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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.