The Gators will spend the next few months looking at the film and shaking their heads because of their fourth place finish at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth. Oklahoma won the meet fair and square with what seemed to be a dominant performance, but the Gators missed out on key opportunities to pull off what would have been a fourth straight national title.
Bridget Sloan, who won the NCAA all-around (39.700) and championships on beam (9.950) and bars (9.950) on Friday, turned in what would have been the best all-around score on Saturday (39.650; no all-around is awarded at the Super Six), but she couldn’t carry the team all alone to a championship. She needed help and it wasn’t always there.
Florida needed at least a 49.350 on balance beam but only registered a 49.2125. Some of that can be attributed to judging but not because the judges weren’t fair. The Gators were the very first team on beam and judges typically score low to start and then score higher as the meet goes on. Both the 9.90 by Sloan and the 9.875 by Alex McMurtry probably would have scored at least .250 higher midway through the meet onward.
Florida had a decent – 49.3250 – score on the vault but a 9.3 by Alicia Boren meant eating a 9.7875 by Bridgette Caquatto. During the regular season, SEC and regional meets leading up to the NCAA Championships, Boren had scored 9.90 or better on vault seven times.
A strength of the team all season was floor, but the Gators came up low both in the semifinals and finals. UF scored a 49.300 on Friday and then came in at 49.3625 on Saturday. Kennedy Baker, who scored a perfect 10 on floor during the regular season, overshot her landing and barely stayed inbounds, turning what could have been a 9.90 routine into a 9.8250. McMurtry had one tumbling run she didn’t stick, but it shouldn’t have resulted in a 9.8625 and where the judges found fault with Sloan (9.9250) is anyone’s guess. Vault has never been Sloan’s strength but she stuck her landing and the routine seemed to be better than the 9.8875 she got, particularly when compared to the vault scores the judges handed out to LSU.
This is not to take anything away from Oklahoma or second place LSU. I didn’t see a lot of spectacular efforts from either one but that’s because they both came in determined to stick nearly every landing and succeeded. If there is one thing you can take away from the 2016 meet, it is the judges seemed to go overboard scoring anyone who stuck a landing.
Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama stuck more landings than Florida and didn’t give away points in events they needed to carry them.
GOOD PITCHING DESTROYS GOOD HITTING
The weekend series with Louisiana-Lafayette (32-6) was billed as the monster power of the 4th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns (NCAA leading 77 homers and .347 team batting average) vs. the pitching (0.85 team ERA) of the 1st-ranked Gators (41-3). By the time the Cajuns got on their bus to head back to Louisiana Sunday afternoon, they were in 0-3 and in shell shock, having been outplayed in every phase of the game. The final tally was 22-1 on the scoreboard, but what happened on the field could have lingering implications from the best team from the Sun Belt Conference.
It was obvious watching the Cajuns swing their bats that they haven’t seen pitching like they saw from Delanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio. Even though Kelly Barnhill had her shortest outing of the season (2-2/3 innings on Sunday) she didn’t give up a run. Her problem was location. When she got the ball in the strike zone the Cajuns couldn’t touch her.
With only one decent pitcher, shaky defense up the middle and All-American catcher Lexie Elkins (.538 batting average, 17 homers) out indefinitely, the Cajuns are going to have difficulty once they get into NCAA play, especially if they have to go against SEC teams.
Florida, meanwhile, looks like a team starting to round into the kind of form they’ll need to win a third straight national championship. While holding the Cajuns and their big boppers to just 12 hits (.104 batting average), 2 runs and only 1 home run all weekend, the Gators hit .351, whacked 5 home runs and played errorless softball, extending their errorless streak to 32 consecutive innings.
The defense was on full display throughout the weekend, but nothing said defense quite like Sunday’s triple play, the third in UF history and the first since 2010. In the top of the second inning with two on and nobody out, the Cajuns tried to bunt the runners over but Barnhill fielded her position perfectly, charging the bunt and getting her glove under the ball before it hit the ground. Barnill wheeled, threw to second and the relay went to first. Bang, bang, bang, it was three outs and the Cajuns in the dugout looked like a thoroughly beaten team.
Pitching and defense have been Florida’s strengths all season, but now we’re seeing hitters who have been very average starting to get into a groove, none more than sophomore Kayli Kvistad. Even her outs come off the bat like a rocket. She had a 2-homer game Saturday. The first one can be seen sometime about 11 a.m. tonight as it orbits the earth. Kvistad is hitting .427 and her on base percentage is .548.
GOOD PITCHING (AND GOOD HITTING) DESTROYS ARKANSAS
The Gators (33-5, 11-4 SEC) rebounded from last weekend by sweeping Arkansas in dominating fashion. The Gators did it at the plate, on the mound and in the field. After a 12-8 win to start the series on Friday, the Gators came back to knock off the Hogs, 9-2 and 8-2.
Florida’s starting pitchers – A.J. Puk (Thursday), Logan Shore (Friday) and Alex Faedo (Saturday) – combined for 18 innings while giving up 17 hits, 4 runs and 5 walks while striking out 23.
After a rare, 2-error game on Thursday, the Gators went errorless in the remaining two games. For the season, the Gators have committed only 24 errors, best in the SEC and top five nationally.
The Gators hit .296 (32-108) for the weekend, but the hitting was timely as UF had at least one inning with five runs in each of the three games.
The Gators host Jacksonville Tuesday night, then Georgia (20-17, 6-9 SEC) for a three-game series starting Thursday night.
OTHER UF SPRING SPORTS
Women’s Tennis: The 4th-ranked Gators (18-2, 13-0 SEC) clinched the SEC championship by shutting out #3 Georgia in Athens on Friday, then finished out an unbeaten SEC slate on Sunday with a 4-0 shutout of Tennessee. The Gators go into the SEC Tournament in Baton Rouge as the #1 seed, facing the winner of Kentucky and LSU next Friday.
Women’s Golf: Tied with Alabama for the top spot going into Sunday’s final round, the 8th-ranked Gators shot -2 for the day but it was only good for second place as Alabama recorded a -7 to take the SEC championship in Birmingham. Florida’s Maria Torres shot a -2 70 on Sunday to win the individual championship with a -9 207 for the 3-day event.
Men’s Golf: The Gators finished in a tie for third with Arkansas, 8 shots off the pace set by Georgia at the SEC Championships at St. Simon’s Island. The Gators, who were in sixth place after two rounds, finished 21 over par for the 3-day event. Gordon Neale shot a final round 67 for fourth place while Sam Horsfield shot a 69 to finish in a tie for fifth.
Lacrosse: The 2nd-ranked Gators (14-1, 5-0 Big East) were led by Shayna Pirreca’s 2 goals and 3 assists Saturday as they disposed of Villanova (3-12, 1-4 Big East) in a conference match in Philadelphia. The win assured the Gators of one of four spots in the Big East Tournament, May 5-7. Next up for the Gators is a road trip to Cincinnati (4-10, 0-4 Big East) on Wednesday. UF returns home Saturday for a matchup of Big East co-leader UConn (11-2, 5-0 Big East).
Men’s Tennis: The 13th-ranked Gators (15-6, 10-2 SEC) closed out the regular season with a dominating 6-1 win over Tennessee (11-16, 0-12 SEC) at the Ring Tennis Center on campus. Next up for the Gators is the SEC Tournament in Columbia, SC starting on Wednesday.
SEC ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT GROSS REVENUE FOR 2014-15
(Vanderbilt is a private school so records were not available)
1. Texas A&M $192,608,876
2. Alabama, $148,911,674
3. FLORIDA, $147,105,242
4. LSU, $138,642,237
5. Tennessee, $126,584,033
6. Auburn, $124,657,247
7. Kentucky, $116,494,690
8. Georgia, $116,151,279
9. Arkansas, $114,172,847
10. South Carolina, $113,172,545
11. Missouri, $91,217,778
12. Ole Miss, $87,602,519
13. Mississippi State, $75,400,407
SOME SEC FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL STUFF
Alabama: Redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts were the most impressive of the quarterbacks at A-Day. Barnett was 9-16 for 112 yards and Hurts was 11-15 or 120 yards and a TD. Both Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell completed less than 40% of their passes for a combined 136 yards.
Arkansas: Senior running back Kody Walker broke his foot and won’t be able to start running again until early summer.
Georgia: The first G-Day game under new coach Kirby Smart drew a record crowd of 93,000 to Sanford Stadium.
Kentucky: No surprise here, Drew Barker is the starting QB after spring drills completed … WR T.V. Williams is transferring out. He had five catches in two years.
LSU: Leonard Fournette only played long enough to carry the ball 8 times, three O-line starters were out and Travin Dural also sat, so the offense was average at best. Neither Brandon Harris or Danny Etling distinguished at QB. The defense under new coordinator Dave Aranda looked very fast and easily adapted to the new 3-4 scheme … Fullback/wide receiver Tony Upchurch will transfer out.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen will run in the Boston Marathon.
South Carolina: Korey Holden, who averaged 17.7 points and 4.2 assists per game at Delaware is transferring to South Carolina. He will have to sit a year.
Tennessee: Even with quick whistles to prevent contact, Tennessee’s makeshift D-line got to the quarterback five times in the spring game.
Texas A&M: New AD Scott Woodward says he doesn’t see things changing any time soon but he’s open to the idea of the Aggies and Texas playing once again. The Aggies and Longhorns haven’t played since 2011.
Just when you think the NCAA has outdone itself for sheer stupidity, they do something like this. Marcus Lattimore can’t be part of Will Muschamp’s non-coaching staff because the NCAA says it would be an unfair recruiting advantage since Lattimore’s foundation speaks to players, runs camps and helps kids learn to make good decisions. This goes beyond dumb. It’s time for the Division I schools to completely break away, hire someone who really is smart and then come up with a way of doing things that involves common sense. It’s obvious nobody in the NCAA has any. No one but the NCAA would think Lattimore or anyone else would give South Carolina an unfair recruiting advantage.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. The folks at UNLV must feel like they were just getting to know new head basketball coach Chris Beard and then suddenly he was gone! Well, stuff like that happens when you sign a 5-year contract and then one week later you bolt for the head job at Texas Tech. Beard worked as an assistant at Texas Tech for nine years (2001-11) before spending three years coaching small college ball and then one year at Arkansas-Little Rock. At ALR, Beard led the Spartans to a 30-5 record and an upset win over Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
UNLV hired New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies to replace Beard. He is part of both the Lon Kruger and Rick Pitino coaching trees.
The Tennessee Titans traded away the #1 pick in the NFL Draft to the Los Angeles Rams, who will use it to draft a quarterback. Now the Titans are trying to make a trade with the Cleveland Browns, who own the #2 pick so they can draft Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil, who they intended to draft #1 when they had that pick.
Ohio State drew nearly 101,000 to its spring game. Experts who watched say anyone who thinks the Buckeyes are going to take a step backward just because they’ll be losing a dozen or so players to the NFL needs to think again.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
The NCAA is always doing something stupid, but has the organization gone way too far by banning Marcus Lattimore and claiming he gives South Carolina an unfair recruiting advantage?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Back in the 1980s, friends of mine convinced me to accompany them to see Parliament Funkadelic in concert. I’ve been to better concerts when it comes to music, but other than a Buffett concert in Atlanta I’ve never been to one in which I had more fun. George Clinton is still the master of funk even at 75 years old. His band is definitely worth the price of admission. Today’s music a full concert of George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars in Rome, NY in 1999. You have to watch as well as listen. Half the fun of a P-Funk concert is the visual.