Weekend Review: Florida baseball struggling, women's tennis gets huge win

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Florida baseball's off to its bumpiest start in almost 30 years, but those were about the only Gators that didn't have a great weekend.

The Weekend Review runs down Florida's sporting successes and failures in the non-football, non-basketball, non-track sports on crowded fall and spring weekends. If you have a club sport or other note to include in the Weekend Review, hit @AlligatorArmy.

Baseball off to terrible start

Pick a problem that could be wrong with a baseball team, and it's probably wrong with Kevin O'Sullivan's Gators right now. Sunday's 7-4 loss in extra innings to Florida Gulf Coast gave the Eagles a sweep of the Gators, dropped the Gators to 3-5 for the first time since 1982, and completed the first non-conference sweep of Florida by a team that isn't Florida State or Miami since Clemson did it in that year. And there's no easy fix to Florida's woes.

Friday starter Jonathon Crawford will have to be the ace of the Florida staff going forward, with Karsten Whitson missing the 2013 season as a result of an elbow injury, but he hasn't been fantastic so far, going just 3.1 innings in his first start and leaving his second after 5.1 innings of no-hit ball because it took 77 pitches to get there. His 4.00 ERA is still the lowest among Florida starters with more than one start, though, and it was Florida relievers who went on to give up leads in both games. Only two Florida pitchers (Jay Carmichael and Keenan Kish) have taken the mound and not given up an earned run so far in 2013.

Relief was dyspeptic again on Sunday, as Johnny Magliozzi yielded a game-tying home run after entering with a two-run lead and Justin Shafer allowed three runs in the top of the 11th in his third inning of work to put Florida in an inescapable hole.

But the Gators weren't able to make noise with their bats against the Eagles all weekend, scratching out nine runs and 24 hits in 29 innings. Florida had 16 runs and 13 hits in its first win of the season last Sunday against Duke, but that's been the Gators' lone true success at the plate: In the other seven games, Florida's got just 28 runs. Just three Florida batters with more than 10 at-bats are hitting over .300 this season, and those same three players — Zack Powers, Richie Martin, and Shafer — are the only Gators over .350 in on-base percentage.

This is a team that is scuffling at the plate and on the mound, and one that can't afford mistakes on the base paths and in the field, but Florida's base-running woes have returned intact from the 2012 season, and its defense has been terrible, with 15 errors through seven contests. Taylor Gushue's defense has been especially painful, as he's taken over for Mike Zunino at catch ... and already made five errors so far this year.

It gets no easier for the Gators this week, as 5-2 North Florida comes to Gainesville on Tuesday and Miami rolls in for a weekend series. But if Florida doesn't get better, and soon, it could be looking at an uphill road to an NCAA Tournament appearance after three consecutive trips to the College World Series.

Women's tennis rallies for statement win over Stanford

Florida's women's tennis team is the two-time defending NCAA champion in its sport, but the Gators had one big-time team in their way in both of those title runs: Stanford. which has 16 titles, the most all-time. After Stanford topped the Gators for the title in 2010, Florida staged an epic rally to beat the Cardinal for the title in 2011, then ducked a Cardinal team that waxed it 5-2 in California in its title run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Sunday, the Gators authored the latest chapter in the two teams' fantastic recent rivalry, with another comeback win.

Florida dropped the doubles point in short order and trailed on all three courts, then went down 2-1 after splitting straight-set victories with Stanford in No. 5 and No. 6 singles. To make matters worse, No. 1 player Lauren Embree and No. 3 player Alexandra Cercone both dropped their first sets, leaving Stanford in strong position to escape Florida with a 4-1 win. But the Gators and Cardinal couldn't escape the rain, which forced play from the Ring Tennis Courts at Linder Stadium to Florida's gleaming Perry Indoor Facility, and the Gators took advantage of the stoppage to start their own momentum.

Sofie Oyen finished a straight-set No. 2 singles victory to tie the match at 2-2, and Cercone roared back for a three-set victory over Stanford's Krista Hardebeck, the No. 10 player nationally, to give the Gators the lead. Embree also won her second set, and was battling 2012 NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs in the third set when Briana Morgan won her third set over Stacy Tan to seal the 4-2 match victory for the Gators.

More than 1,000 fans saw the victory, which was given special treatment as the USTA's first-ever College MatchDay match, and they were treated to maybe the best match in the Gators' current 112-match home winning streak. Certainly, it was better than Florida's 6-1 win over Clemson on Friday, which was relegated to footnote status by Sunday at noon. The No. 4 Gators are now 6-1 on the season, and have won three straight matches over top-20 teams, including one on the road against then-No. 1 North Carolina last week. Things are shaping up nicely for another title run for the Gators — and maybe another clash with Stanford on the way.

Gymnastics stumbles and still dominates

Counting a fall in college gymnastics is one of the worst things a team can be forced to do. It means that two of the five gymnasts made big errors on one of the four apparatuses in the sport, and it usually costs a team at least a half-point in competitions that are often decided by tenths of points. Florida counted a fall on Friday night against Kentucky — and still beat the Wildcats by almost a full point.

Bridget Sloan and Mackenzie Caquatto both fell on the balance beam, and Sloan's 9.325 was counted in Florida's score, but superb rotations on the vault (49.550), bars (49.475), and floor (49.425) helped the No. 1 Gators get a 196.975-196.075 victory over No. 23 Kentucky. Florida didn't enter any all-around competitors on the night, but Florida gymnasts swept all the events, and Mackenzie and Bridgette Caquatto both competed for the Gators, marking the first time sisters have competed for Florida's gymnastics team in the same meet since 1984.

The win gives Florida a spotless regular season record against the SEC, and the score wasn't Florida's lowest of the year, despite the fall; both of these things are good signs as Rhonda Faehn's team readies for another shot at the program's first national title. Florida finishes its home schedule with Minnesota on Friday, then travels to Utah before SEC and NCAA competition.

Softball continues hot start

Florida softball recorded its first loss of the 2013 season on Saturday, but it took 12 innings of the longest game in Gators history and a spectacular performance from Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas for the Gators to succumb in that 4-3 loss. The rest of Florida's weekend at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic showed that these Gators are for real.

Florida defeated Loyola Marymount, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech in Palm Springs, allowed just nine runs in five games (and 48 innings), and ran its record away from Gainesville to a superb 10-1 in 2013. The Gators, now 16-1, started just about this hot in 2012, when they won 21 of their first 22 games, but that team had senior superstar Michelle Moultrie and freshman stud Sami Fagan, among others; the 2013 edition is without Moultrie, now playing professionally, and had to deal with the transfers of Sami and Kasey Fagan and Cheyenne Coyle after all three players were suspended for Florida's NCAA Tournament run.

The Gators have come out better for those transfers, seemingly, with Hannah Rogers anchoring a staff with an ERA of just 1.27 and 10 Gators hitting .240 or better. Freshmen Kelsey Stewart (.438/.486/.797, and 12 extra-base hits) and Kirsti Merritt (.407/.556/.852, and seven extra-base hits in just 27 at-bats) are leading the way at the plate.

After a Tuesday game at USF — and Florida's first chance for revenge against the team that ousted it from the 2012 NCAA Tournament — the Gators return to Gainesville this coming weekend, with games in the 2013 Florida Home Tournament against Drake, Mount St. Mary's, Florida A&M, and Presbyterian.

Women's basketball scores rare road win

You think winning on the road in men's basketball is hard? Try doing it in women's basketball, and especially in the rugged SEC. Florida's underachieving program has winning records on the road against just three SEC teams (Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina), and hadn't won at Alabama since 2009 heading into Sunday's game. But a massive rally secured maybe the Gators' most important win of the season on Sunday in Tuscaloosa.

Florida went on a 21-4 run to erase a 13-point deficit and take a 67-61 win against the Crimson Tide, earning its third road win in SEC play and keeping slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Kayla Lewis had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Jaterra Bonds added another 15 for the Gators, who are now set up to finish the season on a three-game winning streak — Florida finishes its home schedule on Thursday against Vanderbilt, then travels to South Carolina for its regular season finale on Sunday — and enter the SEC Tournament with a puncher's chance at a couple of big wins that could vault the Gators into NCAA Tournament consideration.

The Gators are currently 16-12, and will only be sure they are dancing if they win the SEC Tournament: ESPN's Charlie Creme lists Florida among the Next Four Out section in his most recent bracketology. But an SEC Tournament final appearance that comes with a couple wins over SEC behemoths like Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Georgia? That would make Selection Monday worth watching.

Lacrosse stays undefeated

At this point, Florida's nascent powerhouse of a women's lacrosse program is only notable when it's taking huge pelts. That wasn't the case this weekend, as the Gators took home victories over UC Davis and Albany by a combined 33-11 count, but Florida's still undefeated, and the Gators prolonged the best start in program history by running their record to 5-0.

Next weekend will be when the fun starts anew: On Saturday, Florida meets Syracuse, the team that denied it a berth in the national championship game in 2012 in a controversial and heated Final Four matchup, in Miami. The Orange, 2-1 with a win over Maryland, list the game as at Florida, though, so I guess Miami is now Gainesville. Rejoice?

Men's tennis still playing meh tennis

Bryan Shelton's first year as Florida's men's tennis coach was going to be rocky no matter what, as the Gators transitioned from Andy Jackson to the program's first new head coach in 12 years. But after starting the year 6-0 with wins over Miami and Florida State, Shelton's team is skidding, and dropped its fourth straight match to Baylor on Saturday.

And it was an especially painful 4-3 loss: After dropping the doubles point, Florida took 2-1 and 3-2 leads, then fell to the Bears with No. 2 singles player Florent Diep's three-hour, three-set loss to Baylor's Julian Lenz. Lenz is Baylor's highest-ranked singles player, but Diep is Florida's highest-ranked singles player, and had lost just once previously in the spring.

Florida is still among the SEC's favorites, but it would be nice to have momentum entering SEC play. The Gators will host Texas A&M in an early showdown this coming Sunday.

Swimming and diving isn't in this article because that article's coming.

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