what he did and provided receipts, photos and other evidence about $2 million he claims he gave to players and coaches at The U. There was far more evidence in this case than there was at Alabama in 2001 when the NCAA took away 21 scholarships over a three-year period. Miami, however, lost three scholarships a year for football over a three-year period and one scholarship a year for basketball over a three-year period.
The North Carolina scandal is far worse than what happened at FSU and because UNC athletes allegedly took fraudulent courses and were handed grades for approximately 18 years. To Miami’s credit, The U did cooperate fully with the NCAA investigation. North Carolina fired the whistleblower ratted out the corruption then stonewalled the NCAA, all this at a time when it was already on probation for football.
It’s all there for the NCAA to hit UNC with severe sanctions including stripping away that 2005 basketball championship but does the will exist to smack down the Carolina basketball program? Yes, the NCAA handed out sanctions and a three-year probation to football, but football is what they do in the fall at UNC. And football isn’t the NCAA’s cash cow. Basketball is thanks to that huge contract with CBS and Turner for the tournament, which pays out more than $1 billion a year.
Basketball is what matters in Chapel Hill and based on the fact that 10 of the players on that 2005 NCAA championship team were all taking fraudulent courses, that’s a championship that should be stripped and a program that should be sanctioned. With 20 other academic scandals being investigated around the country, the NCAA knows what it should do to Carolina. It should lower the boom and make Carolina basketball the poster child for what happens when you go rogue. Because the NCAA calls these athletes “student-athletes” Carolina should get hammered for this scandal.
But because Carolina is a basketball blueblood and because the NCAA deferred when it had a chance to stick it to FSU and Miami, you shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a slap on the wrist is UNC’s worst-case scenario. If you are prone to wager a buck or two on such things, put your money on the big trophy from 2005 remaining in the case at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
If the University of Florida were to allow beer sales at athletic events, which beer would you be in favor of selling at the venues?
One of my favorite albums of the early 1970s is “L.A. Woman,” the last album Florida State dropout Jim Morrison recorded with The Doors before he died in Paris in 1971. Morrison had such a remarkable voice and he was just starting to write music that played to his talents rather than to what folks on the radio wanted to hear at the time of his death. “Riders of the Storm” remains one of my favorite songs of all time.