A year ago after the Gators were stunned by Georgia in the Gainesville Super Regional, denying Florida a chance at a third straight NCAA championship, then freshman Amanda Lorenz sent Tim Walton a text: “This will never happen again.”
After the Gators knocked off Alabama, 2-1, last Saturday to earn a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Lorenz hugged her coach, looked him in the eye and said, “Told ya!”
The Gators (55-8) are back in Okie City and just getting there isn’t enough. This is their eighth time at the WCWS. They’ve done the early exit, had a couple of close calls with greatness and they’ve won it all back-to-back (2014-15). Because they’ve been there and done that, they won’t be satisfied unless they bring home the big trophy, a quest that begins today when they face Texas A&M (47-11) in the opening game of the tournament (12 noon, ESPN).
The Gators are the top seeded team in the entire tournament so expectations are high, but no team in the tournament has Florida’s pitching or defense. If the Gators can get some timely hitting, you have to like their chances to win it all for the third time in four years.
Lorenz, Delanie Gourley and national player of the year Kelly Barnhill were selected first team All-America Wednesday while Kayli Kvistad was chosen on the third team. Lorenz is hitting a team-leading .390 with 11 homers and 41 RBI. Gourley is 21-4 with a 0.67 ERA and Barnhill is 24-3 with a 0.36 ERA.
Barnhill is expected to get the start for the Gators against Texas A&M.
KOWAR WILL GET THE START FRIDAY NIGHT
Kevin O’Sullivan will send Jackson Kowar (11-0, 3.74 ERA) to the mound to face Marist Friday night when the national third-seeded Gators begin play in the NCAA Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.
“He’s 11-0 and I just think it gives us a great chance to win on Friday,” O’Sullivan said Wednesday. “Like I said, if it wasn’t Jackson Kowar we would not do it, but I have enough trust in Jackson to be able to get us off to a good start in a regional.”
Starting Kowar gives O’Sullivan a chance to send staff ace Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.80 ERA) against South Florida, the second seed in the Gainesville Regional, on Saturday, and it would allow Brady Singer (7-4, 3.37 ERA) to pitch a potential regional clinching game three on Sunday.
On the injury front, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that shortstop Dalton Guthrie (.271, four homers, 19 RBI), who missed the SEC Tournament with a sprained ankle, will be back in the lineup and Nick Horvath, a slick fielding center fielder and lefty reliever who was injured against Mississippi State, will also be available. The bad news is Ryan Larson, who was hit in the head with a pitch against Mississippi State, will be held out of the regional although O’Sullivan believes he will be able to return to the lineup if the Gators advance to the Super Regionals. Larson is hitting .318 with five homers and 23 RBI.
GATORS IN BRACKET WITH DUKE IN PK80 TOURNAMENT
Mike White will find out plenty about his Florida basketball team November 23-26 when the Gators play in the Motion bracket of the PK80, a two-tournament event in Portland that will honor Nike founder Phil Knight. The Motion Bracket features Florida, Duke, Gonzaga, Texas, Butler, Ohio State, Stanford and Portland State. Florida will open the tournament with Stanford. The other opening round games are Duke vs. Portland State, Butler vs. Texas and Gonzaga vs. Ohio State.
Over in the Victory bracket it will be Michigan State vs. Georgetown, North Carolina vs. Portland, Oklahoma vs. Arkansas and Oregon vs. UConn.
The winners of each bracket will not play each other.
FROM THE SEC SPRING MEETINGS IN DESTIN
Florida basketball coach Mike White on John Egbunu’s decision to return for his senior year rather than go to the NBA or do a grad transfer somewhere: “John calling me and saying he was excited about being a Gator for another year was a big a recruiting call as I’ve gotten.”
White on when Egbunu should return to the court (he’s rehabbing a torn ACL): “He’s made that comment to me that he thinks he’ll be 100% by January, and that’s when he’ll play. Now that he’s back, Duke [Werner, UF trainer] and I haven’t met since John made his decision. We’ll look at it a little bit closer as that time approaches but the plan will be to slowly work him in, depending on what the rotation is at the time, whether or not we even have a rotation at that time. We’ll throw him out there and evaluate him physically a little bit closer than the other guys.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain on the impact of a new early signing period in December: “You’re gonna see some buyer’s remorse on both sides [players and coaches].”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones on the impact of a new early signing period in December: “I’ve spoken to a lot of high school coaches and I haven’t spoken to very many that have been in favor of it.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart on the impact of a new early signing period in December: “What’s going to happen is at the other levels, the conferences below us, they’re going to try to lock their guys in because they’re the ones that get fished upon right at the end when somebody doesn’t get a kid. So there’s a trickle-down effect, I’m really interested to see how it goes.”
Kirby Smart on trying to convince backup QB Brice Ramsey to reconsider his decision to transfer: “I have been actively recruiting Brice. As it stands right now he is still looking around. We should have some more clarity on that in the next couple of weeks.”
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze on the self-imposed bowl ban: “I’m really looking forward to [the bowl ban] in a weird kind of way. I have the opportunity to really model for a group of young men how real life can be like when you’re faced with something you didn’t ask for.”
Freeze on the prospects of keeping his job (he’s not named specifically in any NCAA violations): “Have you looked at how many coaches have been charged with failure to monitor and what has happened to them? I don’t know of any that have lost their jobs.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on allowing Maurice Smith to transfer (as a graduate) from Alabama to Georgia last year: “I think I made the right decision under the circumstances. How some of it plays out remains to be seen, I guess.”
Nick Saban on Sankey’s decision to allow Smith to transfer to Georgia: “I don’t know what advantage was created by all that. I don’t know who won more games or lost any more games because of that. I don’t know who benefitted from it. If someone wants to do some research on that and let me know, I’d be happy to change my opinion about it.”
Nick Saban on a rules change that won’t let you recruit at a school for two years if you hire a coach from that high school: “Sometimes we take a sledgehammer to kill a fly and it has some unintended consequences.”
College football playoff director Bill Hitchcock on adding teams to the playoff: “Coaches who have been in the games tell me that after the first game their players are nicked up. Their legs are tired. They think two big time games back-to-back is plenty.”
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn on Auburn to the SEC East: “If you look at the way the map is set up, it’s kind of like common sense but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s a lot of rivalries, a lot of moving parts. You know, that’s probably far away if that ever happens.”
Malzahn on the prospect of a 14-week (two byes) season: “Sometimes from a player’s standpoint the bye week’s not easy. The resting’s great, but everything that goes with it, I think there’s a lot to think about. Adding two bye weeks prolongs the season.”
Auburn AD Jay Jacobs about Auburn moving East: “I think it’s a legitimate conversation to have at some point as a league. It makes sense for Auburn to be in the East and Missouri to be in the West.”
South Carolina’s Will Muschamp on a nine-game SEC schedule: “The season is as long as it needs to be.”
South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin on what’s next now that the Gamecocks have made it to a Final Four: “We have to continue to build. That’s another layer to add to the world of recruiting, but the most important is we continue to build our program. We continue to represent [the SEC] the way it deserves to be repreented.”
Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason on the possibility of cheating in the SEC (I didn’t make this up): “Nobody’s cheating in this conference. Everybody’s doing it the right way.”
SOME SEC BASKETBALL NEWS
It isn’t always sunny in Starkville. In the last two days, Mario Kegler (6-7, 220) and Eli Wright (6-4, 203) have elected to transfer from Mississippi State. Kegler averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman last year. Wright averaged 3.5 points and 1.6 rebounds last season as a freshman.
Texas transfer Tevin Mack (6-7, 220) has officially signed his LOI and is in enrolled in summer school at Alabama. Mack averaged 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds as a true freshman at Texas before he was suspended from the team. He will sit 2017-18 per NCAA transfer rules.
Reports that Jontay Porter will reclassify so he can play at Missouri this year are apparently premature. Porter told Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hasn’t made an official decision yet whether to reclassify or play his senior year of high school basketball.
South Carolina, which lost Sedee Keita (6-9, 240) to transfer last week, has signed shooting guard Justin Minaya (6-6, 190, Old Tappan, NJ, Northern Valley Regional).
Howard University grad transfer James Daniel III (5-11, 160) has officially signed with Tennessee. A career 17.0 scorer, Daniel scored 1,933 points in his Howard career, averaging 27.1 in 2015-16.
Ronnie Suggs (6-6, 190), who averaged 8.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a true freshman in 2015-16 at Bradley, will walk on at Missouri. Suggs was injured most of the past season and played only 115 minutes. He will sit out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules.
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel writes that former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly, recently signed on as an ESPN analyst, could be a very real possibility if (and when) Texas A&M jettisons Kevin Sumlin. Writes Wetzel, “With Kelly’s show cause sanctions for NCAA violations expired, he’s an overwhelmingly enticing hire – Kelly’s involvement in any rule breaking will be quickly forgotten as ADs and alums dream of that old Ducks offense coming to their campus. That’s even true in the Aggies’ case, when much of the trouble came from Kelly recruiting in Texas. It doesn’t matter. No one really cares about the NCAA rules.”
I’m not making this up. The University of North Alabama edged out Auburn to win the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship on Pickwick Lake in Alabama. Third place was taken by the team from Tusculum and fourth by Tarleton State. I think we should also have a national collegiate beer pong championship.
Major League Baseball has taken one game off the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper’s four-game suspension for rushing the mound and engaging in a fist fight with San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland after Strickland plunked him with a pitch. Strickland was suspended six games for throwing at Harper. The best take on this incident is a piece by Bill Reiter of cbssports.com.
Lee Corso signed a contract extension to remain with ESPN. Corso is 81 years old.
Bruse Loyd of the Houston law firm Jones, Gillaspia and Loyd is representing former Ole Miss assistant athletic director Barney Farrar, who was connected to several alleged NCAA violations. Loyd told Evansville, Indiana TV station WEVV that Ole Miss is “as close to a death penalty as you can get.”
Paired with Jason Day in the pro-am before The Memorial (PGA) in suburban Columbus, Ohio, were Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Peyton Manning.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Vandy coach Derek Mason made the comment, perhaps tongue in cheek, that nobody cheats in the SEC. The Ole Miss case tells us that’s not true. How extensive do you think cheating is in the SEC and who do you think are the worst cheaters?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I have a growing appreciation for the British Band Mumford & Sons. They’ve only released five albums, two of them live and none of them since spring of 2015, but the more I listen to their online concerts the more I like them. Today’s music is their concert at Lollapalooza Chile in 2016.