Florida's busy weekend of athletic competition gave one team passage to the NCAA Tournament's round of 16, another a Final Four berth, and a third an outright SEC championship — and it gave maybe the Gators' best two teams humbling defeats that could refocus them.
It's, again, a lot. Let's run it down.
We already wrote about Florida's Thursday win over Tennessee that clinched the SEC title in baseball on Friday. But the Gators went ahead and won it outright on Friday.
Florida started freshman A.J. Puk on Friday, and got one of his best outings as a Gator, as he lasted five innings and gave up one run. That was enough time for Florida to build the 2-1 lead that would get him his fifth victory on the year, and the Gators added two more runs in the eighth, going up 4-1 before finishing with a 4-2 win.
That win granted Florida the outright SEC championship and the No. 1 seed in the 2014 SEC Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Hoover, Alabama. And so there was nothing besides a win over and sweep of Tennessee for Florida (37-19, 21-9 SEC) to play for on Saturday in the final game of its regular season, which led to several starters resting in a 7-5 loss.
Florida will get three days off before playing the winner of an Alabama-Kentucky game on Wednesday, as you can clearly tell from this hideously confusing SEC Tournament bracket (PDF). But, as Team Speed Kills notes, Florida's a "mortal lock" for a national seed, and the home-games-only path to Omaha and the College World Series that comes with it, so there's not a whole lot for the Gators to go after this week.
Winning the SEC Tournament would be nice, in other words, but Florida's done the work it needs to do already.
Florida lacrosse has still only been to one Final Four in its five years of existence. The Gators have never come so agonizingly close as they did against Northwestern on Saturday.
The Wildcats downed the Gators on a goal with 15 seconds remaining in the second half of overtime to take a 12-11 decision at Donald R. Dizney Stadium and move on to their 10th straight Final Four. They delivered Florida's first home loss since March 2012, and also moved to 1-2 against Florida this season.
I'll have more to write about this Tuesday. (I would've written it today, but, hey, I'm still sick!)
Florida's men's tennis team bowed out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament against Ohio State on Friday night. But, man, the Gators went out fighting.
After losing the doubles point and falling behind 2-1 after the first two singles matches were completed, No. 14 seed Florida rallied to go back up 3-2 against the No. 3 seed Buckeyes. And it wasn't until senior Mike Alford fell in the third-set tiebreak of a three-hour match at No. 6 singles that the Bucks, who moved to 33-3 on the year, vanquished Florida, which finished "just" 17-10, with a 4-3 win.
For the Gators, just getting this far and competing this hard was a bit of a surprise: In their second year under Bryan Shelton, they're still very much rebuilding, and had only Alford and Florent Diep to provide senior leadership. If anything, the loss suggests that Florida isn't far from competing for SEC and national titles, and may be well ahead of schedule.
Men's and Women's Track and Field
No, Florida's men's and women's track teams didn't win team titles at the SEC Outdoor Championships. But five Gators won individual titles, and a few tough injuries for the men helped explain their struggles. If Mike Holloway can get his teams healthy and help his runners rebound, the Gators still have fantastic chances of coming home with national titles.
Florida's softball team punched its ticket to Super Regional play on Sunday, finishing a weekend of dominance that saw the Gators score 29 runs to their opponents' zero.
Sunday's win, a 7-0 blanking of UCF, followed an 8-0 win over Florida A&M on Friday that featured freshman Delanie Gourley's first no-hitter as a Gator and a six-inning 14-0 trampling of Stetson on Saturday that featured runs in all but the fourth inning.
Next up for Florida: A three-game series against Washington for the right to return to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. The Huskies beat Florida in the championship series of the 2009 Women's College World Series, and ran off their own dominant streak in the Seattle Regional this weekend, sweeping their three opponents by a 26-0 count.
This weekend's games will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at noon, and Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern (if necessary). Saturday's game will air on ESPNU, and Sunday's game(s) on ESPN.
Finally, the Florida team with the biggest challenge over the weekend also staged the biggest upset.
Florida's women's tennis team earned a massive upset of Georgia in Athens in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, winning 4-1 to advance to the Final Four. The Gators won the doubles point, then rallied back from rough starts to win three singles points, capped by Sofie Oyen winning a 6-0 final set at No. 3 singles to end what could've been a classic duel early.
Those Gators are in action once again today, and have already dropped the doubles point to UCLA in a match for the right to play for a national championship. You can follow along here.