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February 20, 2012While most Florida Gators fans were marveling at the impressive recruiting haul corralled by head football coach Will Muschamp and his staff, there were plenty of other big things that happened in Gainesville, FL over the weekend.
Unanimous No. 1 Florida (2-1) got their season off to a sterling start with back-to-back victories on Friday and Saturday before falling to No. 16 Cal State Fullerton (1-2) on Sunday. The Gators started the series with a 7-3 victory, fighting back every time they were down and eventually pulling away for the win. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the start but earned a no decision after giving up three earned runs on five hits with only one strikeout in 5.2 innings. Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (1-0) came on in relief and struck out three in 2.1 one-hit innings to earn the victory.
Florida was just as impressive on Saturday. Though sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson (1-0) was erratic through five innings (giving up two earned runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts), junior reliever Austin Maddox (S1) came on in the sixth and clinched the 5-2 win with his first save of the season by striking out three batters in four one-hit innings. Junior LHP Brian Johnson started off nicely on Sunday but was pulled in the fifth for sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (0-1), who imploded in his relief appearance by allowing four earned runs on five hits while only recording one out. The Gators' bullpen struggled mightily in the series finale, which led to an 8-5 win by the Titans.
If there was one player who really stood out over the weekend for Florida it was freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue, who started the first two games and only went 2/7 but connected on a solo home run (on the first pitch of his first career at bat) and had a bases-learning two-RBI triple in the second game. Gushue's performances earned him the season's first SEC Freshman of the Week nod, which is undoubtedly a great way to start a career.
Senior first baseman/right fielder Preston Tucker showcased his power and plate discipline, going 6/11 with two homers, four RBI and three runs while slugging 1.182 over the three-day span. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (5/12) was also sound at the plate and added two RBI and a run of his own.
UF remained No. 1 when the new top rankings were released on Monday and is set to play five games in the next six days starting with Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
No. 1 Florida softball (9-0) has had an even more impressive start to their young season, blowing past the competition in eight of nine games they've played and proving that, despite losing a bevy of seniors from a year ago, UF will continue to be one of the most competitive programs in the country. The hosts defeated Michigan State (1-7) by a combined score of 34-5 over the weekend in a trio of run-rule victories.
The Gators had the luxury of starting a different pitcher in each contest and all three tossed five-inning complete games. Sophomore Hannah Rogers (5-0) struck out four in Friday's 8-0 shutout victory, freshman Alyssa Bache (1-0) was perfect through four innings before giving up an earned run on two hits in the top of the fifth in Saturday's 11-1 blowout, and freshman Lauren Haeger (3-0) finished a 15-4 win even though she was roughed up for four earned runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts on Sunday.
Florida's impressive victories earned two Gators awards from the SEC on Monday. Junior C Brittany Schutte earned SEC Player of the Week honors after combining to go a perfect 7/7 with two homers, five RBI, seven runs and three walks over the weekend. Haeger, who also plays first base for UF, was named SEC Freshman of the Week with two homers, seven RBI, four runs and two walks.
The Gators' successful weekend extended well past those to teams. Below are some accomplishments that the Florida athletic program achieved over the three-day span.
- Defeating Auburn 197.50-196.875 on the road Friday, Florida gymnastics was named the nation's new No. 1 team when GymInfo released its rankings on Monday. It is the 29th time since 2006 that the Gators have been ranked No. 1 nationally, and UF will face a tough test immediately by taking on No. 3 Georgia next Friday.
- On Senior Day at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Florida women's basketball (17-10, 7-7 SEC) earned their signature victory of the season with a 61-57 win over No. 16/18 Georgia (20-7, 9-5 SEC). Junior forward Jennifer George (15 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Lanita Bartley (11 points, four boards) led the way for the Gators, which rebounded nicely as a team just a few days after nearly defeating No. 24 Vanderbilt on their home turf. UF will play their regular-season finale on Thursday against Mississippi State.
- Since falling to No. 3 North Carolina 11-9 in the season opener, No. 4 Florida lacrosse (2-1) has followed up with a pair of big wins to start the year. The Gators beat Jacksonville on Wednesday and earned their first road win 18-6 over UMBC (0-1) on Sunday. Florida's junior attackers led the way once again with Kitty Cullen scoring four goals and Ashley Bruns adding another; the teammates also combined for six assists. UF now has a three-game home stand and a chance to pile up some meaningful victories.
- Though Florida failed to prevail at the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships in Knoxville, TN over the weekend, the Gators did sweep one important category as sophomores Elizabeth Beisel and Marcin Cieslak were named the 2012 SEC Female and Male Swimmer of the Year, respectively. Florida won eight individual SEC titles at the event with Beisel and Marcin each taking home three. The women's team finished second overall behind Auburn, while the men came in third behind Georgia and Tennessee.