A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
GIVEAWAY: GATORS DROP OPENER AT KENTUCKY
Call this one The Great Giveaway. That’s the only way you can possibly describe what the 10th-ranked Gators (31-14, 13-9 SEC East) did Thursday night in Lexington when they lost 7-5 to Kentucky (27-15, 11-11 SEC East).
The damage report reads like this:
1. The Gators committed three errors that led to three unearned runs by the Wildcats.
2. Florida threw three wild pitches, committed a passed ball and allowed four Kentucky stolen bases.
3. After the Gators had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie the score with four runs in the top of the seventh, there was a critical base running error when Jud Fabian was held up at third on a single to right field by Sterlin Thompson. Instead of sending Fabian home against a fairly average arm in right field, the Gators played it safe. With the bases now full of Gators and just one out, Jordan Butler struck out swinging and Josh Rivera took a called third strike on a full count to end the threat.
4. In the bottom half of the inning, a throwing error by third baseman Kirby McMullen on what should have been the second out turned into the biggest mistake of the night because T.J. Collett went down swinging. John Rhodes then delivered a two-run single to provide the winning margin.
Florida should have never lost this baseball game, but the loss played out in all-too familiar fashion. Too many Florida losses have been due to self-inflicted wounds, whether in the field where they turn routine plays into inning-extending errors or critical strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
Starting pitcher Franco Aleman gave up 10 hits and five runs in six innings. He contributed to his own demise in the fourth when he gave up four runs. He couldn’t field his position which created an infield hit, hit a batter and wild pitched in the final run of the inning. His committed an error on a bunt in the fifth when Kentucky increased the lead to 5-0 but that one didn’t send a runner home.
The Gators got on the scoreboard in the sixth on a double by Rivera, a ground out and a sacrifice fly by Jacob Young. In the seventh, Fabian doubled followed by a Kris Armstrong single. McMullen singled home Fabian but two outs later back-to-back walks scored Armstrong. After a pitching change, Young singled to right field to drive home Rivera and McMullen.
This was a critical loss for the Gators since they entered the game just one game behind SEC East co-leaders Vanderbilt and Tennessee. UF faces Kentucky tonight with Tommy Mace (5-0) getting the start.
AN SEC TITLE ON THE LINE FOR UF SOFTBALL
The pressure is on Tim Walton and his 4th-ranked Florida (37-8, 16-5 SEC) softball team this weekend at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. A sweep of Texas A&M (31-17, 8-13 SEC) earns a share of the Southeastern Conference championship with Arkansas (40-8, 19-5 SEC), which has already concluded its season. Lose even one of the three games with the Aggies and Arkansas wins the title outright, marking the first time since 2007 that an SEC team not named Florida or Alabama has won the softball title.
There is no magic formula for the Gators, who are a middle of the pack offensive team that hits only .282 with only 41 homers. The Gators get just enough offense and back it up with solid pitching (team ERA 1.68, second in the SEC; 11th nationally) and exceptional defense (sixth nationally at .982, only 23 errors in 45 games). Florida does not have dominant pitching in that there isn’t a single pitcher on the staff that can simply blow the ball by opposing hitters. The Gators rank near the bottom of the SEC in strikeouts with 228 in 299-2/3 innings but they do a good job of making the other team put the ball in play so the defense can get the job done.
Walton certainly hopes the Gators do better at the plate than they did in winning two of three last weekend in Missouri. In their game one win, the Gators were held scoreless until the top of the sixth when they exploded for five runs, winning it on a 3-run homer by Jaimie Hoover. Sunday, UF was shutout until the top of the seventh when Hannah Adams hit a 3-run homer to win that one 3-2.
Key players: Adams leads the Gators in hitting at .401. She has hit eight homers with 33 RBI. Charla Echols (.352) leads in home runs (11) and RBI (44) … Katie Chronister (7-2, 1.98 ERA) has been invaluable out of the bullpen where she leads the team in saves with six.
RIVALS GIVES KOWACIE REEVES HIS FIFTH STAR
Rivals.com published its final top 150 basketball rankings Thursday with Florida signee Kowacie Reeves (6-6, 180, Macon, GA Westside) moving up six spots and gaining a fifth star. Reeves is a more of a scorer than he is a shooter. He scores easily off the bounce and is a good garbage guy who picks up two or three stickbacks per game. He has a good, consistent midrange jumper and actually improved as a 3-point shooter during his high school season, but that’s an area where he will need to improve.
Reeves also moved up two spots in the final rankings by 247Sports, but at No. 27 he just missed getting his fifth star. Travis Branham, a 247Sports basketball recruiting analyst, listed Reeves as one of the 10 impact freshmen for 2021-22.
Writes Branham, “Mike White and the Florida Gators are losing some key pieces from the 2020-21 season in Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis to the NBA Draft as well as Noah Locke to transfer. Colin Castleton also declared but is retaining his eligibility while Keyontae Johnson is gearing back up for a big comeback season – and a very welcome return to the floor.
“Johnson, Tyree Appleby and Castleton (if he returns) form a solid core for the Gators and have one very talented high school prospect headed to campus in Kowacie Reeves. Reeves exits high school ranked as the No. 27 overall prosect in the class.
“He’s got size, length and more than enough athleticism to compete in the SEC. He’s a confident and aggressive scorer who can put point on the board in a hurry with his jumper.
“Reeves can provide a big spark for the Gators on both sides of the ball and will be needed to make a return to their first Sweet 16 since 2017.”
GATORS ADVANCE TO AAC LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Florida (15-2) won its 12th straight game Thursday, hammering Cincinnati 19-6 in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference lacrosse tournament at Donald Dizney Stadium. The Gators will face Temple (12-4) Saturday in the AAC championship game. Temple advanced with a 16-11 win over Vanderbilt.
Paisley Eagan and Grace Haus led the Gators with four goals apiece.
ELAM GOES 10TH IN MCSHAY 2022 MOCK NFL DRAFT
In his first mock draft for the 2022 NFL Draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay sends Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam to the Las Vegas Raiders with the 10th pick. Nearly every 2022 draft evaluation so far has Elam ranked with LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. as the top two corners in the draft.
McShay’s draft features five first round quarterbacks: Kedon Slovis, Southern Cal (No. 2, Detroit); Sam Howell, North Carolina (No. 7, Philadelphia); Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (No. 11, Denver); Malik Willis, Liberty (No. 15, Washington) and Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (No. 16, Pittsburgh).
In a 2022 mock draft by Sporting News, Elam goes 20th to Philadelphia and UF linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. goes 32nd to Tampa Bay. That same draft lists the following first round quarterbacks: Rattler (No. 1, Houston); Slovis (No. 2, Detroit); Howell (No. 5, Denver); and Ridder (No. 10, Washington).
Not to be outdone, CBSSports has Elam going 15th to Pittsburgh in its mock. The CBS first round QBs are: Howell (No. 2, Detroit); Rattler (No. 8, Washington); Slovis (No. 9, Las Vegas); Willis (No. 10, Carolina); and Ridder (No. 26, Denver).
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Wednesday, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was asked how long until Nick Saban retires so that the Aggies can beat Alabama, to which Fisher (Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU), said, “We’re going to beat his ass when he’s there.” At a speaking engagement in Mobile, Saban was asked Fisher’s statement, to which he responded, “In golf?” … Redshirt freshman defensive back Brandon Turnage has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
Auburn: Five Auburn football players have put their name in the transfer portal this week – D-linemen Jaren Handy and Jay Hardy; quarterback Chayil Garnett; defensive back Chris Thompson; and the most recent, defensive back Kamal Hadden, a 2021 signee who transferred in from Independence Community College.
Georgia: Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed a Name, Image Likeness (NLI) bill into effect Thursday in the recruiting lounge at Sanford Stadium. The Georgia law allows the school to take up to 75 percent of the money earned by an individual player from NLI to redistribute to other players, making this a controversial bill that almost certainly will receive a court challenge.
Kentucky: Former South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua is leaving the Illinois staff to join John Calipari’s staff at UK. Antigua worked for Calipari one year at Memphis and then five at UK … Offensive tackle Nick Lewis (6-9, 320), a Jacksonville native and former 3-star prospect, has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
Missouri: The Missouri at BYU football game that was supposed to be played in 2020 has been reschedule … for 2035. Missouri has also rescheduled its postponed game with Louisiana to 2025. Tennessee: As of Thursday night, Tennessee’s football attrition totals 24 players who have transferred out and four who have asked for and received a release from their national letters of intent.
Texas A&M: A day after saying he plans to beat Nick Saban’s ass, Jimbo Fisher told the Capital City A&M Club, “We’ve got the Aggie ring but we need a national championship ring, too. I’m gonna change that tradition a bit and make us a two-ring school.” Nick Saban is probably quaking in his Nikes about now … Offensive lineman Chris Morris, formerly a 4-star prospect in 2020, is expected to transfer out. Morris did not participate in Texas A&M’s spring football practice.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: The Board of Regents at the University of Hartford, whose basketball team won the American East Conference Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in history back in March, has voted to drop its intercollegiate athletics program (eight men’s, nine women’s teams) down to Division III no later than September 1, 2025. This comes after a school-sanctioned study says the athletic department would save more than $9 million a year with the move. Economist Andy Schwarz, whose studies helped UAB save its football program from the ash heap, reports the savings would be significantly less. This won’t be the first school to either drop down a division or two or eliminate entire athletic departments. The combination of COVID-19 on university economies and a lack of television revenue except for the power conferences in Division I is going to take its toll, especially on smaller schools. Like it or not, we’re about to enter an era when there will be a declining number of opportunities for athletes in sports across the board. Think back to last summer when Stanford eliminated 10 non-revenue sports and think of that as the first shot across the bow. That was just the first drips from the faucet. A flood could be following soon.