Saturday, December 24, 2016

Top 5 SEC College Football Games of the 2016 Season

2016 was another great year for the SEC. There were Hail Marys, overtimes, upsets, and comebacks that all culminated in another flop of an SEC Championship. Although the two schools in the conference championship (Florida and Alabama) were the same as last year, this past season was very different. So come on down with me to memory lane, as I present my Top 5 SEC games of the 2016 college football season!

Honorable Mention: No. 19 Ole Miss vs No. 1 Alabama (ALA 48-43), Ole Miss vs No. 8 Texas A&M (MISS 29-28), Vanderbilt vs Georgia (VANDY 17-16), No. 17 Auburn vs Georgia (UGA 13-7), No. 18 Tennessee vs South Carolina (SCAR 24-21)

5) No. 1 Alabama vs No. 13 LSU (ALA 10-0)


This game was hyped up as LSU began to show signs of resurgence under interim coach Ed Orgeron. With just one conference loss to Auburn, the Tigers had ripped off a three-game winning streak and were very much alive in the race for the SEC West. In the midst of those three games, the Tigers had scored a whopping 125 points after scoring 81 total points in the first four games of the season.

On the other side, Alabama came in as the best team in the country while boasting a six-game winning streak against LSU. The last time Nick Saban and company had lost in Death Valley was in 2010, a 24-21 affair. This game was a throwback to classic SEC football. It was all defense.

LSU kept it close throughout, as the game remained deadlock at 0-0 entering the fourth quarter. Then, Alabama showed why they are in a class by themselves. Early in the fourth, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts broke off a 21-yard run on third down and three to break the tie.

The impenetrable Alabama defense would continue to stymie LSU, and an Adam Griffith 25-yard field goal with 2:41 remaining put this game on ice for the Tide.

Despite turning the ball over twice, Alabama accounted for 325 total yards of offense. LSU, on the other hand, only mustered 125 offensive yards. This loss would eliminate them from SEC West contention, but did not carry over. In the following week, the Tigers throttled Arkansas by a score of 38-10.

As for Alabama, they rediscovered their offense the next week as they whipped Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa by a score of 51-3.

4) No. 9 Tennessee vs No. 8 Texas A&M (TAMU 45-38)


In their first meeting since 2005 -and third overall- the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers and No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies gave fans a game for the ages. Both teams were undefeated and the Aggies had never defeated Tennessee in the sport of football. The media was riding Tennessee as it was supposed to be "their year", but many were also shocked how Texas A&M fielded a competitive football team.

This was a game that featured another one of those miraculous Tennessee fourth quarter comebacks that the nation was getting used to. Down 28-14 in the fourth quarter, Vols running back John Kelly found the end zone with 7:06 to go in the game.

After a punt from both sides, Texas A&M gained some breathing room as quarterback Trevor Knight took off for 62 yards on third down and two for a touchdown. Down 35-21 with 3:22 to go, Tennessee would need a miracle... and boy did they get one.

On the ensuing drive, Alvin Kamara scored with 2:07 left in the game, putting it in the hands of Tennessee's defense to get a stop. After a two-yard rush from Aggie running back Trayveon Williams, the Vols called their final timeout of the game. What happened next nearly ruined what ended up being a fantastic 22nd birthday party of mine.

Williams took the handoff and broke two tackles to gain what potentially was the game-sealing first down, but he wasn't done. The true freshman sprinted down the left sideline and appeared to have the touchdown that would end all the Tennessee hype for good. But then, tragedy struck.

As Williams approached the three-yard line, Vols cornerback Malik Foreman flagged him down and the punched the ball loose for a touchback. The game-ending touchdown run had just turned into a Vols possession.

Of course, Tennessee worked their magic following this absurd change of events. In six plays, quarterback Josh Dobbs took the Vols 75 yards and found Alvin Kamara for the game-tying touchdown with 41 seconds left in regulation.

Although the momentum had changed in the blink of an eye, Texas A&M did get in field goal range for the potential game winner. However, kicker Daniel LaCamera horribly shanked a 38-yarder to the left to keep Tennessee's hope of winning this game alive.

In the first overtime, both kickers came up clutch. Tennessee's Aaron Medley nailed a 34-yarder for the lead while LaCamera put his miss behind him and also drilled a 34-yarder to knot it up at 38.

In the second overtime, Tennessee's luck finally ran out. Trevor Knight plowed in for a one-yard touchdown, and Dobbs was picked off on the first play from scrimmage to secure a 45-38 Aggie victory.

Texas A&M would enjoy this win and their undefeated season going into their bye week, as Alabama stomped them 33-14 in their next game. As for Tennessee, this loss definitely carried over into the following week as the Crimson Tide annihilated them by a score of 49-10 in Knoxville.

3) No. 11 Tennessee vs No. 25 Georgia (TENN 30-28)


This game was all Georgia at one point as their largest lead was 17-0, but of course Tennessee cooked up some fourth quarter mojo. A pair of touchdowns erased a 24-14 Vols deficit and put the pressure on Georgia and true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.

Down 28-24 with one minute left in the game, Eason had his work cut out for him with the Bulldogs' drive beginning from their own 19-yard line. For the freshman, it was no problem. Showing glimpses of the days of Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford, Eason methodically marched Georgia down the field.

After three completions put Georgia on their own 46-yard line, the Bulldogs used their final timeout with 19 seconds remaining. After regrouping, Eason came out and threw a 47-yard dart to fellow true freshman Riley Ridley for the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left in the contest.

It was absolute pandemonium in Sanford Stadium! In fact, it got so chaotic that the Bulldogs were assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct because sophomore Rico McGraw took this helmet off in the field of play. This, combined with an offside penalty from senior Quincy Mauger on the ensuing kickoff, would be Georgia's undoing.

When the dust settled, Georgia had to kick from their own-20 yard line due to the first penalty. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship booted the ball 48 yards and returner Evan Berry took it to the Georgia 48-yard line with four seconds to go. The offside penalty would put the Vols at the Georgia 43-yard line for the game's final play.

Georgia was suspect at covering Hail Marys, as evidenced by their 2013 meeting with Auburn at Jordan O'Hare. Every Bulldog fan had a right to be extremely nervous preceding this play. When it came time for the game's finale, quarterback Josh Dobbs took the snap and waited for about three seconds for his receivers to get down field. Then, he let it loose from about two yards behind midfield.

The ball was skied into the air and awaiting its descent into the end zone were six red jerseys as opposed to three white. Yet somehow, the 6'3 Jauan Jennings found a way to come down with the ball and the game winning touchdown. The Hail Mary had worked. Tennessee had beaten Georgia for the second consecutive year.

This win fueled the fire for the "Tennessee is going to win the SEC East" narrative and left Georgia in utter shock. This would be the final miraculous victory of the Vols season, as Texas A&M beat them in double overtime the following week.

As for Georgia, their following road game against South Carolina was postponed to Sunday due to Hurricane Matthew. They won the contest 28-14.

2) No. 18 LSU vs Auburn (AUB 18-13)


There was no sign of offensive life at all between these two schools as they met in this early season conference bout. Besides a Danny Etling touchdown pass in the first quarter, all the scoring done in this game came via a field goal. Here's a fun fact: There were EIGHT field goals in this game. SIX of them came from Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson.

This game isn't this high on the list because of Carlson's Herculean effort, though. It's here for its ending.

After Carlson's sixth field goal put the Tigers up 18-13 (this man literally was their offense for the entire game), LSU had 2:56 to get down the field and score a touchdown. A field goal was mathematically not an option.

Starting on their own 25-yard line, LSU slowly worked their way down the field. Soon enough, they were in striking distance with less than 30 seconds inside the Auburn red zone. On first down and 10 from the 14-yard line, Etling threw an incomplete pass. On second down, he took a sack and forced LSU to use their final timeout. Keep that in mind.

On third and sixteen, he hit receiver Malachi Dupre at the 10-yard line. Dupre was unable to get out of bounds, so the clock was an immediate factor. As Etling hurried his guys to the line, he hiked the ball with everyone not completely set. Hearing no whistles, the junior fired a bullet to Travin Dural at the Auburn two-yard line to keep the game alive.

However, the play was negated. LSU was called for an illegal shift, but the game was not over. Instead of the game-ending with a ten second runoff, it would be a five-yard penalty resulting in fourth and five with the ball to be snapped on the head referee's signal.

With the ball now spotted at the 15-yard line, Etling took the snap, rolled out to his right, possibly ran past the line of scrimmage, and hit D.J. Clark for the game-wining touchdown. However, the play never counted. The clock had expired before LSU had snapped the ball, but the refs decided to watch the play for their own enjoyment possibly.

Regardless, the right call was made. After countless minutes of conversing, it was ruled that LSU had not gotten the snap off in time. The game was over. Auburn had won, and Daniel Carlson was the bonafide MVP of the game.

This loss would result in LSU firing head coach Les Miles the very next day. For Auburn, they rode the elation of this victory into next week and crushed UL-Monroe by a score of 58-7.

1) No. 23 Florida vs No. 16 LSU (FLA 16-10)


Coming in at No. 1 is a game that had so many storylines surround it. There was the issue of Florida being "scared" because they did not want to fly to Baton Rouge and play as Hurricane Matthew came through Gainesville. There was fear the game would not be played at all, angering Tennessee fans who thought their mythical SEC East chances would be dashed. Finally, there was the bigger issue of football being valued over the human lives that were affected by this deadly hurricane.

With all this in mind -toppled with a ton of trash talking from LSU's players- Florida headed to Death Valley for the rescheduled game on November 19th. On the line for the Gators was a chance to win their second consecutive SEC East title. All they had to do was beat LSU.

Similar to LSU's game against Auburn earlier, offense was nonexistent in this one. A 98-yard strike from Gator quarterback Austin Appleby to freshman Tyrie Cleveland and a one-yard rush from LSU running back Derrius Guice were the only touchdowns of the day.

Florida's defense was given a handful in this game. They made multiple red zone stops and snuffed out what I still can't figure out was either a fake field goal or botched snap. Once Florida seized a 13-10 lead with 4:37 remaining in the game, it was all about finding a way to stave off LSU and get out of Baton Rouge with the win. 

Right after the go-ahead kick, LSU fumbled on the ensuing kickoff. Immediately, the Gator Faithful had renewed hope that this game would be put out of reach. Going with the tone of this year, however, Florida ended up with a field goal. Now up 16-10 with 3:24 to go, Florida's defense was asked to make one final stop.

Starting at their own 25-yard line, Danny Etling and company were back at it again. LSU moved down the field and converted a crucial fourth down as they entered the Florida red zone. After two more plays, it would be first and goal from the seven-yard line with 35 seconds to go.

In four downs or less, Florida's SEC East fate would be decided. On first and goal, Guice was stopped after a two-yard run. After the play, Florida head coach Jim McElwain decided to burn his first timeout with 30 seconds left. On second and goal, Guice again carried the ball and made it to the one-yard line. LSU now called timeout with 24 seconds to go. The stakes began to rise.

On third down and goal from the one, LSU went with a handoff to fullback J.D. Moore. Florida would have none of it. They stuffed Moore to bring up fourth down and ballgame. With three seconds left, Ed Orgeron called timeout. This was it.

On fourth down and goal, both units dug in. After a month of trash talking and controversy, one yard was about to put an end to it all. LSU hiked the ball and it was Guice again on the carry. He tried to leap for the end zone, but was met by the trio of CeCe Jefferson, Taven Bryan, and Marcell Harris. Guice fumbled the ball as he was stuffed, and the game was over since he did not recover his own fumble on fourth down.

As the signal of no touchdown was made, the Florida bench cleared in celebration. For the second straight year, the Gators were champions of the SEC East! Amid all the chaos and controversy, they prevailed and won their first game in Death Valley since 2009.

Unfortunately, this momentum did not at all carry over into the annual meeting with Florida State. The Seminoles smoked the Gators in Tallahassee by a score of 31-13, marking Florida's fourth straight loss to their in-state rival.

As for LSU, this loss made them choke on their words and was some ironic form of justice. Unlike Florida though, they showed up over Thanksgiving Weekend and defeated Texas A&M by a score of 54-39 in College Station.

Final Thoughts
Well there's my Top 5 SEC games of 2016! I hope you enjoyed them! I want to wish a Merry Christmas to everybody and a Happy Holidays as well! Stay tuned for my upcoming articles for the remainder of this month as well as for all of 2017!

*All stats accredited to ESPN.com
**Photos courtesy of (in order): TheComeback.com, Gridironnow.com, Sportsnaut.com, TheAdvocate.com, & US.Press.Form.com



THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:





CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top 5 Jose Fernandez Career Moments

Each time Jose Fernandez took the mound for the Miami Marlins, everyone watching knew they were in for a special treat. Jose's cheerful smile and jubilant style of play resonated everywhere with baseball fans of all ages. Whether he was striking out hitters with his nasty curveball, snagging comebackers on the mound, or crushing baseballs out of Marlins Park, Jose always played the game with a joy and passion like no other.

When the news broke early on September 25th that he had been killed in a boating accident, the entire sports world stopped. Jose's tragic death goes beyond the sport of baseball itself. He was a cultural icon to Cubans both abroad and in the United States. As a teammate, he was a breath of fresh air in the clubhouse of a struggling small market team. To the game of baseball, he was an exciting young talent with the world ahead of him.

In South Florida and the baseball community as a whole, Jose Fernandez will never be forgotten. In the history of baseball (or possibly even sports), I cannot recall a time when a young, established superstar had been taken before entering his prime. As a salute to Jose and his incredible four years with the Miami Marlins, here are the top five moments of his career.


No. 5 Jose Catches Troy Tulowitzki's Liner


As a rookie in 2012, Jose was pitching against the Colorado Rockies in late August at Marlins Park. In the very first inning, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki came to the plate and smoked a 97 miles per hour fastball right bak at Jose. In a moment that you could have missed if you blinked, Jose snagged the liner and walked right off the mound.

After running a few feet, Tulowitzki stopped right in his tracks and stood there amazed at what he had just seen. He promptly asked Jose, "Did you catch that?" and the 21-year old responded, "Yeah, that's right!"

Jose would continue to dazzle in the game as he threw seven innings, allowed no runs on four hits, walked none, and struck out eight. The Marlins would win 3-0, giving Jose his 10th victory of the season.

No. 4 Jose's First All-Star Game


As part of a very successful rookie season, Jose was selected to his first All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013. Entering the contest in the top of the sixth inning, the young Marlin pitcher was tasked with the daunting trio of Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis.

Working on Dustin Pedroia first, Jose needed five pitches to dispose of the Red Sox second baseman as he zipped a 96 mile per hour heater down the heart of the plate for a strikeout. With Miguel Cabrera up to bat, he ran the count to 0-2 before getting the triple crown winner to pop out to the first baseman. For his final act, Jose again needed five pitches as he struck out Chris Davis on a breaking ball in the dirt.

For a 20-year old kid to come into the All Star Game and nearly strikeout the side is an incredible feat. What makes this even more significant is that Jose was the only Miami Marlin to be selected to the National League All-Star team that season.

No. 3 Jose K's 27 Over Two Starts


After the All Star Game, Jose pitched arguably the two best games of his rookie season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians. Soon the enough, the Marlins began to ramp up their "#Jose4ROY" campaign.

Against the Pirates in Miami, Jose tossed eight masterful innings of two-run ball, allowed five hits,
and fanned 13 hitters. The Marlins narrowly won the game by a score of 4-3.

Five days later, Jose was back on the mound in Miami yet again. With Cleveland as his victim this time, Jose showed no mercy as he threw eight shutout innings, allowed three hits, and struck out 14 batters!

Jose's performance against the Tribe set a new Marlins rookie record for strikeouts in a game and played a big part in him winning the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

No. 2 Jose's Final Outing


As Jose took the mound against the division champion Washington Nationals on September 20th, nobody thought that this would be the last time they would see the Marlins' ace on a baseball diamond.

With a Giancarlo Stanton home run in the sixth inning as his only run support, Jose took matters into his own hands to beat the Nationals. Pitching eight innings for the final time in his career, Jose allowed no runs on three hits and struck out 12 batters on route to a 1-0 victory.

The biggest moment of the game -and final moment of Jose's career- would come in the eighth inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, the slugging second baseman Daniel Murphy strode to the plate. After getting ahead 1-2 in the count, Jose induced a broken bat groundout to end the inning and preserve the lead.

According to Marlin third baseman, Martin Prado, Jose Fernandez told one of his teammates that the Washington game was "the best game he ever pitched." With his final career victory, Jose finished with an incredible 29-2 record at Marlins Park.

No. 1 Jose at the Plate


As much as Jose loved to pitch, he loved to hit just as equally. Of all of Jose's at-bats, two of his most memorable came against the division rival Atlanta Braves.

During his rookie season, Jose was in the midst of his final start on September 11th. With the Rookie of the Year race coming down the stretch, this was Jose's last chance to leave a good impression on the voters. Needles to say, he did just that.

With the Marlins leading 4-1, Jose drilled a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for his first career major league home run. He took a good look at the ball as it left his bat, which angered Braves' catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Chris Johnson.

The benches would clear, but no punches were thrown. Although Jose's actions were deemed "childish" in the eyes of some veteran players, it is worth keeping in mind that he was a 21-year old pitcher who hit his first ever home run in the big leagues. There are some pitchers who never even make it to the big leagues, yet alone get the chance to hit a home run when they make it there.

The second memorable at-bat came this past season in a July game against the Braves at Turner Field. In an extra inning affair, Jose was called upon in the top of the 12th inning to pinch-hit. With runners on first and second and two outs, Jose drilled a double in the gap to score both runners. The Marlins would win the game 7-5.

Final Thoughts
Whether with his arm or his bat, Jose Fernandez would do all he could to help the Marlins win. No moment or game was ever too big for him. Baseball wasn't even hard for him. The difficult part was defecting from Cuba and gaining his freedom. 

Compared to that, facing a potent offense or recovering from Tommy John was a cake walk for Jose. His charisma, talent, and joy were unlike any other. He will be greatly missed by family, teammates, myself, and fans everywhere. R.I.P. El NiƱo, you will never be forgotten.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

2017 Gator Baseball Preview

As the 2017 season approaches, the Florida Gator baseball team is yet again loaded for another run at the first National Championship in program history. Despite losing eight players to the draft, the Gators still look very competitive with 18 players returning. By class, Florida boasts one redshirt freshman, eight sophomores, eight juniors, and two seniors.

Looking at the freshmen joining the team this season, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan signed the sixth best recruiting class in the nation. Here's a brief look at all 11 newcomers to the Gator baseball program:

Pitchers
Nate Brown - RHP
Nick Long - RHP
Austin Bodrato - RHP/OF
Kirby McMullen - RHP/OF
Billy McKay - RHP
Cameron Weinberger - RHP

Infield
Garrett Milchin - 3B/RHP
Tyler Dyson - 3B/RHP

Outfield
Keenan Bell - OF/1B
Austin Langworthy - OF/LHP
Andrew Baker - OF/LHP

Early Contributors
What's interesting about this freshmen class is that seven of them are two-way players (meaning they can either play the field or pitch if needed). This adds much versatility to the 2017 squad and gives Sully a ton of different options for various in-game scenarios.

Earlier in October of this year, Sully went on the Steve Russell Show and gave his thoughts on the team's progression through fall ball. He hinted that many freshmen might play right away, which has become a common practice within Florida's program nowadays.

Among some freshmen who may see the field early are Andrew Baker, Austin Langworthy, Garrett Milchin, and Keenan Bell. In a perfect world, I see Baker getting the start in center field on opening day with perhaps Langworthy or Milchin filling right field and Bell at first base. I'll get into projected lineups later, but I feel like Sully will have a good dose of freshmen playing in the opener.

Offense
Offensively the Florida Gators were 121st in batting average (.278), 98th in on base percentage (.370), 78th in slugging percentage (.418), and 41st in runs scored (408) last season. Out of 295 teams, these numbers are by no means bad at all. However, they can definitely be improved.

Florida lost some serious power and speed with the departures of first baseman Peter Alonso (48th overall) and center fielder Buddy Reed (64th overall) to the draft. As a result, Sully will have to make a few minor tweaks to the lineup for the 2017 campaign.

Here's what I think Florida's projected starting lineup will look like on opening day:
  1. Dalton Guthrie - Shortstop 
  2. Jonathan India - Third Base 
  3. J.J. Schwarz - Designated Hitter 
  4. Mike Rivera - Catcher 
  5. Nelson Maldonaldo - Left Field 
  6. Deacon Liput - Second Base 
  7. Keenan Bell - First Base 
  8. Andrew Baker - Center Field 
  9. Austin Langworthy - Right Field 
Lineup Breakdown

1. Dalton Guthrie

A defensive whiz at first and a catalyst in the leadoff spot, Guthrie is the bonafide leadoff hitter in this loaded lineup. Last season, he batted .305/.367/.366 with a team-high 85 hits, 22 RBI's, 47 runs scored, 25 walks, eight stolen bases, and six hit by pitches. Guthrie's batting average was the second best among his teammates last year, and I expect him to lead the team in this category in 2017.

2. Jonathan India


After an All-American season as a freshman, India makes for a good two-hole guy after batting in this spot for the majority of the 2016 season. India is a jack of all trades. He slashed .303/.367/.440 with 71 hits, four home runs, 40 RBI's, 43 runs scored, 22 walks, and 13 stolen bases.

As these numbers indicate, India knows how to manufacture and produce runs. Not only that, he presents a speed threat as his 13 stolen bases were tied for second most on the team last season.

3. J.J. Schwarz

Despite having a "down" season where he only hit seven home runs, J.J. Schwarz is still one of the most fearsome hitters in all of college baseball. Despite dealing with a sophomore slump, the two-time All-American hit .290/.397/.456 with 73 hits, seven round-trippers, a team-high 60 RBI's, 47 runs scored, and a team-high 45 walks.

Pitchers will approach J.J. very differently out of respect for his power. Fortunately, he has cracked the code. His walks saw an increase and he led the team in runs driven in. I believe JJ is poised for a monster year, and will cement his status as a first round draft pick.

4. Mike Rivera

The compliment to J.J. who is known more so for his defense, Rivera made significant improvements from a power standpoint. As a prime candidate for the clean-up spot, the junior hit nine long balls last year while driving in 47 runs.

He slashed .245/.347/.419 with 56 hits, 33 runs scored, 28 walks, and nine hit by pitches. Rivera's home runs and hit by pitch totals were both good for second most on the 2016 squad.

5. Nelson Maldonado

"Nelly" came in and proved to be a fantastic contributor as a freshman last season. He batted .256/.350/.405 with 50 hits, six home runs, 30 RBI's, 35 runs scored, and 25 walks. Look for his power numbers to increase this season.

6. Deacon Liput


Liput is an absolute speedster as his 13 stolen bases rivaled Jonathan India for second-most last season. In addition, Liput banged out four triples for second-best on the team as well. His eye at the plate is probably one of the best among returning Gators as he drew 34 walks in his freshman campaign (third-highest on the team last season).

As a freshman, he slashed .270/.363/.398 with 65 hits, three long balls, 36 RBI's, 39 runs scored, 34 walks, and 13 stolen bases. He will be an integral part of the Gator offense at the bottom part of the order.

7. Keenan Bell


Entering his collegiate career at Florida, Bell presents a great option at first base as a left-handed hitter and fielder. In his senior year at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, he batted .275 with two home runs, seven doubles, and 17 RBI's. He has garnered many awards ranging from:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2015 Under Armour All-America Game participant
  • 2014 All-First Coast Team

If Bell does win the starting first base job, it will be interesting to see how he fills the shoes of Peter Alonso and contributes on the college level.

8. Andrew Baker


Baker was selected in this year's MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians in the in the 36th round, but still chose to come to Florida. Versatile as both a pitcher and a hitter, Baker would be a perfect fit as the starting center fielder. It would be shades of Buddy Reed, who started opening day at center field back in the 2014 season.

At Ridge Community High School, Baker hit .399 with 47 RBI's and 65 runs scored throughout his high school career. Last season he batted .421 with 17 runs driven in and 14 stolen bases. This would be good enough to earn him a selection to the 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team.

9. Austin Langworthy

A local product from Williston, Florida, Langworthy was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round of this year's MLB Draft. He knows what success is, as he helped Williston High School win back-to-back state championships in both his junior and senior seasons.

Another two-way guy, Langworthy makes a case to be predominantly a hitter as he batted .403 with 11 home runs and 85 RBI's throughout his high school career. Last season, he batted .453 while driving in 27 runs, scoring 31 runs, doubling seven times, and hitting one long bomb.

He has quite a decorated high school career as some of Langworthy's honors include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2016 MaxPreps Small School Second Team All-American
  • 2016 American Family Insurance All-USA Florida All-State Second Team
  • 2015 & 2014 Gainesville Sun’s Small School Player of the Year
  • 2016, 2015, & 2014 First Team All-Area selection


Pitching
On the mound, Florida's pitching took care of business last year as the Gators ranked sixth in ERA (2.91), first in strikeouts per nine innings (9.8), and third in WHIP (1.11). Replicating those numbers will be difficult, as the pitching staff has taken quite a hit with the departure of A.J. Puk (6th overall) and Logan Shore (48th overall) in this past year's MLB Draft.

However, Alex Faedo still remains and will be called upon to anchor down the staff as the now undisputed ace. With the Tampa product leading the charge, here is what the 2017 Florida Gator pitching rotation will look like:

Starters
  1. Frank Rubio
  2. Nick Horvath
  3. David Lee
  4. Eddy Demurias
  5. Michael Byrne
  6. Nate Brown
  7. Nick Long
  8. Austin Brodrato
  9. Kirby McMullen
  10. Billy McKay
  11. Cameron Weinberger
  12. Tyler Dyson
  13. Garrett Milchin
Starting Rotation Breakdown

1. Alex Faedo


Faedo has been throwing like an ace for the Gators since the moment he stepped on campus two seasons ago. Now a junior and officially given the title of "ace", the 6'5 Faedo will look to terrorize opposing hitters yet again. Last year he led the Gators with a 13-3 record in 17 starts while recording a team-high 133 strikeouts with 21 walks and a 3.18 ERA in 104.2 innings pitched. Look for him to once again win 10+ games.

2. Brady Singer

An absolute flamethrower who can touch the mid-to-upper 90s, the 6'5 Singer will be pitching in a bunch of potential series clinchers as the No. 2 starter. As a freshman out of the bullpen last season, Singer boasted a 4.95 ERA with a 2-2 record in 23 appearances. He threw 43.2 innings, notched one save, struck out 38 batters and issued 17 walks.

Singer has started one game in his career, and that came against Alabama in the SEC Tournament. He worked six innings, allowed four earned runs on five hits, walked two, and struck out no one on route to a no decision.

3. Jackson Kowar


Sidelined after April due to an injury, Kowar is another 6'5 guy that can run the ball up there real nicely in the mid-to-high 90's. Starting in 6 of his 12 appearances as a freshman, Kowar racked up a 3-0 record with a 3.37 ERA. He tossed 34.2 innings while fanning 44 batters and allowing 10 free passes.

4. MacGregor Hines


Redshirted during his freshman season, Hines can be utilized as a spot starter in the event of an injury or the need to rest one of the three pitchers above. I don't know much about Hines to be honest, but based on his performance in this past summer I can't help but be excited.

Playing for Brazos Valley Bombers, Hines started in 7 of the 10 games he appeared in. In that span he maintaned a 1.15 ERA with a 5-0 record and 43 strikeouts. He threw 46.2 innings and helped the Bombers win a fourth consecutive TCL Championship.

Bullpen Breakdown
1. Frank Rubio


Appearing in a career-high 23 games last season, Rubio will be counted on as the returning senior in the bullpen. As a junior, he sported a 4.46 ERA with a 3-1 record, one save, 21 strikeouts, and eight walks in 34.1 innings pitched. Although Sully said he would be doing a closer by committee, Rubio could seize that role with a couple good outings right out the gate.

2. Nick Horvath


A two-way guy, Horvath did well in his first season as a Gator after transferring over from Santa Fe. In 15 appearances, he went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA, one save, eight strikeouts, and five walks in 13 innings pitched. 

3. David Lee


A local product from Gainesville who attended Bucholz High School, Lee played for one year at Florida International University and one year at Santa Fe College. Prior to transferring to Florida, he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 38th round of this year's MLB Draft.

In his lone season at Santa Fe, Lee made 14 starts and went 6-2 with a 4.00 ERA. He tossed 54 innings and struck out a total of 58 batters.

4. Eddy Demurias


Seeing sparse playing time as a freshman, Demurias served more as a mop up man as he would enter the game with Florida either up big or down big. In five appearances last season, he posted a 13.50 ERA with two strikeouts and four walks in 3.1 innings pitched.

5. Michael Byrne


Possibly a spot starter option for mid-week games, Byrne did fairly well in his freshman season as a Gator. In 15 appearances, he maintained a 3.94 ERA with an 0-1 record, 15 strikeouts, and three walks in 16 innings pitched.

6. Nate Brown


Hailing from Wisconsin, Brown has received comparison from Sully to Gator legend Logan Shore. He is a mature strike thrower who can throw three of his pitches consistently over the plate. The top-rated pitcher out of Wisconsin, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 40th round of this year's MLB Draft. In his senior season at Arrowhead Union High School, he posted a 7-1 record with a 0.89 ERA.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 First Team All-State and First Team All-District
  • 2016 Top Senior Pitcher Award Finalist
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Central Region First Team
  • 2016 2016 Super 60 Participant
  • 2015 Honorable Mention All-District Honors

7. Nick Long


Due to an injury, Long did not pitch that much in his senior season at Sarasota High School. He was rated the No. 6 right-handed pitcher in the state of Florida and was selected to the 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team.

Despite not pitching too often, he swung the bat well his senior year with a .415 average, 32 RBI's, and four home runs. Long's usage in various in-game situations this season will be interesting to observe nonetheless.

8. Austin Bodrato


Coming down south from New Jersey, Bodrato was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th round of this year's MLB Draft. In his high school career, he posted a 14-5 record with 129 strikeouts and won a state championship as a sophomore in 2014. Last season, he went 5-1 with 60 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 Big North Conference Player of the Year and First Team All-State
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Northeast Region First Team
  • All-Tournament Selectee at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championships in Jupiter
  • Top Prospect Team Selectee at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers

9. Kirby McMullen


Carrying on the legacies of "Kirbys" coming out of the bullpen, McMullen maintained a 1.14 ERA in his four years at Forest High School. He finished his high school career 20-6 with 208 strikeouts and 59 walks in 184.1 innings pitched.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Florida Athletic Coaches Association Class 8A All-State Team
  • 2016 Ocala Star-Banner Player of the Year
  • 2015 Star-Banner Pitcher of the Year 

10. Billy McKay


Prior to Florida, McKay went 14-7 with a 1.16 ERA, 180 strikeouts, and 31 walks in 156.1 innings pitched at Plant City High School. Last season he maintained a 1.53 ERA while striking out 66 hitters in 59.1 innings of work. He has tossed two career no hitters, both in his junior season.

11. Cameron Weinberger


From Boca Raton, Florida, Weinberger posted a 1.06 ERA in 10 appearances during his senior year at Spanish River High School. He struck out 52 batters in 56 innings of work last season as well.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Honorable Mention All-Palm Beach County Honors

12. Tyler Dyson


Despite being ranked the seventh best third basemen in the state, Dyson could see initial action in the bullpen due to the fact that Jonathan India currently has the third base job locked up. Interestingly enough, Dyson did not become a pitcher until his senior year at Braden River High School.

Needless to say that transition went very smoothly. Dyson did not allow a single earned run throughout the regular season last year and notched 63 strikeouts to just 13 walks. He finished his senior year with a 6-1 record an 0.38 ERA in 55.2 innings. At the plate, he batted .333 with two home runs, 17 RBI's, and 14 runs scored in 26 games.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Bradenton Herald All-Area Player of the Year in 2016

13. Garrett Milchin


Milchin is another guy who may have to start his collegiate career in the bullpen until an infield spot opens up. He was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 39th round of this year's MLB Draft and came into the University of Florida rated the fourth best third basemen in the state. 

During his senior year at The First Academy, Milchin maintained a 2.13 ERA while going 8-2 on the season. At the plate, he hit .390 while driving in 24 RBI's.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2016 FACA District 10 Player of the Year
  • 2016 Orlando Sentinel Second Team All-Area selection
  • 2016 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America Second Team selection

Defense
Once again, the defense remained a strong point for the Gators as they finished with the third best fielding percentage (.982) in 2016. With that in mind, here are the error totals for the projected lineup as well as the starting rotation:

Lineup
  1. Dalton Guthrie - 8
  2. Jonathan India - 12
  3. J.J. Schwarz - 0
  4. Mike Rivera - 3
  5. Nelson Maldonaldo - 0
  6. Deacon Liput - 5
  7. Keenan Bell - N/A
  8. Andrew Baker - N/A
  9. Austin Langworthy -  N/A
Starters
  1. Alex Faedo - 0
  2. Brady Singer - 0
  3. Jackson Kowar - 0
  4. MacGregor Hines - 0
That's a total of 28 errors from the starting lineup with obviously none coming from the starting rotation. J.J. shouldn't really count because he DH's two out of three games of a series. So really, the only truly flawless full-time fielder is Nelson Maldonado. I tip my hat to him as he has recorded 78 putouts with two assists last season.

Although errors hurt the Gators down the stretch in the SEC Tournament and the College World Series, the numbers speak for themselves. Florida will once again be another great defensive team and finish in the Top-5 within the category when it's all said and done.

2017 Schedule
I remember waiting so anxiously for this schedule to be released, and now it is my honored privilege to reveal Florida's opponents for this upcoming season:

February
17th: William & Mary
18th: William & Mary
19th: William & Mary

21st: @Jacksonville
22nd: Jacksonville
24th: Miami
25th: Miami
26th: Miami
28th: UCF

March
1st: @UCF
3rd: Columbia
4th: Columbia
5th: Columbia

7th: @FGCU
8th: FGCU
10th: Seton Hall
11th: Seton Hall
12th: Seton Hall

14th: FSU
17th: @Auburn*
18th: @Auburn*
19th: @Auburn*
21st: @Stetson
24th: LSU*
25th: LSU*
26th: LSU*

28th: FSU
31st @Missouri*

April
1st: @Missouri*
2nd: @Missouri*
4th: Stetson
7th: Tennessee*
8th: Tennessee*
9th: Tennessee*

11th: @FSU
13th: @Vanderbilt*
14th: @Vanderbilt*
15th: @Vanderbilt*
18th: UNF
20th: South Carolina*
21st: South Carolina*
22nd: South Carolina*

28th: @Georgia*
29th: @Georgia*
30th: @Georgia*

May
2nd: Florida A&M
5th: Ole Miss*
6th: Ole Miss*
7th: Ole Miss*
9th: USF

12th: @Alabama*
13th: @Alabama*
14th: @Alabama*
18th: Kentucky*
19th: Kentucky*
20th: Kentucky*

*Denotes SEC game
Home games in bold

Final Takeaway
Another baseball season presents itself another opportunity for the Florida Gators to capture that elusive National Championship. After a very brief appearance in the College World Series last year, this team has the makeup to get right back to Omaha and do some damage.

The lineup is experienced, the pitching staff is led by a first rounder who is complemented by two flamethrowers, the bullpen has the perfect mix of veterans and rookies, and the defense is nearly impeccable.

The freshmen will get thrown into the fire real quick and sort out who can or cannot play at this level. Freshman experience and production has been a big part of this program for awhile, and I expect nothing different this year.

Hopefully 2017 is the year that all the woes and shortcomings finally end. Hopefully it's the year that the Florida Gators can claim their rightful spot as National Champions in the ultra-competitive world of Division I collegiate baseball.


THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:





CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2016-17 Gator Basketball: November Recap

I know this is coming out nearly two weeks after the last Gator basketball game in November, but better late than never.

In the second year of the Mike White era, the Florida Gator men's basketball team finished their first month of non-conference play wth an impressive 6-1 record. This included some big wins over Seton Hall (8-2) and Miami (7-2) with their only loss coming to a perennial power in then No. 11 ranked Gonzaga (10-0).

Early into this young season, here are the stat leaders for the Florida Gators:

Offense

Points: KeVaughn Allen (136) (Sophomore)

Assists: Kasey Hill (41) (Senior)

Rebounds: John Egbunu (33) (Redshirt Junior)

Shooting Percentage (100 minutes min.): Justin Leon (55%) (Senior)

Three-Pointers (10 attempts min.): KeVaughn Allen (15)

Three-Point Percentage (10 attempts min.)Justin Leon (52%)

Free Throws: Kasey Hill/John Egbunu/Devin Robinson/Canyon Barry (29) (Junior/Graduate)

Free Throw Percentage (10 attempts min.)KeVaughn Allen (88%)


Defense

ReboundsJohn Egbunu (44)

BlocksJohn Egbunu (24)

Steals: Chris Chiozza (14) (Junior)


Miscellaneous

Personal Fouls: Chris Chiozza (27)

MinutesKasey Hill (289)

Turnovers: Kasey Hill (28)


Final Takeaway
After a very successful month of November, Florida (7-3) has reeled a bit. Climbing as high as No. 21 in the polls, the Gators lost a tough battle to No. 5 Duke (10-1) in Madison Garden before going to Tallahassee and losing for the third straight year to rival Florida State (6-1).

Keep in mind also that Florida has not played a legitimate home game this season with the O'Connell Center undergoing renovations. That will soon change, however, as the Orange and Blue have only one game remaining before they christen the revamped O-Dome on December 21st. Their opponent will be the Arkansas Little-Rock Trojans (8-2).

The Gators should feasibly win their next two games (Charlotte & UALR) before starting SEC play at the end of the month. Their first conference opponent is quite a dandy as they hit the road to take on a stingy Arkansas team that is currently 8-1. A win in Fayetteville would clinch a second consecutive winning month for Florida. 




THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:





CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!

Monday, December 12, 2016

UF Baseball: Danny Reyes to Transfer from Florida

Earlier this week, I received news from an inside source that sophomore outfielder Danny Reyes was leaving the University of Florida baseball program. He reportedly will be transferring to Broward College for a year and then seeking to rejoin the ranks of D1 baseball at the University of Miami.

This news comes as a surprise to an avid Gator baseball fan like myself. Appearing sporadically throughout his freshman season, Reyes played a big role down the stretch last year. In the 2016 SEC Tournament, the 6'2 righty out of Miami Springs had his coming out party.

Reyes hitting against Eastern Michigan.
In his four games of action in Hoover, Alabama, Reyes hit three doubles as he went 6-16 (.375) with four RBI's and a run scored.

In the Gainesville Regional, he continued to see expanded playing time as he started all three games. In those contests, he batted 4-9 (.444) with a double, a triple, his first-career collegiate home run, five RBI's, and three runs scored. His performance would earn him a spot on the 2016 NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team.

As Florida advanced to the super regional round, Reyes started both Games 1 and 2. Between the two games he mustered one hit in five at-bats (.200).

In the College World Series against Texas Tech, Reyes made what would be the final start of his Florida career. He went 1-3 with a single while also grounding into a double play with runners on first and second in the bottom of the fifth inning. In his final official at-bat as a Florida Gator, Reyes grounded out to second base on a 1-1 count.

Reyes final career stats after one year as a Florida Gator are as follows:

Offense
Reyes hitting against FSU in Game 1 of Super Regionals.
  • 14 Hits
  • 11 RBI's
  • 3 Doubles
  • 1 Triple
  • 1 Home Run
  • .269 Batting Average
  • .423 Slugging Percentage
  • .278 On Base Percentage 
  • 1 Stolen Base
  • 6 Runs Scored
  • 1 Sacrifice Fly
  • 10 Strikeouts
  • 1 Walk
Defense
  • 1 Assist
  • 16 Putouts
  • 1.000 Fielding Percentage
Miscellaneous
  • 24 Games Played
  • 12 Games Started

Final Takeaway
Reyes took care of business both on and off the field as he was a member of the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll. Some final career notes on him are that he had four multi-hit games and his longest hitting streak was four games as well.

It seemed like Reyes would at least for compete for a starting outfield spot in fall ball, but I guess circumstances have changed. If you ask me, it's probably looking like sophomore Nelson Maldonado in left field, true freshman Andrew Baker in center field, and senior Ryan Larson splitting time with others in right field. With that potential starting outfield, it makes sense for Reyes to get out and get more exposure and playing time elsewhere

I wish Danny the absolute best as he makes the transition back to South Florida for college baseball. His short time here at UF was fun to watch, especially once his bat caught fire in the postseason. I look forward to following his career with the Green and Orange if he winds up playing there when it's all said and done.



THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:





CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!