Florida Gators Weekend Review: Women lead way in softball, lacrosse, tennis, and golf

@GatorZoneSBall

Florida's tremendous women's sports teams kicked their fair share of derrière over the weekend.

The Weekend Review runs down Florida's sporting successes and failures in the non-football, non-men's 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.

Softball adds SEC Tournament title, earns No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed

With just two seniors on the roster and an offseason of turmoil costing the Gators three talented players, Florida softball was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in a ridiculously rugged SEC at the outset of the 2013 season.

All of that 2013 season, save the NCAA Tournament, is over now. And, incredibly, the Gators stand atop that SEC.

Florida added an SEC Tournament title to its SEC championship in the regular season over the weekend in Lexington, where it dispatched Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri — three teams with a combined eight Women's College World Series appearances over the last five years, and the defending national champion in Alabama. Florida was one of a record 11 teams from the SEC to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and SEC teams earned six of the 16 national seeds.

After getting a three-run homer from SEC Tournament MVP Kirsti Merritt to take the lead for good in their opening 8-4 win against Alabama, Florida nearly run-ruled both Georgia and Missouri before ending up with 9-5 and 10-4 victories. The long ball paid dividends all weekend for the Gators, with Merritt and Taylor Schwarz each cranking two homers on the weekend and Florida scoring 13 of its 27 runs in tournament play via dingers.

Florida will hope it can continue to launch homers in the NCAA Tournament, but enters as the No. 2 national seed, and in a Gainesville Regional that should be slightly easier than the one that eliminated Florida last year. USF is the No. 2 seed in the regional, and still has ace Sara Nevins (who boasts a fantastic 0.94 ERA), but the Bulls have scored 13 runs in their last six games, and lost twice to the Gators, with Nevins allowing three earned runs in a 3-1 loss in Tampa in February.

The Gators begin Gainesville Regional play on Friday against Hampton at 6 p.m., and the winner of that game will face the winner of USF-Georgia Southern on Saturday. Admission information's available at GatorZone, but it's free for UF students and the only sporting event happening next weekend, so if you're in town, go.

Lacrosse advances to Elite Eight, gets date with Syracuse

Florida's women's lacrosse team finished off its final cupcake of the season on Sunday against Denver in its first NCAA Tournament match of the year. From here on out, the Gators will be chewing rocks.

Kitty Cullen led the way with five goals against the Pioneers in Florida's 16-5 win, becoming the first Florida player to score 200 career goals in the process, and goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, newly named a Tewaaraton Award finalist, shut down the Denver offense, making nine saves on the day, including seven in a first half that went to Florida by a 12-1 margin. Shannon Gilroy and Ashley Bruns each added four goals for the Gators, and Brittany Dashiell helped out with three assists that lifted her onto Florida's 200-point plateau, one occupied only by her, Bruns, and Cullen.

While it was a fine and fitting end to Florida's seniors' time in front of fans in Gainesville, the work has only just begun for a team that has made "finishing the mission" and winning the program's first national championship its rallying cry. Next up for the Gators is No. 4 national seed Syracuse, which downed Dartmouth to advance, and Florida will have to travel to the famed Carrier Dome to take on the Orange.

Syracuse is one of just a few teams that has avoided a losing record against Florida all-time (North Carolina, Duke, Cornell, and Colgate are the others), and eliminated the Gators from the 2012 NCAA Tournament with a furious rally that forced overtime in the Final Four. Florida got a measure of revenge for that loss in Miami this March, handing the Orange a 14-10 loss.

But, for the first time in their five meetings, the Orange will be without Michelle Tumolo against Florida, after the senior star's ACL tear in April ended her season. Tumolo is Syracuse's third-leading scorer all-time, with 278 points, and has made a habit of torching the Gators, scoring at least three points in each of the four previous meetings and 17 over the four matchups.

Syracuse is 7-0 since Tumolo's injury, with the supremely talented Alyssa Murray becoming the focal point of its offense — Murray has an astonishing 100 points on the season, and has scored five per game; Florida's points leader, Cullen, has 66 — and freshman Kayla Treanor (85 points) chipping in plenty of help. Syracuse also hasn't faced an offense or defense quite like Florida's since the injury, scoring its most impressive wins over Georgetown and Notre Dame teams that have already exited the NCAA Tournament; the Orange are 1-3 against Elite Eight teams in 2013, while Florida is 3-2.

It should also be noted that Florida kept Murray and Treanor in check in Miami (Murray had four points, but Treanor was blanked), and that was with Tumolo to worry about on the offensive end.

Florida plays Syracuse on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern. You can bet there will be more words here about that game before then.

Women's tennis rolls in final home matches of 2013

Seniors Lauren Embree and Caroline Hitimana completed perfect home careers on Sunday, as they led the Florida women's tennis team to an easy 4-0 win over Georgia Tech at Linder Stadium.

The Gators got a welcome win in the doubles point by sweeping the Yellow Jackets, with the No. 1 team of Embree and Sofie Oyen playing the most contentious superset in an 8-6 win. In singles play, Embree ended her day quickly, delivering a pair of bagels to Elizabeth Kilborn in a 6-0, 6-0 romp, and Brianna Morgan and Olivia Janowicz followed with straight-set victories in short order — a good thing, as temperatures on the court were in the 90s.

Florida had previously blitzed Marist 4-0 on Friday, dropping just six of the 90 completed games on the day, and getting double-bagle singles wins from Embree, Alexandra Cercone, and Brianna Morgan.

Florida advances to the NCAA Tournament's Round of 16 for the 30th time and the ninth straight season, and gave coach Roland Thornqvist his 300th career win on Sunday. The top-seeded Gators next play on Friday at 10 a.m. Eastern in Urbana, Illinois, against a Duke team that didn't receive a national seed despite a top-15 ranking and outlasted Texas Tech in a 4-3 win over the weekend. Florida has already faced Duke this year, taking a 4-0 loss to the Blue Devils in Durham despite strong play in doubles and four wins in the first sets of singles matches.

The winner of that match will face the winner of a match between No. 8 Alabama and No. 9 California on Sunday.

Women's golf advances to NCAA Championships

Florida's women's golf team struggled all spring to find a little consistency. Over the weekend at the NCAA Central Regional, the Gators found it, and may well have positioned themselves for a top-five finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships.

Florida finished fourth behind Duke, Oklahoma, and Mississippi State on the weekend, and was 25 shots back of the Blue Devils; 25 shots was also the difference between Florida's fantastic 6-under first-round 282, which pegged it to a one-shot lead after Friday's action, and its disappointing 19-over 307 on Saturday. The Gators rebounded on Sunday for an even-par 288.

Mia Piccio led the way for the Gators with a 2-under 214 that earned her second place, and Elcin Ulu tied for 20th with a 3-over 219. Piccio could have gone much lower had it not been for her disastrous opening nine on Saturday, which featured four bogeys and a triple bogey; four birdies coming in helped her salvage a 76 from a round that could easily have ended in the 80s.

Florida's 13-over was good enough to qualify the Gators for the NCAA Championships for the third straight year, and the fourth-place finish was its best at an NCAA Regional since 2008, but the way the Gators started and finished gives hope that they might well make some noise at the NCAA Championships. Alabama, which posted a 20-under for an easy win at the NCAA South Regional in Auburn, is the favorite to repeat as national champion, and Regional winners USC and Duke will likely win it all if 'Bama doesn't, but the Gators' 282 was the fourth-best round of Regional play, and playing 10-over golf on Saturday would've gotten Florida the seventh-best total score from the weekend.

If Florida can avoid having to count four over-par rounds on a day at the NCAA Championships, which begin next Tuesday, May 21, at the University of Georgia (Georgia missed making the field by two strokes, which, ouch), the Gators have enough firepower to get the red numbers necessary for a top-five finish. And virtually the same team went low in their last trip to Athens, finishing third at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic in 2012.

Baseball drops final home series to Auburn

I say this in honestly, and with as little malice as I can: I cannot wait for Florida baseball's season to be over, because the Gators' painful brand of promising mediocrity is hurting my soul and boggling my mind at this point. The latest wound came in the form of a series loss to Auburn at home over the weekend.

Florida's familiar offensive woes were present again at McKethan Stadium, where they scored runs in just four of their 27 innings on the weekend. Fortunately for the Gators, one of those innings was the ninth on Saturday, when Josh Tobias smacked a game-tying three-run homer and Zack Powers scored Harrison Bader from first on a bloop single to give Florida an incredible 5-4 win it had no business stealing.

Auburn was simply the better team all weekend, leading for the final 17 outs of Friday's 7-4 win, 22 outs in Saturday's loss, and the final 15 outs of Sunday's 4-1 win. And that's dismaying, because the Tigers have not been better than Florida for most of the year, despite the Gators' struggles, as the Tigers hold an 11-16 SEC record and have just three more wins overall than Florida's 28 on the season.

The 28-26, 13-14 Gators are assured of making the SEC Tournament, but not much else: Florida needs to win twice against the Dawgs, a team currently dead friggin' last in the SEC, to be assured of a winning record and NCAA Tournament eligibility regardless of what happens in Hoover. Florida would need one SEC Tournament win to stay above .500 if it drops two to Georgia, and would need two if it somehow gets broomed.

I would be slightly more confident that Florida will avoid that fate against Georgia had it not just lost a home series to Auburn, but Florida's done yeoman's work on the road this year, winning games at Vanderbilt and Florida State and giving LSU all it could handle in the first game of its sweep of the Gators. The series at Georgia begins on Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Men's tennis bows out of NCAA Tournament in first round

Florida's men's tennis team finished its up-and-down 2013 on a down note on Friday, falling 4-3 to Denver at home in Gainesville to make an ignominious first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Florida took the doubles point from Denver 2-0, and held 2-0 and 3-1 overall leads against the Pioneers after wins by Mike Alford and Gordon Watson, but, as has often been the case in 2013, the Gators' top three singles players couldn't hold the line, with No. 1 Stephane Piro, No. 2 Florent Diep, and No. 3 Bob van Overbeek all losing their matches before No. 6 Billy Federhofer fell in the day's last match to seal Denver's upset.

No. 15-seeded Florida wasn't the only national seed to fall over the weekend, thanks to No. 6 seed Mississippi faltering against Memphis, but it was the only national seed to lose its first-round match. A 2014 lineup that returns Piro, Diep, Alford, and Watson, adds transfers Diego Hidalgo and Florida-turned-Michigan-turned-Florida player Spencer Newman, and brings in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country should be able to build on Bryan Shelton's uneven first season as coach, and should have plenty of frustration from this defeat to use as fuel.

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