2013 Basketball Recruiting: Chris Walker Commits To The Florida Gators

The Florida Gators received big news on Sunday morning when 2013 power forward Chris Walker committed. Although not surprising (many believed it was only a matter of time), Walker is widely considered one of the nation’s top upcoming seniors and his commitment is big. Prior to Sunday, the Gators 2013 class was made up of exactly one commit – Kasey Hill.

“In Indianapolis when I saw the way me and (Hill) played, I saw the bigger picture with us possibly competing for a national title.” – Chris Walker, 2013 Power Forward

Walker has developed a chemistry with Hill on their AAU team – Florida Elite – and doesn’t want that to end. The pair hope to do big things for the Gators once they arrive.

Before and after Walker pulled the trigger, the highest ranked committed player in the 2013 class belonged to Florida. The Gators now how the only two committed prospects in the top seven – Walker is No. 6 and Hill is No. 7. This gives Florida an edge at the top of the team rankings and also gives Billy Donovan the big man he’s been looking for. Walker becomes the first player taller than 6’6″ to commit to the Gators since the 2010 class.

No surprise here, but good news all around. Walker is a more than welcome addition and one that will do big things for Florida in the future.

Mike Zunino Has Good Week; Signs With Seattle Mariners, Wins Golden Spikes Award

Former Florida Gators star Mike Zunino would probably classify this week as a good one. He might even go as far as to say it was a great one. In a matter of days, Zunino signed his first big league deal with the Seattle Mariners and followed that up by winning the Golden Spikes Award.

Zunino broke a record of sorts when the Mariners selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the MLB Draft. That made the catcher the highest draft Gator in school history. It also made it clear he would not return to Florida for his senior season. That is a sure thing now as he has signed his name on the line. Zunino will received a signing bonus of $4 million, which is a great deal of money, but is actually about $1.2 million lower than slotted for the third overall pick. $4 million, $5.2 millon; we’re pretty sure Zunino can make it work.

Later in the week, Zunino put an end to his college career by winning the Golden Spikes Award. The award goes to the nation’s top amateur baseball player and Zunino is only the second player ever to win it, the Dick Howser Trophy and the Johnny Bench Award in the same season.*

*Florida State’s Buster Posey was the other one. A few years back, One Eyed Willy and I had a debate over whether the Tampa Bay Rays should take Posey or Tim Beckham No. 1 overall in the 2008 MLB Draft. I fought for Beckham, who the Rays did end up drafting. I was wrong, further proving I know little about the ins and outs of baseball. But I do take some comfort in the fact that the Rays were wrong too.

The Florida Gators Baseball Season Ends; Does My Disappointment Mean I’ve Become A Fan?

Sports have their way of making us extremely overjoyed, or equally sad. Unfortunately, we are sad more often than not. Disagree? Then tell me how you think New England Patriots fans felt after the 2007 NFL season. 18 moments of happiness; one of pure, utter, stomach-punching heartbreak. Think those 18 wins made up for that one loss? They didn’t. Not even close.

It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy good seasons or even great ones that don’t ultimately end in a championship, but it does mean that without reaching that ultimate goal, something is missing. Something very, very big is missing.

The Florida Gators just completed a good baseball season. 2010 was similar. So was 2009. Because they weren’t as good as they could have been though, many of us are disappointed. Frustrated that it’s over. Sad that a championship won’t be coming to Gainesville.

This is an odd feeling for me when it comes to baseball and one I don’t normally experience. It can all be explained with reasonable ease: I’m not much of a baseball fan. There are probably a number of reasons, but the main one could be the same reason I like soccer. My youth baseball career last one game.* My soccer career? 13 years. To me, certain sports are more enjoyable if you grew up playing them or pictured yourself in your favorite team’s uniform one day. I understand those that didn’t grow up playing soccer not enjoying the game as adults. For that same reason, I really don’t pay much attention to baseball. Then there are the Gators.

You could put almost anything in orange and blue and grab my attention. I don’t watch Florida baseball games simply because they’re Florida games and I feel I have to. I watch them because I actually enjoy them. I don’t feel a need to follow the team; it’s a want. It’s the Gators.

This season that love of the team rose to the next level. That level, oddly enough, included disappointment, frustration and sadness. I used to feel something along the lines of “oh well, we’ll get ’em tomorrow night” after a loss. This season, I found myself examining the loss, trying to understand where the game went down the wrong path and what would be needed to ensure it didn’t happen again. It was the same frustration I and many other fans feel when the football team or basketball team faltered. It was unsettling, but at the same time comforting. I have become a baseball fan. A Florida Gators baseball fan, but a baseball fan and that’s saying something.

I analyze box scores. I evaluate pitching matchups. I critique lineups and question batting order changes. I yell at bad swings. I cheer great pitches. I enjoy myself and now that the Gators have comes so close to winning it all (again), I want more. Until 2013.

*This can be blamed on a nameless pitcher that tried to take my head off during my one at-bat. He was young, but sadistic all the same. He wanted blood, or, more likely, was too young to control his pitches. Whatever the case, I swung at three consecutive pitches that were all only a few inches from my face. I didn’t return for the next game.

Baseball Recap: Kent State 5 – Florida 4; Gators Eliminated From College World Series

The team that started the 2012 season ranked No. 1 will not finish it that way. The top-ranked Florida Gators were eliminated from the College World Series on Monday night after a 5-4 loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes.

Toward the end of games, my mind goes over the various ways I can start recap posts. It usually lands on something like you read above. The teams are mentioned. The score is in there. Depending on the outcome, there’s either a ray of light or an aura of gloom about the first few sentences. As the Gators’ season came closer and closer to an end, I knew what I would write if that ended up being the case. What I didn’t know was how I was going to describe the thrilling comeback that would never come.

Florida entered the top of the ninth inning down one run with potentially three outs left in their season. Despite being down, there was hope in the form of Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino and Brian Johnson – all due up in the inning. Tucker walked on four-straight pitches; man on first. Another four balls and Zunino was now occupying first with Tucker in scoring position at second. Johnson wouldn’t bat, but would instead head to the bench in favor of Cody Dent who proceeded to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Tucker and Zunino to third and second. Daniel Pigott came to the plate and after two more balls, was hit by a pitch. Bases loaded and my search for an opening line suddenly became necessary. It was going to happen. The Gators were going to win. Then they didn’t.

The rest was a blur. Strikes called that may or may not have been strikes followed by a fly out to end it. Not just the game, but the season as well. The nation’s top team was going home and suddenly the collegiate athletics season was over for the Gators and their fans. They’ll be more to talk about over the long, hard summer, but for now that’s it. The end.

Florida Gators’ baseball recaps are sponsored by Ben Versnik and Advocare – a world-class nutrition company specializing in health and wellness, weight management, vibrant energy and sports performance.

Florida Gators Catcher Mike Zunino Wins Dick Howser Trophy

File this directly under “things we didn’t get around to last week, but are happy to discuss now.”

Florida Gators’ catcher Mike Zunino was named this season’s recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate baseball player. Zunino is the first Gator to ever win the award and joins the likes of Robin Ventura, Todd Helton, J.D. Drew, Mark Teixeira, David Price, Buster Posey and Stephen Strausberg.

Zunino – expected to jump to the Majors after being selected third overall by the Seattle Mariners in this year’s MLB Draft – is batting .322 with 19 homeruns and 64 RBI.

We’re seeing the last few days of Zunino in a Gators’ uniform and (let’s hope not) Monday could be the last game he plays for Florida. The Gators will need everything he and the entire roster have as they look to fight off elimination.

Baseball Recap: South Carolina 7 – Florida 3; Gators Heads To Elimination Game

The top-ranked Florida Gators fell in their first game of the College World Series on Saturday. Two-time defending champion and SEC rival South Carolina was too much for Florida and sent the Gators to an elimination game with a 7-3 victory. With the loss, Florida will fight to stay alive in the CWS against Kent State on Monday.

The Gators jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning and held that lead through the fourth. The Gamecocks had their chances, but couldn’t capitalize early, leaving seven men on base through those first four. South Carolina would find a way to bring men home during the fifth inning though, and that would spell the beginning of the end for Florida.

Junior starter Brian Johnson entered the fifth with a shutout still intact, but would leave it without recording a single out. Five runs later, the Gamecocks held a 5-2 lead and would never trail again. The Gators scored a run in the bottom of the fifth to pull within two, but they wouldn’t cross the plate again. South Carolina added two insurance runs during the ninth to secure the 7-3 victory.

Florida faces Kent State on Monday at 5:00pm. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

Florida Gators’ baseball recaps are sponsored by Ben Versnik and Advocare – a world-class nutrition company specializing in health and wellness, weight management, vibrant energy and sports performance.

Florida Gators To Face South Carolina Gamecocks In 2012 College World Series

The pairings of the 2012 College World Series have been announced and the Florida Gators will begin their race to the title against a very familiar foe. The Gators face the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday at 9:00pm in the first game for both teams.

The Gators and Gamecocks have played each other four times already this season – a three-game series during the regular season and once during the SEC Tournament. Florida won three of the four matchups, although many will focus on the key games the two played against each other in 2011. South Carolina is the two-time defending champion and it was Florida that they defeated in the final one year ago. The Gators want revenge, while the Gamecocks want to become the first team since Southern Cal in the early 1970s to win three-straight titles.

This is the team Florida wants to see early as a win would mean a lot to the players and the coaches. The winner gets the winner of either Kent State or Arkansas, while the loser gets the loser of that same matchup.

Saturday’s game can be seen on ESPN.

Baseball Recap: Florida 9 – North Carolina State 8; Gators Advance To College World Series

Talk about dramatic. The No. 1 Florida Gators beat the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Sunday 9-8 in 10 innings to advance to the College World Series. It’s the Gators’ third-straight trip to Omaha and gives them yet another chance to bring home the school’s first baseball national championship.

Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott and freshman third baseman Josh Tobias were the offensive heroes in the final inning. Pigott led off the 10th with a solo homerun to put the Gators up 8-7. Tobias then drove in freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon to give Florida a 9-7 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. NC State got one run back, but wouldn’t get more.

The Gators used seven pitchers in the win with sophomore Karsten Whiston getting the victory to improve to 4-0 and sophomore Keenan Kish recording his first save of the season.

Florida will face either Oklahoma or SEC foe and defending national champion South Carolina in the opening round off the CWS. The Gamecocks currently lead that series 1-0.

Baseball recaps are sponsored by Ben Versnik and Advocare – a world-class nutrition company specializing in health and wellness, weight management, vibrant energy and sports performance.

Baseball Recap: Florida 7 – North Carolina State 1; Gators Edge One Step Closer To College World Series

The top-seeded Florida Gators got one step closer to the College World Series on Saturday. The Gators defeated the North Carolina State Wolfpack 7-1 in their NCAA Super Regional series opener to go up 1-0. The best-of-three series could come to an end on Sunday if Florida can get a second-straight victory over NC State.

Rain couldn’t keep the Gators down on Saturday. Despite downpours throughout the game, Florida out-muscled NC State on the scoreboard. A four-run third inning put the Gators ahead and a two-run homerun by junior catcher Mike Zunino made sure it stayed that way.

Junior starter Hudson Randall got the victory to improve to 9-2 on the season. Randall pitched seven strong innings, never allowing a run to the Wolfpack.

Game two will be played at 1:00pm on Sunday and can be seen on ESPNU.

Baseball recaps are sponsored by Ben Versnik and Advocare – a world-class nutrition company specializing in health and wellness, weight management, vibrant energy and sports performance.

Florida Gators 2012 Baseball Recruiting Class Decimated By 2012 MLB Draft

Decimated is probably a little strong, but with a better than good chance that many of the members of the Florida Gators’ 2012 baseball recruiting class will jump straight from high school to the Major Leagues, it seems like an appropriate choice.

One in the first round, two in the supplemental first round, one in the second round, two in the third round, and one in the 40th round. That’s the current count (unless I missed someone, which is entirely possible; the MLB Draft isn’t the easiest to follow) and most of them will never wear a Gators’ uniform.

We’ve briefly talked about Lewis Brinson, Lance McCullers and Jesse Winker, but now it seems like all three could skip their college years. Brinson and Winker are seen as no-brainers to make the leap and McCullers now seems likely to join them.

Originally, it was rumored the money wouldn’t be enough unless McCullers was among the top few picks. That forced him to fall to the Houston Astros at No. 41, but the Astros may have creativity on their side and with that a chance to sign the ace. Houston selected Carlos Correa No. 1 overall. It was a surprise to many, but also a smart move in that they feel they can offer him a smaller bonus than the others projected at the top spot. That frees up money they can give to McCullers and the pitcher’s dad seems to think things will go well for his son.

Outfielder Max White – No. 73 overall to the Colorado Rockies – has already informed Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators that he will not be coming to Florida. Pitcher Jonathan Sandfort – No. 103 overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates – and shortstop Avery Romero – No. 104 to the Miami Marlins – may not be far behind.

And then there’s pitcher Eric Hanhold. Hanhold holds the distinction of being the very last player drafted. He was selected in the 40th round when the Philadelphia Phillies took him No. 1238 overall.