The Back Nine comes at you with a pat on the back and a warm smile for a baseball team that proved me wrong, and bags packed for Hoover, Ala., where another title is at stake.
10. Yes, I was reminded several times Saturday night that I wrote in this space last week that I didn’t see the Gator baseball team going to Columbia and taking two of three just because I knew it would be a big crowd and a team that has excellent starting pitching. Luckily, I added the caveat then that this team has surprised me all season. They did it against the Gamecocks with the biggest surprise of them all — light-hitting Josh Adams delivering the biggest bat in the biggest game of the year. One thing you have to look at is the progression under Kevin O’Sullivan. In his three years, Florida baseball has been better each season. In his first year, Florida couldn’t win on the road. Now, they win the SEC on the road. Give this team credit for showing that improvement. And is there anything better than a dogpile in another team’s stadium? This team continues to remind me of the 2005 team that went all the way to the title series against Texas. These Gators don’t hit a lot but they hit when they have to. And like 2005, they have a shortstop who is incredible. Nolan Fontana has a chance to make me take back something else I once wrote — that Justin Tordi was the best shortstop I’d ever seen at Florida. Fontana has two more seasons to show me.
11. So now it’s on to Hoover where Florida has never won an SEC Tournament. The Gators won five tournaments from 1981-91 but none since. (Quick trivia question: Where was the tournament held when Florida last won it? Go to hole No. 18 for the answer). The SEC Tournament is tough to win because the opposition is better than any regional you’ll see next week. Perfect example — Florida opens with the defending national champs. There is also the issue of not wanting to waste your pitching on a tournament that pales in comparison to what lies ahead. The Back Nine was in Hoover when Andy Lopez’s SEC champs made it to the final day in 1996 when it was still double elimination for the championship. Lopez threw a couple of pitchers who hadn’t started all year and Alabama was deeper on the mound. Florida lost both games but there was little consternation in the UF dugout because they knew what was really important. That team went to Omaha.
12. Meanwhile, on the softball diamond we wondered how Florida would respond to that awful beating by LSU in the SEC Tournament last week. The Gators responded alright by outscoring three opponents 25-3. It took me a long time to learn this but practice is the key to performance and these Gators had a great week of practice according to coach Tim Walton. It’s funny how things can change in sports. A week ago, Florida was dealing with that loss to LSU. Now, the Gators are two wins away from another trip to the OKC and LSU’s season is over. This is the third straight year UF will have to beat a Pac-10 school to make it to Oklahoma City.
13. LSU’s early exit was a stunner because I thought the Tigers were going to make a deep run, possibly all the way to the Women’s College World Series. Maybe more surprising is that two national seeds — Texas and Georgia Tech — didn’t make it out of the regionals. And if you’re wondering why the NCAA was negotiating hard on its basketball deal for the NCAA Tournament, softball is a great example. To be true to the seeding, Arizona State and Oregon were among teams that had to cross the country for regionals (to Amherst, Mass., and Atlanta respectively). That costs money (as did Hofstra traveling to Arizona) and basketball is paying that bill.
14. Boston’s obliteration of Orlando in Game Three and the Celtics’ 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals just shows that in the NBA teams are able to turn it on and off more often than in any other league. Who had Boston in the NBA Finals? But a veteran team can do what they are doing. Still, it’s surprising that the Magic didn’t show up with their season on the line. At least we have the chance for a good series on the other side.
15. Prepare for the Summer of Speculation when it comes to the expansion story. You can expect new rumors on a daily basis until the season starts and then weekly after that until the Big Ten makes its decision. The latest involves the possibility that the Big Ten will actually expand to 20 teams if it can convince Texas to come on board. Then the Big East would add Central Florida, Memphis and Temple. There is also talk that Texas could just decide to go all Notre Dame on us and become an independent. I wonder if the SEC should wait for the Big Ten or just go ahead and expand itself. But there is also the fear that expansion would simply reduce the amount of revenue each SEC team receives. Ay, yay, yay, as Ricky Ricardo would say.
16. So Mark Cuban was fined $100,000 for tampering. That would be like fining me a quarter. I like Cuban but if you really want to punish him, the NBA should take away his Twitter account.
17. Prizes are flooding in for the 16th Bob Dooley Invitational which will be July 10 at Haile Plantation. The entry blank will run again soon in The Sun but if you need more info feel free to call the Back Nine. Our charity is STOP! Children’s Cancer, which has given close to $4 million to pediatric research. Special kudos to the bowl games that send us wonderful stuff for the tourney.
18. Trivia answer: Baton Rouge, La. Now go download these songs — “Wake the Sun” by The Matches, “Sultan” by What Made Milwaukee Famous, and for old-schoolers how about “Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago? I always wondered what Question 32 was.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.