Thoughts of the Day: May 7, 2021

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.”