Posted: 10:44 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
The Weekend Review runs down Florida's sporting successes and failures in the non-football, non-basketball, non-track sports on crowded fall and spring weekends. If you have a club sport or other note to include in the Weekend Review, hit @AlligatorArmy.
Florida lost the first game of its three-game set against Miami on Friday night, and did it in the agonizing way that had become customary for this team: Reliever Jay Carmichael, so good for the whole year prior to Friday, allowed a two-out single, which led to a stolen base, which led to the game-winning hit in a 3-2 loss.
Then the Gators turned things around on Saturday and Sunday, and possibly saved their season in the process.
Taylor Gushue stroked a go-ahead two-run single in the eighth inning of a 6-4 win on Saturday that sparked a four-run inning, and the Gators scored four runs in the third inning on Sunday to take an unassailable lead in a game that also ended 6-3 in Florida's favor.
It wasn't just the bats waking up that helped Florida reverse its bad fortune on the field on Saturday and Sunday. After two weeks of struggles, Florida's bullpen was excellent in those two games, combining to throw 9.1 innings and allow two earned runs on just seven hits.
Florida's record is still just 5-7, and this is the deepest into a season that a Florida team has been under .500 since 2007, when a four-game losing streak left Pat McMahon's team at 9-10. But the Gators knocked off an undefeated Miami team twice, extending their hold on the Hurricanes (Florida is 13-1 against Miami since 2010), and that's a huge confidence boost for a team of youngsters that needed to find a way to win.
Florida takes on Jacksonville on Tuesday night in Jacksonville and Wednesday night in Gainesville (and if there are more than maybe 500 people at a home game on the same night at the same time as Florida basketball's Senior Night, I'll be stunned), then welcomes Indiana to Gainesville this weekend for the Gators' final non-conference series of the year.
Florida's basketball team could win an SEC championship outright on Senior Night. It would still probably not match what the Florida gymnastics team did on its Senior Night last Friday.
Florida posted a program-record and national-best 198.425 against Minnesota on Friday, topping 49.450 on each apparatus and recording school records and national bests on the balance beam and floor exercise, and skunking the Gophers by more than a point despite Minnesota posting its second-highest score in program history. Gators recorded 9.975s in all four individual events to sweep them, and Kytra Hunter, the defending NCAA all-around champion, took the all-around title with a 39.800 that was her career best and the nation's top score this year.
The night was a celebration of seniors Ashanée Dickerson, Marissa King, Dali Lemezan, and Randy Stageberg, and it was (Dickerson, King, and Stageberg all recorded scores of 9.9 or better), but it was also the latest indication that those seniors might well go out with Florida's first national title. Florida's score was the eighth-best in collegiate gymnastics history, according to Florida's communications department, the first score of 198.400 or better since 2004, and the highest ever to not feature a perfect 10. It was also Florida's second score over 198 this year, joining a 198.100 Florida recorded in a defeat of Alabama in February.
And the Gators are just so good on every apparatus — Florida has the nation's highest scores on floor and beam, and has the last two NCAA champions (King and Hunter) on vault, and has Mackenzie Caquatto, who scored a 10 on the uneven bars — that it's really hard to see any team taking the title from Florida unless the Gators give it up. Florida had ceded the No. 1 spot in the national rankings to Oklahoma after the Sooners put up their own program-best score two weeks ago, but this performance got it back for the Gators.
And they're out in front in the title race, too.
If Florida's gymnastics squad seems like a team finally finding its form as a national title contender, Florida's lacrosse program seems like a group that will accept nothing less than a championship.
The only Gators with sticks avenged their last loss by topping Syracuse, 14-10 (PDF), on Saturday in the Orange Bowl Classic at Sun Life Stadium, and controlled the game despite the best efforts of the Orange: Florida led 3-0 less than six minutes into the first half, and never led by fewer than two goals from there, despite a 3-0 run by the Orange to cut Florida's lead to 11-9 in the second half.
Kitty Cullen, held scoreless by Syracuse in Florida's Final Four loss to the Orange in 2012, led Florida with four goals, and Shannon Gilroy and Ashley Bruns each added three, with Gabi Wiegand matching Cullen's and Gilroy's four points with two goals and two assists.
Florida now has perhaps the two best wins in women's lacrosse this season, having beaten top-10 teams North Carolina in North Carolina and Syracuse at a "neutral site"; Florida was already No. 2 in the national rankings before beating Syracuse, and will probably narrow the gap on No. 1 Maryland with the victory.
Florida doesn't play Maryland in the regular season, and wouldn't meet the Terrapins until the NCAA Tournament, and still has plenty of ground to cover before it can think of turning its 7-0 record to an undefeated regular season or another American Lacrosse Conference title. But the Gators look as good as they did in 2012, and as good as any team in the country, and no other team can match the continuity and veteran leadership of a Florida team that decided four or more years ago to be the first lacrosse team in the school's history.
And they know how close they came last year. Finishing the mission will likely take just a little more.
Florida's softball team swept its five games in the three-day tournament held in Gainesville this weekend, running its record to 22-1 on the year, but that wasn't the story of the weekend.
When a softball team has an eight-homer game and a perfect game on a weekend, the wins tend to be slightly less intriguing.
Florida launched eight bombs on Saturday, in a 20-2 victory over Florida A&M;, and tied the program record for home runs in a game; Gators Stephanie Toftt, Taylor Schwarz, Jessica Damico, and Katie Medina knocked back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers, Florida's first-ever string of four straight home runs, in the top of the first inning (teams alternate home and away at-bats in tournament play), giving Florida a 7-0 lead before the Rattlers got a turn at the plate.
Then, on Sunday, Hannah Rogers, Lauren Haeger, and Alyssa Bache combined for a five-inning perfect game in an 11-0 win over Presbyterian that ended early because of softball's run rule. It was the first combined perfect game in Florida history, and first perfect game since Stephanie Brombacher's perfecto against N.C. State in 2011.
I have no idea how to weigh one against the other, but the combination of ridiculous power and fantastic pitching certainly has gotten Florida back into national contention just a year after an awful finish to the 2012 season. All the ugliness of that finish seems like it happened a long time ago.
Florida's women's tennis team began its weekend with an easy road win against Missouri, but faltered against Texas A&M; in College Station on Sunday ... on the same day Florida's men's tennis team scored a big triumph against the Aggies in Gainesville.
The Gators women breezed to a 6-1 win over Missouri, but found trouble in Texas, dropping the doubles point and the No. 2 singles point (in a rare straight-sets loss by Sofie Oyen) before taking a 3-2 lead. A&M; finished the match with wins in decisive third sets in No. 6 and No. 3 singles to hand Florida its first loss in SEC play since 2008-09 and snap a 37-match winning streak for the Gators in conference. It's not a bad loss -- no loss to another top-10 team in the second road match in three days is -- but it's a rare one (senior Lauren Embree had been part of a team loss in an SEC regular season match before), and proves that Florida's not untouchable in the SEC.
Florida's men establishing themselves with a big win in SEC play shows the flip side of an SEC road loss: As Texas A&M;'s women did against Florida, the Gators men showed that they're a contender in the SEC with a gritty 4-3 win at home. A&M; had a 3-2 lead, and wins in No. 1 and No. 3 singles, before wins by Gordon Watson and Mike Alford finished out Florida's win.
Had Florida been able to knock off a ranked South Carolina team on the road on Sunday, the Gators might well have had a strong case to be among the final at-large selections to the 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. Alas, another second half struggle leaves the Gators with a lot of work to do in the SEC Tournament if they want a chance to dance.
Sydney Moss recorded her third career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Florida in each category, and Jennifer George added 10 points and seven rebounds in her final regular season appearance for the Gators, but it wasn't enough against a rugged South Carolina squad, as the Gamecocks pounded Florida for 18 offensive rebounds on 31 misses and outscored Florida 42-31 in the second half en route to a 67-56 victory.
ESPN's Charlie Creme's projected NCAA Tournament bracket, updated as of late Monday night, doesn't feature Florida at all, one week after having the Gators in the Next Four Out section. Florida will begin SEC Tournament play this Thursday against Arkansas, and likely needs to win the tournament to have any shot at making the NCAA Tournament.