It's kind of rare for Florida teams to all go unbeaten on a weekend in the spring, despite how good the various Gators teams in action are. But that's what happened over the past four days of an extended Orange and Blue Weekend: Both Florida's baseball and softball teams swept home series, Florida's lacrosse team won its final weekend home match of the 2015 season, and Florida's tennis teams got two wins each — the men on the road and the women at home, including an SEC title-clinching victory — to give Gators teams a combined 11-0 mark in intercollegiate competition.
The only Florida team to lose over the weekend? The Blue team that fell to the Orange team in the Orange and Blue Debut. C'mon, Blue.
Women's tennis snags SEC title
Not only were Florida's chances of an outright SEC title slim entering the weekend, the Gators couldn't help themselves much in their Friday match against Georgia. With a win, Florida would only move to 11-1 in SEC play, and would still be tied with Vanderbilt if the Commodores won at Texas A&M — but rather than stay in a three-way tie for the SEC lead, Florida would drop Georgia out of that tie, and subsequently lose out to Vanderbilt, the only team to hand the Gators a loss in conference play.
Fortunately, that wasn't what transpired. Florida topped Georgia in a hard-fought 4-3 win — Florida took a 3-0 lead, only for Georgia wins in No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 singles to erase it — and Vanderbilt dropped a 4-3 decision at Texas A&M, allowing the Gators to control their own destiny on Sunday.
And they seized it, as Gators teams had in 27 of the 34 prior seasons of SEC women's tennis, with a 4-0 blanking of Tennessee. The conference's regular season title is the program's fifth since 2010, and 10th under Roland Thornqvist, and follows the first year in which Florida won neither a regular season crown or the SEC Tournament under his stewardship.
Florida begins play in the 2015 SEC Tournament on Friday, when the Gators will meet either Kentucky or Mississippi in a quarterfinal.
Baseball's bats pummel South Carolina
Florida had been scuffling at the plate, especially in SEC play, prior to last week. A 4-0 stretch in which they scored 12 runs in every game is compelling evidence that the Gators are no longer struggling to swing lumber.
JJ Schwarz began the four-game barrage with his school record four homers in Florida's 22-3 win over against Stetson, but he wasn't done there, adding another three over the weekend against South Carolina. Schwarz batted .529 (9-for-17) for the week, slugged an unfathomable 1.882 by sending all nine hits for extra bases (he stroked two doubles), and drove in 15 runs, scoring 12 of his own. His seven homers outdid Taylor Gushue's entire 2014 season output of home runs, six dingers in 63 games — and Gushue led Florida in the category last year.
Florida bludgeoned the Gamecocks over the weekend, by counts of 14-3, 12-5, and 12-2, and the rest of Florida's weekly report, at least on offense, looks like the 1927 Yankees decided to wear orange and blue for a week. Ryan Larson, Florida's No. 9 hitter, somehow topped Schwarz (who was named the SEC Player of the Week and one of the Louisville Slugger National Players of the Week) in batting average, going 6-for-11 (.545) for the week and 6-for-9 against the Gamecocks; Harrison Bader went 9-for-19 with three homers, three doubles, and nine RBI; Josh Tobias, despite being sick enough to miss Florida's Friday opener, went 3-for-7 against the Gamecocks, and scored five runs in two games, also pushing his batting average on the season up to a round .400.
Florida's 60 runs over the four-day firestorm would have been more than a fifth of the 289 it scored in 2014, and pushed its 2015 total to 304 in just 37 games. The four games with 11 or more runs matched Florida's four such games in 2014 — and the four-game streak of 10 or more runs is the Gators' first since 2006, when Pat McMahon's Gators thumped Harvard in a weekend series, then added another trouncing against UCF in a midweek game.
Doing what these Gators did to Stetson and South Carolina — a team that Florida is 12-3 against since the Gamecocks swept the championship series of the 2012 College World Series — is slightly more impressive.
Oh, and the Florida State team that Florida travels to see on Tuesday night in Tallahassee? It has lost its last four games, and scored just four runs in a weekend sweep at the hands of Notre Dame.
Haeger helps softball shut down Kentucky
Lauren Haeger is best known for her boomstick. And that lumber got her a 66th home run, tying Megan Bush's school record, in weekend action against Kentucky.
But Haeger's best work of the weekend came on the mound.
Haeger threw two-hit shutouts in 1-0 and 2-0 wins on Saturday and Monday to open and close Florida's sweep of Kentucky, boosting her record on the season to 19-0 and lowering her ERA to 1.03, firmly within the top 10 nationally. And, yes, on her day off the mound, Haeger slammed a three-run homer in a six-run sixth inning to erase Florida's only deficit of the weekend in a 6-3 win. Haeger's performed brilliantly in her senior season, taking the mantle of staff ace from Hannah Rogers and wearing it well, especially as the Gators have struggled to find consistency on offense.
Sweeping Kentucky also has greater SEC and national consequences for her team. LSU, the only team to top Florida in a series all season, went 2-2 last week, and now holds an 11-4 SEC record that is identical to the Gators' mark. (And Kentucky was also the only team to beat LSU in a series, so, uh, there.) The only team ahead of Florida and LSU in the SEC standings is 12-3 Auburn, and those Tigers have tough series left against Alabama and at LSU.
And if you care about national rankings, Florida's back at No. 1 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball rankings for the first time since the week of March 10th, and No. 2 in the USA TODAY/NFCA Coaches poll. The Gators trail No. 1 Oregon — a team Florida is 2-0 against this year in games played on the West Coast — in the former poll by just 12 points, meaning that even a slight slip by the Ducks could reinstate Tim Walton's team as the nation's consensus No. 1 squad.
But Florida has to stay on its toes, too. A midweek matchup with ever-feisty USF looms on Wednesday, and the Gators will travel to Georgia this weekend.
Lacrosse continues Big East dominance
It was the last scheduled home weekend game of the season for Florida's lacrosse program, but given the way the Gators scythed through Villanova on Saturday, and the manner in which they've decimated the Big East, it seems they might want a home game in NCAA Tournament play.
Florida's 21-3 win over the Wildcats was decided very, very early, with the Gators taking a 3-0 lead 3:01 into the game, building it to an 8-1 lead before 13 minutes had elapsed, and entering halftime with a 16-1 advantage. Florida scored three more times in the first four minutes of the second half, before backing off in the final 26 (while still getting the lead to 21-1 with 15 minutes to play) and settling for septupling up their hapless visitors.
The win moves Florida to 5-0 in Big East play, and the Gators are outscoring their conference foes by an outlandish 91-25 margin. No Big East team has come within eight goals of the Gators yet — and the only one that has come within single digits or scored more than five goals on Florida, Vanderbilt, is a fellow refugee from the defunct American Lacrosse Conference.
Put simply, Florida has looked far, far too good to be threatened by the current configuration of the Big East. And that isn't likely to change over the Gators' final two games against Cincinnati and Connecticut — though even an undefeated record for Florida entering their final Big East game of the season at UConn next Saturday won't inure the Gators from having to share conference crown with a loss.
But, well, UConn just lost in double overtime to that Vanderbilt team. I wouldn't be betting on the Huskies stopping an undefeated Gators squad (which still, yes, needs to take care of a Cincinnati team that is 2-11 and winless in Big East play on Wednesday) from putting their feet up on their new league's proverbial table.
Men's tennis closes regular season with two wins
Florida's men's tennis team had another up-and-down year in the brutally difficult SEC during Bryan Shelton's second campaign as Gators head coach — but they're entering postseason play on a high.
Florida dispatched both Kentucky and Tennessee by 4-1 scores over the weekend, earning the latter win in Knoxville on Sunday, and will enter the SEC Tournament as the league's No. 6 seed as a result. That's a good break for the Gators: It gives them a rematch with Kentucky in the second round, and sets them for a quarterfinal match against No. 3 seed Mississippi State, the only top-four seed that Florida has beaten in 2015.
Florida almost certainly won't win the SEC Tournament, not with zero wins over teams ranking in the top 15 nationally since a non-conference upset of UCLA earlier this season, but it lucked into a path that could very well net the Gators a trip to the semifinals — which would be an impressive result, given that Florida's only made the semis by winning two matches four times in the event's 25-year history, and just once since 1997.