Back Nine: Gators have bright future in softball, maybe even baseball
Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 2:50 a.m.
The Back Nine comes at you after a memorable week in Oklahoma City where we hunkered down as tornadoes approached, made new friends and reunited with old and saw the end of the Florida baseball and softball seasons. And now it's time for some relaxa … never mind. The 19th Bob Dooley Invitational is less than six weeks away.
10. More than anything, what I took away from spending the last three weeks on the ride with the softball team is that they are a classy bunch that was fun to cover. Nobody is happy when your season ends with a one-hit shutout but when you step back and look at the body of work, this was one of the greatest softball seasons Florida has had. And nobody saw it coming. Not even the head coach. It's only because of the character and fight that these ladies showed than anybody thought they had a chance against the best in the country out in Oklahoma City. And certainly, this young team didn't play its best when the lights were their brightest. But Tim Walton has almost everybody back for next year and now these players have the experience of being on softball's biggest stage tucked away in their folders. For Walton, the Women's College World Series is like the NCAAs for Billy Donovan. Just keep getting there and the day will come when you have the right team and the right schedule (like not playing two games in 20 hours on two different days) and you'll win it all.
11. On the other hand, I give you the baseball team. An under .500 finish is never acceptable at Florida and Kevin O'Sullivan let that be known after the Gators lost (last three NCAA losses now are to Kent State, Austin Peay and Valpo). This team was young and had to sustain injuries and I get all that. But there was something missing all year. I call it the “clutch gene.” Players who have it make big plays at the right time or the right pitch when it's a 3-2 count with the bases loaded. There never seemed to be a sense of urgency with this team. One thing that all Gator athletic teams have to understand is that beating you is a really big deal to them because you're F-L-OR-I-D-A. I don't think these guys ever got that. I know that Sully tried to push all of the buttons to get this team going and none of them worked. When you lose 10 one-run games and lose 10 of your last 14 games, you're missing some clutch. Florida has another great class coming in next year, but who knows how much they'll be hurt by the draft? Being a baseball coach is tough. He'll figure it out. I talked to him Monday and he was already excited about next season. One thing for sure, this team needs to get stronger between now and next season. Florida finished 91st in the country in home runs per game. And chicks love the long ball.
12. So while I was in Oklahoma City, the real news was coming out of Destin. And it appears that by 2015 we'll see the SEC go to a nine-game conference schedule. Which of these do you think is the biggest reason — 1. ESPN wants better games for the SEC Network; 2. With the new playoff system coming up, strength of schedule is more important; 3. With attendance dropping in college football, the athletic directors want better games to draw fans to the stadiums? Maybe all of the above. The Back Nine talked to Steve Spurrier Monday and he made the point that South Carolina fans are more interested in a game against North Carolina (like they have this year) than a game against Missouri. And every time I hear a complaint that “we can't lose Alabama-Tennessee because it's such a great rivalry” I counter with this — 1. College football survived the loss of the Oklahoma-Nebraska game which was a much bigger game on a national scale. 2. If they want to play so badly, schedule it as a non-conference game.
13. What can you say about Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University. He slanders the Catholic religion when his most prominent coach is a devout Catholic named after a Pope? And he rips the SEC in a classic case of sour grapes? Sometimes the smartest people can say the dumbest things.
14. Since this athletic season is almost over (track still has to finish up) I thought I'd give you my five favorite moments of watching Florida this year — 1. Seeing Florida come from behind to beat FSU in Tallahassee in football; 2. Watching the Gator softball team pull out a 15-inning win over Nebraska in the WCWS; 3. Watching on my iPhone as the gymnastics team won its first national title; 4. Florida beating Florida Gulf Coast in Arlington in a game it had to win (and you know why); 5. Seeing my 12-year old daughter hit three service winners during a break in a Florida volleyball match. Her birthday was Friday and I missed it. I owe Kelsey big time.
15. I am happy to report that the field for the 19th Bob Dooley Invitational is basically full and the prizes are flowing in. So many people to thank. You can't believe the generosity of coaches, athletes and businesses who have donated to our event, which helps Stop Children's Cancer. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how many good hearts there are out there. If you want to come out to Haile Plantation on July 13, you don't have to be in the field to bid on our silent auction items, which are once again going to be over the top. The more we raise, the more we give.
16. Tiger Woods had a bad weekend at The Memorial. I know this because I watched TV and 90 percent of ESPN's coverage was about how poorly Tiger played. In other news, Matt Kuchar won. I don't think Woods will win the U.S. Open because I played the Merion course online and it's going to eat him alive. Wait a minute, I'm starting to sound like a computer geek.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from one of my favorite follows Not Jerry Tipton (Jerry is a good friend who writes for the Lexington Herald Leader. This is a parody account) — “Alabama wins national championship in golf. Guess the SEC can read greens, huh president gee?” Funny.
18. The Back Nine listened to a lot of great music in Bricktown, including a band that literally was playing on a porch of my hotel while the tornado was approaching. I kept thinking about the guys playing strings as the Titanic went down. Anyway, try these downloads — “Yellow Light” by Of Monsters and Men, “Don't Swallow the Cap” by The National and for a song that is both old and new try the new version of “Fortunate Son” by John Fogerty with the Foo Fighters. It'll rock your socks off.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.