The Back Nine: Everything school on a big roll

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Florida's Nicole DeWitt (23) celebrates her three-run home run with her teammates during the second inning of the semifinals of the SEC Softball Tournament at Mizzou Softball Stadium on Friday. Florida beat Tennessee 10-2 in five innings. [Hunter Dyke/GateHouse Media Services]

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend where Florida is probably trying to figure out where all of these trophies go. And I hope all the mothers had a special day. I miss mine every minute.

10. As the athletic director at Mississippi State, Scott Stricklin did a wonderful job hiring coaches and raising funds to get the Bulldogs’ overall sports program trending in the right direction. But it’s nothing like what he walked into when he took the job at Florida 18 months ago. And this weekend was another illustration both of what Jeremy Foley did in hiring great coaches and what Stricklin has done to maintain and take everything a step further (especially with every sport’s infrastructure). In two days, Florida won an SEC baseball title, an SEC tournament softball title, the SEC men’s track and field and the women’s track and field (by 2.5 points, winning it for the first time since 2009) and advanced to the Sweet 16 in men’s tennis and women’s lacrosse. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who was at softball and track, must have been hearing Gator Chomps in his sleep Sunday. “It was fun,” said Stricklin, who attended baseball, tennis and lacrosse. “And the great thing is we have a lot more to go.” Stricklin also pointed out that the week started out with women’s golf qualifying for the NCAA finals on Wednesday. It goes to show what my Twitter peeps know — this is an #EverythingSchool.

11. While baseball has steamrolled its way to the SEC crown and the No. 1 ranking for most of the season, there is one big concern as we get closer to the postseason. As this year has evolved, what looked like a deep Florida pitching staff looks a little more shallow right now. I mean, other than Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Michael Byrne and Jordan Butler, who can Kevin O’Sullivan trust on the mound? Maybe Tyler Dyson comes back from his shoulder issue and is the pitcher he was in the regional and College World Series last year. Maybe freshman Jack Leftwich, who hasn’t been bad, can stay away from those untimely gopher balls. But in regionals, you need depth in the pitching staff, especially if Mother Nature takes one of your pitchers away after two innings and a downpour. OK, maybe I am nitpicking. Maybe I should shut up and let you enjoy the bling from the weekend. Sorry.

12. In a way, the SEC softball tournament was a microcosm of Aleshia Ocasio’s career at Florida. She won two games in the circle, one of them a complete game two-hitter, to get to 20 wins on the season and hit a huge two-run homer to tie the quarterfinal game against Alabama and set the tone for the tourney. But she wasn’t the MVP because of Amanda Lorenz, who won two games with three-run homers, was the right choice. But it’s just the way it always seems to be for the soft-spoken senior, who is the best athlete to come through the program. As good as she has been, there’s always been someone a smidge better. I don’t think she’s complaining.

13. I stayed up (hey, 10 o’clock is late for me) to watch the softball selection show and it was pretty predictable. Every SEC team got into the tournament. Again. So if the seeds hold Florida will play an SEC team in the Supers for the third straight year. What are you going to do? It was interesting that Missouri made the field despite not making the SEC Tournament after being swept by Florida. The Tigers spent $5,000 to get out of a doubleheader against Wichita State, which made the field as well, and instead played Arkansas Pine-Bluff to make sure they finished above .500, an NCAA requirement for at-large selections. Not saying Mizzou wasn’t worthy, just wondering what kind of message that sends.

14. OK, so now we’re done with The Players in May and hopefully the winds of March will make the course more difficult. It is still a special event that drew huge crowds. I have said before that The Players is basically the fifth Beatle. You can argue about who the fifth Beatle is and you can argue about other non-major tournaments being as big a deal as The Players. But I believe the tournament is fifth and George Martin is fifth. You can have Pete Best and Billy Preston and Brian Epstein, I’ll take a guy who was there from the start, played on early albums and came up with suggestions for songs. In other words, I don’t think there is any question that The Players and George Martin are fifth. Of course, the problem is that there are only four majors and four Beatles. And if the Beatles were majors (am I taking this too far?):

• Paul McCartney is the Masters. Elegant and beautiful. Paul could write the soundtrack to the Masters.

• John Lennon is the U.S. Open. Hard and edgy and brilliant.

• George Harrison is the British Open. No Beatle was more British than George, right down to his teeth.

• And Ringo is the PGA. Underappreciated.

15. Let’s all gather around and listen to the Cavs get buried on talk shows after their Game 1 performance against Boston. I came out of a movie to see that the game was already over in the third quarter (what was more boring — the back nine at The Players or the fourth quarter of that game?) But let us all remember that a series isn’t one game and LeBron James isn’t done in the playoffs until he decides he is done. Just a warning.

16. One more thing about Florida’s wonderful week of sports — is there a more underrated coach on this campus than track and field’s Mike Holloway? The sport doesn’t get the attention of some of the others and he never seems worried about it, he just keeps winning championships. Mouse is as good as it gets. And, by the way, if Florida’s dominant weekend wasn’t enough, former UF golfer Tyson Alexander won the PGA Tour Latin America event in Costa Rica. (Not to mention Al Horford’s performance for the Celtics on Sunday).

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from former Ole Miss football player Jerrell Powe — “Well @NCAA — I heard from you every single day for 3 years as you tried to stop me from being the 1st in my family to go to college … I graduated today and didn’t hear word 1 from you or anyone in your organization. That says it all doesn’t it?” Powe was denied eligibility three times in three years before being cleared by the NCAA. We can debate the efficiency of America’s most hypocritical organization, but congrats to anyone who fights through the mess to get his or her degree.

18. There are a lot of places where the interest in the college sports teams have ebbed by now. Not here. We’re heading into an exciting stretch of sports so I have this playlist ready for the inevitable rain delays:

• “Time Will Tell” by Gregory Alan Isakov.

• “l Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard.

• “The Ocean” by Noah Grunderson.

• The Mumford and Sons version of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

• And for an old one, “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Honestly, if he hasn’t been used too much in the previous few games, I think you start Michael Byrne in a must-win, game 4 type game, rather than Leftwich or Dyson. His pitching style would lend itself to going 5-6 innings, maybe even more. He keeps his pitch count down and gets ground balls. In game 1 of a regional, I think you’ve gotta be able to get by w/ Leftwich and we’d be in good shape there too

  2. There’s plenty of room for all those trophies in the Football complex. The football team isn’t using it. #everythingbutfootballschool

    • I know it is not what we were hoping for, but 2 out of the last 3 years the football team were champs of the SEC East. It’s not quite the big leagues, but some schools would be happy with it. I am not saying we are, but it is more than nothing.

    • Grump. Better check that trophy case again. Three national titles in there along with too many to count SEC titles. And not sure if they give out division titles, but there would be a ton of those as well.

  3. Maybe if there was more clarification why the Players’ back 9 is dubbed boring… I don’t get it. The Players has to be one of the best and is a classic among all tournaments on the tour. This writer never fails to amaze. Go figure… Go Gators!

  4. Run support has not always been there for Leftwich… two hits in his start vs UK… three hits Sunday vs UGA. I am more concerned with our hitting during his Sunday starts than Leftwich’s pitching.

    • Good point, TA. As Pat said, Leftwich hasn’t been bad, but his giving up some untimely hits and the lack of run support has caused problems in his last couple of starts. Against UGA, he looked good the first time through the line-up, but after that, the Dawgs got to him.

      Just as you previously pointed out that no pitcher is perfect, the hitters aren’t perfect either, and when the pitchers and hitters have bad days in the same game, the outcome is usually bad. That’s why it’s not always the best team, but rather the hot team that wins the tournament. If the Gators can just avoid having pitching and hitting droughts in the same game, I think they’ll be fine.

  5. We have the SEC champion and #1 ranked nationally baseball team, and they are deservedly so. However, the concern about the weakness in our #3 starting pitcher slot is valid. In fact, the team seems to be in the “Meatloaf Zone”; you know, “2 out 3 aint bad”. This is a team with the talent to win it all again, but then the program has been to more than one CWS as the #1 or #2 seed and come home after 2 games and out. Their current streak of winning 18 straight SEC weekend series is remarkable to say the least, so Meatloaf would be smiling at that and we all should too. Just hope that Sully, who is the best pitching guru in college baseball, will have a plan to cover this weakness once the serious tourney (not the SEC tourney) gets under way. Go Gators.

  6. Aleshia Ocasio deserves a TON of praise. Few athletes in any sport have been as versatile and successful. Eye of the tiger, heart of a champion, anything for the team – all the sports cliches apply (in a good way). I’m proud that she’s a Gator. As a fan, I will miss her. And I’m sure her coaches and teammates will miss her even more.

  7. What a showing of UF’s spring sports. Softball is my favorite to watch, but if I could I’d love to see the Gator track teams perform. They are almost always excellent. And, Pat, in your NCAA screed you write, “We can debate the efficiency of America’s most hypocritical organization …: Did you mean “efficacy”? Just wondering.

    • 76gator. I believe Pat was referring to the NCAA not producing a strong impression of regularly handing and processing responses with effectivity, not their lack of ability to do so. So, I think the answer to your question is, “no.” But I cannot speak for Pat.

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