The Back Nine comes at you after a wild, crazy and sweaty weekend that included some time to stop and think about everyone who gave his or her life for this country.
10. So during the softball Super Regionals this weekend and last there were several Florida football players in attendance and I will tell you that they just look different. Strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage is doing an amazing job with this team. It reminded me of how Urban Meyer used to say that he couldn’t wait to see what the team looked like when it was delivered to him in August. (Ironically enough, Meyer’s strength coach Mickey Marotti was at softball last week because his daughter played for Ohio State.) I talked to Savage for our magazine story that will appear in the summer edition and one thing he said that was interesting is that he is not trying to develop weightlifters but athletes. We’ll see how this all plays out, but I have a feeling there are going to be some surprising stars on this team. I have no doubt Florida is going to be better — not only better than the 4-7 team, but better than the two teams that won the East — but as we know it still comes down to a handful of plays in a handful of games.
11. Janell Wheaton referred to Jordan Matthews’ walk-off homer Saturday evening as “a storybook ending” in that it was the last swing of the bat in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium before the major renovations take place. The bigger question was where it ranked in UF history, both softball and otherwise. It was big, but I still think Ali Gardiner’s slam to beat Alabama nine years and five days earlier in the Women’s College World Series still ranks at the top. Especially because Gardiner went up to the plate mired in a 3-for-24 slump and it sent Florida to its first WCWS final. But I have no doubt Saturday’s game was the most exciting/best ever played at that stadium. I just know that anyone who was there is still talking about it to their friends who were not. You couldn’t help but feel for Texas A&M, which probably deserved to win the Super Regional and battled back from the most heartbreaking defeat one could imagine Thursday night. The seeding bit them as much as anything because A&M probably would have made it to Oklahoma City if it had played a non-conference team. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
12. Of course, Florida has to play another SEC team in its first game in Bricktown when the Gators tangle with Georgia on Thursday. It will be interesting to see how Kelly Barnhill fares against the Bulldogs, because, if you remember, her only real issue with illegal pitches came in the game in Athens where she was out of the inning before one was called and then she gave up three straight homers. We’ll see if the chirping by the Georgia coaches is heard by the umps out there or if Barnhill has truly overcome the issue. It has been a strange year for Barnhill in that she has allowed 18 homers and has only one loss (to Georgia). Those numbers don’t add up.
13. JJ Schwarz sent out a Tweet this weekend that conjured up the old Aaron Rodgers message — “R-E-L-A-X.” I assume this was directed at all of the people who are freaking out about Florida’s recent woes, losing six out of seven games. “You never know when adversity is going to hit,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. There is a lot going on with this team, including the looming draft. But when you miss your No. 1 pitcher for two straight weekends and lose your captain and hottest hitter and your second baseman gets the yips, things aren’t going to go well. Sully is calling on an old friend for help. Billy Donovan will take a break from a beach vacation at Crescent and address the team Wednesday. The 2007 national titleists have an amazing similarity to this year’s baseball team in that they were trying to repeat, rolled through a lot of the season and then stumbled at the end losing three of four games before righting the ship to win its last 10 and another title. Who better to talk to this team?
14. I could rant about the lack of integrity of the seedings in the NCAA baseball tournament or how Kentucky basically got left out because the SEC is too good, but none of those things will ever change. All that really matters is what Florida’s team is able to do here in Gainesville. We do get spoiled in that the Gators in both of the spring ball sports never have to leave town to play for the right to go to the big tournaments. O’Sullivan’s teams haven’t had to leave town for a regional since 2013 (Bloomington, Ind.) and Walton’s last team to travel anywhere but Oklahoma City in the postseason was a 2007 Super Regional trip to College Station. One thing that has to change for this baseball team is the errors that have crept up during this run of six losses in seven games. Florida has committed 36 in 52 games as it was celebrating another SEC title. In the seven games since that clincher, Florida has committed 10 errors, five by SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India. All Florida has to do is go back to the way it was playing before it clinched. Maybe the Gators did peak too early, but it sure is a different animal when you get to this point in the season, even if they throw familiar foes in your path (FAU, Jacksonville and maybe even Auburn in the Supers).
15. It would be easy to judge the SEC’s Baseball Tournament based on the weather issues, ridiculous schedule and say it was a disaster and needs to be changed. And it would be just as easy to look at a record crowd for the Sunday finale and say everything worked out. I just don’t get why softball can play a single-elimination tournament and baseball cannot. How much of it is that coaches want the opportunity to get as many high RPI games as possible and how much of it is the SEC Network wanting content? I’m curious.
16. I am writing this before Game 7 between Golden State and Houston. Because it doesn’t matter who wins. Cleveland is winning the title. LeBron James and his band of hangers-on will be celebrating when it’s over. He’s just too good and it is clear that the more people talk about how tired he is the more energized he gets. If you are a LeBron-hater, prepare to live with disappointment.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from my buddy Parrish Alford who covers Ole Miss for DJournal Now in Tupelo, Miss., during the SEC Tournament:
“SEC’s updated Saturday schedule
12 – Ole Miss-Texas A&M
12:05 – Play under review
1 – Lightning
3 – Frogs, locusts, diseased livestock
9 – LSU-Arkansas
9:05 — Play under review
9:30 – Sinkhole at pitcher’s mound
11 – Moon turns to blood, play suspended.”
Well, it was close to that bad.
18. So Samantha Walton, the wife of Florida softball coach Tim, and I have been having this great debate about people who back into parking spaces. It is a pet peeve of mine when you have to wait for someone to back in, then pull out and straighten it up. Your thoughts? Here’s a playlist while you ponder:
• “Criminal” by The Revivalists.
• “Sweet Home” by Mad Hatter’s Daughter.
• “Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads.
• “Pinball King” by Terra Lightfoot.
• And for an old one, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” by the Traveling Wilburys. And it is dedicated to Florida basketball coach Mike White (inside joke).
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.