The importance of #1-ranked Florida’s 10-6 win over 7th-ranked Vanderbilt Sunday cannot be overstated. First off, the win keeps the Gators (43-9, 18-8 SEC) on top of the Southeastern Conference East Division Standings by a full game over 5th-ranked South Carolina (38-13, 17-9 SEC) and a half game ahead of SEC West Division co-leaders Texas A&M (39-11, 18-9 SEC) and Mississippi State (37-14-1, 18-9 SEC) for first overall in the race for the regular season championship. Second, it showed the Gators could bounce back from a very difficult loss. Saturday, they were totally dominated by Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright, who threw a 3-hitter while striking out 10. Sunday, the Gators not only had to bounce back from that loss but they had to come from behind to earn the win that won the 3-game weekend series. Third, winning two out of three at home to take the series from the Commodores is huge since there is only one more weekend remaining in the regular season. The Gators will be on the road next weekend in Baton Rouge to face 13th-ranked LSU (36-16, 17-10 SEC), which swept Tennessee and has won eight straight games. Florida’s magic number is two as in two Florida wins next weekend coupled with one loss each by Texas A&M, Mississippi State and South Carolina ensures the SEC regular season title.
The Gators dominated the Commodores behind Logan Shore (10-0, 2.29 ERA) Friday night but the win came at a price since Alonso, who leads the team with a .352 batting average, 9 homers and 47 RBI broke a small bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning.
Saturday, the Gators were kept off balance the entire game as Wright located one wicked curve ball after another on the corners. The way Wright threw off the timing of the Gators with his money pitch could have had a lingering effect on Sunday, but Deacon Liput hit a 3-run homer just over the outstretched glove of Vandy right fielder Josh Kendall in the first inning. Florida fell behind 4-3 in the top of the third, but bounced back with a 3-spot in its half of the inning, then plated two runs in the bottom of the fifth after Vanderbilt had tied the game at 6-6. There were four multi-run innings and eight different batters contributed at least one hit.
That they came out swinging the bats well and didn’t fold when Vandy had answers early on is a sign of a very mature team and maturity is a necessity for any team wishing to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Taking the series from Vandy is important since UF has the toughest draw next weekend of any of the SEC contenders. The Gators are facing a red-hot LSU team that is starting to look like a team that can get to Omaha while South Carolina could easily sweep a mediocre Alabama team. Texas A&M faces 11th-ranked Ole Miss, but the Aggies are almost unbeatable at home and Ole Miss is very average away from Oxford. It would be shocking if Mississippi State loses even one of its three games with Arkansas in Starkville.
GOING FOR THREEPEAT! GATORS #1 NCAA SOFTBALL SEED
For the fourth time in program history and for the second straight year, the Gators (53-5) are the #1 seed for the NCAA Softball Tournament. Florida, which is going for a third consecutive NCAA title, was also the top seed nationally in 2008-09 and in 2015. The Gators have won 16 of their last 17 NCAA Tournament games and UF’s seniors have made it to three straight Women’s College World Series.
The Gators will face Alabama State (28-25) of the SWAC at 2:30 Friday (SEC Network). Florida Atlantic (50-7) and UCF (36-20) are the other two teams in the Gainesville Regional.
As the #1 overall seed, if the Gators win their regional they will face the winner of the Athens Regional in a Super Regional here in Gainesville. Georgia (40-17) is the national #16 seed and host of the Athens Regional. The Bulldogs will face Maine (28-19) next Saturday with Northwestern (26-26) squaring off against Oklahoma State.
The Southeastern Conference dominated the field with 11 of the 13 softball playing schools in the league getting into the tournament. There are eight regional hosts: (1) Florida (53-5); (4) Auburn (49-9); (6) Alabama (46-12); (9) Kentucky (43-12); (10) LSU (45-15); (13) Tennessee (41-14); (15) Missouri (39-14) and (16) Georgia (40-17). Also, Ole Miss (39-20); Texas A&M (37-18) and South Carolina (36-21) are in the tournament as at large teams. Only Mississippi State and Arkansas failed to make the tournament field.
The other teams hosting a regional are: (2) Michigan; (3) Oklahoma; (5) Oregon; (7) James Madison; (8) Florida State; (11) Washington, (12) UCLA; and (14) Louisiana-Lafayette.
Against teams that are hosting a regional, the Gators were (17-4): 1-0 vs. Michigan; 2-2 vs. Auburn, 1-2 vs. Alabama; 2-0 vs. Florida State; 3-0 vs. LSU; 1-0 vs. Washington; 1-0 vs. UCLA; 3-0 vs. Tennessee and 3-0 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.
Against all teams in the NCAA field, the Gators are 29-5.
Other UF spring sports:
Women’s Tennis: The 2nd-seeded Gators (23-2) scored 4-0 wins over South Carolina State and #25 Syracuse over the weekend to advance to the NCAA Round of 16 in Tulsa. The Gators will face #15 Stanford on Thursday. Georgia, Auburn and Vanderbilt are the other SEC schools still in the women’s tournament.
Men’s Tennis: The 9th-seeded Gators (20-6) advanced to the NCAA Round of 16 in Tulsa by blanking North Florida, 4-0, on Saturday and then following that up Sunday with a 4-0 win over #17 South Florida. Florida will face unseeded SMU Friday in the Round of 16. Georgia and Mississippi State are the only other SEC schools still remaining in the men’s tournament.
Lacrosse: Was it a goal? That’s the question that was on the mind of everyone at Donald Dizney Stadium Sunday after Penn State upset the #2-ranked Florida Gators, 14-13, in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With 6.1 seconds to go in regulation and the score tied at 12-13, Florida’s Sydney Pirreca fired a shot that everyone on the field except the one that mattered most thought was the game-winning goal. The Gators celebrated as the ball rolled into the goal. Penn State’s players hung their heads. The referee, however, ruled no goal and that sent the game into overtime where Penn State scored to advance to the quarterfinals against Penn, ending Florida’s season in disappointment.
There is no instant replay in NCAA lacrosse so the Pirreca goal was not reviewable.
Track and Field: The Southeastern Conference Championships could only be described as a huge disappointment for the Gators. The men’s team came into the meet ranked #2 nationally and finished sixth while the women’s team finished seventh. Arkansas won both the men’s and women’s championships with Texas A&M’s men and women each finishing second.
DEVO TRANSFERS TO TROY
DeVon Walker will transfer to Troy University to play for Phil Cunningham. Walker has already graduated from Florida so he will be eligible to play immediately.
Coming off a 2013-14 season in which he was a regular contributor off the bench in Florida’s run to the Final Four, Walker seemed poised to have a fine 2014-15 season when he tore an ACL, causing him to miss the entire season. Last year, it was obvious that he wasn’t nearly the player he was before the injury. He had a horrendous season shooting the ball last year and rarely got into games once the SEC portion of the schedule kicked in. Here’s hoping that the combination of a good offseason of strength and conditioning and a needed change of scenery will give Walker a good senior season at Troy.
FLORIDA #8 PUBLIC UNIVERSITY IN NICHE.COM RANKINGS
The University of Florida and Texas A&M are the only schools from the Southeastern Conference ranked among the top ten in Niche.com’s ranking of United States public universities. Florida ranks #8 while Texas A&M ranks #10.
The complete top ten goes like this: (1) Texas, (2) Michigan, (3) Virginia, (4) UCLA, (5) Cal-Berkeley, (6) North Carolina, (7) Georgia Tech, (8) Florida, (9) Wisconsin and (10) Texas A&M.
Other SEC schools: (11) Georgia, (28) Alabama, (35) LSU, (36) Auburn, (38) Missouri, (40) South Carolina, (42) Mississippi State, (43) Arkansas, (55) Tennessee, (59) Ole Miss and (78) Kentucky.
A few other schools of note: (17) Ohio State, (21) Michigan State, (24) Florida State, (26) Clemson, (46) UCF, (67) USF and (86) FIU.
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Jason Day’s paycheck for winning the Players Championship was a mere $1.89 million. Runner-up Kevin Chappell earned $1.13 million and the four who tied for third each got a check for $504,000.
You might find it hard to believe, but I have actually survived an entire year with less than that.
Is there anything more painful on the PGA Tour than following Sergio Garcia? In the fourth round at TPC, Sergio shot a 75 but not any ordinary 75. He had 5 birdies, 3 bogeys, 1 double bogey and 1 triple bogey. Sergio had more birdies (23) than anyone in the four rounds of the tournament but the he offset that with 13 bogeys, 4 double bogeys, 1 triple bogey and one quadruple bogey.
Ichiro Suzuki is only 52 hits away from 3,000 for his Major League Baseball career. It’s amazing that he will get to that number considering he played nine seasons in the Japanese League. If you add his 1,278 hits from Japan to his MLP total, he’s only 30 behind Pete Rose (4,256) all-time in professional baseball. Yes, I know playing in Japan is not the same, but it’s still quite an accomplishment.
With Miami losing to the Toronto Ruptures in game seven of their Eastern Conference semifinal, you have to wonder was this the last game in a Heat uniform. It’s going to take an awful lot of cap room that is needed for younger players to keep Wade in Miami and there has long been talk that Wade might want to hook up one more time with LeBron James for another run at a championship.
After a season in which soccer team Eskisehirspor won only 8 of its 33 matches, the team was sent down from the top division in Turkey to the second tier. The fans responded by setting their stadium on fire. Can you imagine what would happen in Tuscaloosa if Alabama fans were nearly that passionate?
Ole Miss landed another basketball transfer. Dominik Olejniczak, a 7-footer originally from Poland, will be joining the Rebels via Drake University. He will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Ole Miss already signed New Mexico transfer Cullen Neal.
Speaking of Ole Miss, Johnny Neumann went back to school and graduated. Neumann led the nation in scoring at 40.1 per game in 1971 but had to drop out of school and turn pro to support his family because his father suffered a debilitating heart attack. Neumann walked the stage in cap and gown over the weekend, getting his diploma at age 64.
Did you see the bench-clearing brawl between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers? Punches were actually landed. Most Major League Baseball brawls are fairly wimpy. This one was not.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Looking back on Florida football recruiting the last 10 years, what would you say is the big recruit that got away?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I never paid that much attention to Grace Potter until I saw her perform “Gimme Shelter” with the Rolling Stones on a video last year. I saw a re-run of “Live from Daryl’s House” and after seeing her perform “Room to Breathe” I decided to pay more attention. Tell me what you think.