The Back Nine: Oklahoma City and Omaha
Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:10 p.m.
The Back Nine comes to you from hot, wind-blown Oklahoma City with a look at Gator softball, the NBA Finals and the surprising Florida baseball team.
1. Having covered the College World Series three times and the women's version of the event twice, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both are in the Midwest, and both count on numerous volunteers to make things happen. But they are very different as well. In Omaha, there is no Bricktown, the downtown area filled with restaurants and bars. Omaha is more spread out and there is no center of activity. But in both places, there is an effort made to help the players enjoy the experience. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy was effusive in his praise of the way the event is run each year. And that was after his team suffered a heartbreaking loss to Florida. The amazing thing in both places is the way the community comes out to support the tournaments. There are a lot of fans in Omaha and Oklahoma City who attend the games without a real rooting interest. But I'll tell you there were a lot of workers at the stadium Sunday night who were thrilled when Ali Gardiner hit the walk-off grand slam. If she hadn't, the two teams would have played another game that would have ended around 2 in the morning Central time.
2. I have been covering Florida athletic teams for a long time and I'd have to put Gardiner's slam among the top five moments I have experienced. You can read my Top Five on my blog at Gatorsports.com. I don't think that it was sour grapes when Murphy said after the game he'd like to see the fences moved back at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium because of all the scoring this year. But I also disagree. If softball goes back to a bunch of 1-0 games, the sport will lose the casual fans who have become enamored with the long ball.
3. What got into the Gator baseball team this weekend? Kevin O'Sullivan's team had zero momentum coming out of the SEC Tournament, and was teetering in the first game before that great ninth-inning rally against Bethune-Cookman. Then Florida goes out and thrashes Miami twice. Postseason baseball is all about getting hot at the right time and, boy, did that happen for the Gators. The Back Nine didn't like Florida's chances to get out of the regional, but the Gators were so impressive there's no reason to think UF can't make it to Omaha. There's something about the second year for coaches, no matter what the sport. Especially for O'Sullivan, who is in his first job as a head coach. "You make mistakes in your first year," he told the Back Nine. "There are so many things included in being a head coach that people can't tell you about. There's no manual. That's where your support staff comes through."
4. Talk about getting hot at the right time, Arkansas came into the regional 30 miles from here in Norman batting .267, which was 274th among the 288 teams eligible for postseason play. The Razorbacks scored 38 runs in three wins. "For some reason, it clicked," coach Dave Van Horn said. Of course, nobody clicked like Florida State. The Seminoles scored 37 runs in one game against Ohio State, and four players had their fourth at-bat of the game before Ohio State's No. 9 batter came to the plate for the first time. There's something about Ohio State playing games against Florida teams in the postseason in any sport that brings out the worst in them.
5. Nobody saw the Magic doing what they did to the Cavs. At least I didn't. It sets up what will be the biggest event ever in Orlando, at least in the Back Nine's view. Kobe vs. Orlando in the Finals. When the Magic last made it to the Finals, it was a big deal. But not as big as this.
6. I wonder if they'll refer to the new SEC rule to limit teams to 28 signees in football the "Houston Nutt Rule." Ole Miss signed 37 this year and that prompted the SEC to act. Expect the NCAA to follow suit. I understand the presidents' view on this — they only want players signed who are in good academic standing. But here's another way to look at it. How many of those kids who would have been placed in junior colleges will be discouraged when they aren't signed by Div. I-A schools and give up on trying to get an education?
7. If I read one more story about a Tennessee administrator or player defending the offseason antics by Lane Kiffin I'm going to lose my lunch. We get it already. Tennessee loves its little Laney. Everyone else in the conference can't stand him. Nothing is going to change until he coaches a game. Give it a rest.
8. The most amazing thing that came out of Destin was Steve Spurrier's revelation that his 28 wins in four years is the best stretch for South Carolina in a four-year period. That tells you a lot about why it's a difficult job. There is a culture of losing there that is difficult to explain. People ask me all the time if Spurrier is going to leave soon, and I always say no. What else is he going to do? He tried the golf and beach circuit for a year after he left the Redskins and was bored by it. He'll be at South Carolina for at least five more years.
9. When golf pro Jim White died from a heart attack last fall, his good friend and West End pro Scott Dombek wanted to find a way to honor a guy who had touched the lives of so many high school golfers in our area. He came up with the Summer Pass, which will allow high school golfers to pay $100 and be able to play all of the area golf courses throughout the summer. All of the proceeds will go back to the schools and they will be asked to put White's name on golf balls, shirts and bags. It's a wonderful gesture for a man who is truly missed. Call West End for more details.
Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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