Florida baseball brooms Miami, completes historic season sweep
The Florida Gators went to Coral Gables this past weekend with what looked like a pretty good baseball team having an excellent start to the season.
They left it with three wins over a Miami team that was No. 1 in one poll, an extension of their on-field and psychic dominance of the Hurricanes — and the last leg of a historic sweep for the Gators.
All three games at Mark Light Field were nail-biters for at least some stretch, but Friday and Saturday were especially close and back-and-forth.
In Game 1, the Gators and ‘Canes played scoreless ball for the first four innings, traded single runs over the fifth and sixth, and went without scoring again until the 11th inning, when Jacob Young capped a three-hit half-inning with an RBI double to left that scored the winning run, with Nick Pogue working a perfect inning after a leadoff walk by winning pitcher Ben Specht to get the save.
In Game 2, the same script was valid for most of the first nine innings, though Miami responded to Jack Leftwich’s departure by manufacturing a run off Christian Scott to earn a 2-1 edge that would be its only lead in the seventh inning or later in the series. Florida answered in the top of the ninth, though, with Jud Fabian coming back from an 0-2 count to send his own RBI double to left and knot the game at 2-2.
And in the top of the 10th, things broke the Gators’ way — and broke Miami. A towering Kirby McMullen homer opened the scoring, two walks put more runs in play, and four straight Florida batters reached base and pushed across a run in their next at-bats, with the final blow coming on an errant throw to first that made the Gators’ lead 7-2. The magnitude of the Miami collapse made a somewhat shaky final inning for Specht — who allowed two singles before recording an out and brought the tying run to the plate with a walk — almost irrelevant, and the win gave Florida a sixth straight series over the ‘Canes.
But Sunday was for brooming, and brought yet another back-breaking loss for Miami. Florida pounced early, building a 3-0 lead after two innings that allowed highly-touted freshman Hunter Barco to attack the Hurricanes, striking out seven while allowing just two hits — albeit along with two walks and two hit batters — and a run in 5.1 innings.
And though Miami would make efforts to come back, scraping a run out of an inning in which they left the bases loaded against Barco and then hitting a two-run homer in the eighth, the Gators answered each charge, with Fabian depositing a solo shot well beyond the wall in the fifth and Young capping a 7-for-13 weekend by smacking a leadoff double in the ninth and getting driven home by Josh Rivera — 5-for-11 with a homer in the series — to bring the line to its final 5-3 score.
And Florida’s sweep wasn’t just one of the Hurricanes, which Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators have now taken 33 games from in their last 41 meetings: It is also the first Florida sweep of Miami in the “big three” sports of football, men’s basketball, and baseball in one academic year.
Adam Silverstein ran down some of the other details of the sweep — including that Miami had never swept Florida in the three sports, either — at Only Gators. And while the feat is somewhat marred by Miami not fielding a men’s basketball team for about 15 years and the recent rarity of football matchups between the teams, it’s still an accomplishment unprecedented in the more than 80 years of meetings between teams of Gators and Hurricanes and the almost 60 years of meetings between all three programs — and one made more remarkable by none of the five meetings between the teams coming in Gainesville this year, with the football and men’s basketball games going to the Gators at neutral sites last summer and fall.
It also maybe wasn’t actually the best thing any Gators did over the weekend.
The first SEC title for Florida this weekend belonged to Jenny Rowland’s gymnasts, who used another fantastic turn on the balance beam to fuel them to a win over Alabama and a second consecutive regular-season SEC title.
The Gators ended up scoring a 198.05 to beat Alabama’s 197.45.
This win gave the Gators the SEC regular-season title, keeps them as the only undefeated team in the SEC, and adds that 198 they needed to their NQS score.
I’ll be objective and say that some of the scoring in this meet seemed high. But, regardless of the scoring, the Gators performed great routines and continued to display why they are national title contenders.
Men’s swimming completes SEC eight-peat, smashes two American records
The second — and last; slackers, these Gators, I tells ya — SEC title of the weekend came from a program that has been dynastic in the league, as Florida’s men’s swimming and diving team captured its eighth straight conference crown at the SEC Championships.
But what was maybe more interesting than the Gators well outpacing Texas A&M for that title was the pair of American records that fell to Robert (Bobby) Finke and Kieran Smith.
Smith’s record-setting came first, and was arguably the more impressive of the two: In Friday’s 500-yard freestyle final, he destroyed the American record in the event by almost a full second, lowering the collegiate record by nearly two seconds in the process. For his efforts, he earned Swimmer of the Meet honors.
But then Finke swam the fastest mile in American history on Saturday, clocking a 14:12:08 in the 1,650-yard freestyle that shaved six seconds off the previous standard.
Florida’s men won just two other titles during their time in Auburn — the 200 free was won by Khader Baglah, who teamed with Smith to take gold in the 800 free relay — but compiled more than enough points to be more than 200 clear of the Aggies by competition’s end and earn the champions’ celebratory dive in the pool.
And Florida’s women weren’t bad in their own right. Though rival Tennessee — the only team to outpoint Florida this season — would narrowly edge the Gators for No. 1, Florida finished second, collecting four silver medals and three bronzes in the competition. Sherridon Dressel won two individual medals (silver and bronze) and figured into a third on Florida’s bronze-winning 200 medley relay team, while Vanessa Pearl also won one individual silver and helped the same relay team to bronze.
Game Gators fall at Kentucky
For the Gators, this trip to Rupp Arena represents surely their hardest remaining game: Kentucky’s the top-ranked team in the SEC in KenPom and the SEC leader at present, and this game’s at the Wildcats’ formidable and cavernous arena. Florida isn’t favored and isn’t expected to win, and the Gators pulling an upset would be a huge help to their NCAA Tournament chances, but a loss won’t hurt them much at all.
In all, it was a fairly common outcome for Florida at Kentucky: Game Gators doing everything in their power to make a better-on-paper Kentucky team sweat until a second-half shift have been the protagonists in a few trips to Rupp in recent years, whether under Billy Donovan or Mike White.
This year, when every missed opportunity has seemed magnified by expectations, that might be slightly more painful than it has been in the past.
Florida lost to Kentucky in the way that Florida has often lost to Kentucky at Rupp in recent years on Saturday: It was close, Kentucky got some calls and hit some shots, and it stayed close but went the Wildcats’ way.
We should not be surprised, as Gators fans, to see this. Perhaps not dismayed, either, though my own level of sanguinity after a loss like that is probably more personal than most. The simple fact is that we’ve seen it before — a lot.
Women’s hoops adds another ranked win by downing Arkansas
When last I wrote a Weekend Review, Florida’s women’s basketball team had just downed Kentucky at Kentucky for its biggest win.
Now, the Gators have a second signature triumph on the year, leading from tip to triple zeroes against No. 22 Arkansas in an 83-80 win on Senior Day on Sunday.
Redshirt junior Kiki Smith had 26 points, freshman Lavender Briggs dropped 20, and senior Zada Williams had 12 points and 10 rebounds, all helping the Gators bolted to 10-0 and 19-5 leads in the first quarter before settling for a 26-16 edge after one. And while the Gators would lose the second and fourth quarters and win the third by just a point, they also never lost their lead or their nerve, pounding Arkansas inside for 52 points in the paint and scoring 21 points off turnovers.
The win only gets Florida to 15-12 and 6-8 in SEC play — they were just 2-2 over a relatively easy stretch of play between the wins over Kentucky and Arkansas, squandering a potential opportunity to get to .500 in SEC play by dropping games to mediocre Georgia and Alabama teams — and doesn’t meaningfully change the Gators’ NCAA Tournament outlook, as nothing but running to the SEC Tournament final and winning it will guarantee that. Florida is also liable to get drilled on Wednesday, when No. 1 South Carolina comes to town, and will finish its conference slate at Georgia on Saturday.
But the Gators can finish no worse than 15-15 on the season now, and will thus be eligible for postseason play, likely in the Women’s Postseason NIT. That could be a valuable experience for Cam Newbauer’s still-young squad, and it’d be the Gators’ first postseason appearance since the 2015-16 season, when they made the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s still a long road that the Gators will have to walk before becoming nationally relevant in women’s basketball. But a couple of ranked wins in SEC play are sizable baby steps.
Other news and notes
- The most perplexing result of the weekend? Florida’s lacrosse team — which had just knocked off national No. 1 Maryland a weekend prior — getting waxed, 17-6, by Loyola. Florida trailed 10-4 at halftime, and then it got worse, as the Greyhounds limited senior superstar Shannon Kavanaugh to two shots on goal — both goals, of course — and got seven goals of their own from midfielder Sam Fielder. Probably, Florida will want to scrap whatever game plan led to that defeat, and soon: An 11 a.m. match against Kennesaw State at home on Wednesday will be a fun brunch, and No. 3 Stony Brook comes to Gainesville this weekend.
- Florida’s softball team was largely out of sight — unless you have FloSoftball for some reason — and out of mind on the weekend, but did acquit itself nicely at the Mary Nutter Classic out west. The Gators downed Arizona and Northwestern — the latter in walk-off fashion — on Friday, split games against Arizona State and No. 1 UCLA (in eight innings) on Saturday, and handled Nebraska on Sunday. The 4-1 record in Palm Springs is nice, but yet another loss to a UCLA team that has had Florida’s number in the past few years will sting, and the Gators’ offense never really got in gear, mustering just 20 runs over the five games. A home series against Louisiana this weekend could be a chance for Florida’s bats to warm up against a somewhat lesser foe.
- Women’s tennis had no problem dusting Georgia State 7-0 in Gainesville. The Gators didn’t drop a single set, finishing out straight-set wins at all singles positions even after clinching the match.