The Back Nine comes at you after a big weekend for Gator sports and a great Sunday for all of the mothers out there, especially my wife.
10. There is no way I can start this column without gushing about what happened on the softball field Sunday. If it wasn’t enough that Julia Cottrill hit the walk-off homer that gave Florida the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and a share of the SEC title, her incredible slide tied the game up earlier on the day. And then she had a tooth chipped out by celebrating that sleight of hand slide when it collided with teammate Charla Echols’ batting helmet. And all that happened before she hit the no-doubter that allowed her team to go crazy. This has been a fun team to watch all season because even when things don’t go well early, you can never count these Gators out. I always caution against making too much of a performance or a game until we get a little distance from it, but that may have been the best story of a regular season performance in the history of Florida softball. Almost made me wish I could come out of retirement to write it. Ok, and she was ill all week, too. Some stories write themselves.
11. So, here’s something that I never thought I would see. Or not see. Is it possible for a person to go to one game of a three-game series, see the team he or she was rooting for win 4-0 and hit three homers in a must-win game and realize when the weekend was over that he or she went to the wrong game of the three? That’s me. I went to the Saturday game against Texas A&M and it was a beautiful afternoon with great company and so much fun to be back out at the softball stadium. But I missed the walk-off on Friday and the walk-off on Sunday. Dummy.
12. I have to admit that I was dog-cussing the Florida baseball team when it appeared for the second straight game the Gators were going to lose an important game to Kentucky because of an eighth-inning error. And then things changed and Kendrick Calilou hit the game-winning three-run homer (and this time kept on his shirt) and then Florida won the rubber match to stay in the race for the SEC title. When will I learn that the game has 27 outs (or 21 in softball)? This is a weird Florida team, no two ways about it. But we are at the point where we just have to accept that it is what it is, a poor fielding, average pitching, striking out too much and somehow finding ways to win series. Florida jumped up all the way to 18th in the latest RPI rankings with those two road wins.
13. I saw where my friend Mark Schlabach had Florida ranked 17th in his latest early rankings on ESPN. That seems low, but I think what everybody is saying is they just don’t know about this Florida team but they respect the coaching enough to keep UF in the top 20. Here’s the thing – I have also seen where Emory Jones has been projected to be a first-round pick by several sites. If Jones is a first-rounder, Florida will not be 17th in the country. Look, I am like most people out there in that I am curious to see what this team looks like and the ceiling and floor may be further apart than normal. We’ll see.
14. Heck of a job by the men’s tennis team to roll into the round of 16 at the NCAA Tournament even though tinkering with the doubles lineup didn’t do much good. The Gators were dominant in singles and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time under Bryan Shelton. Next up is Illinois in Lake Nona and the men get a full week off before that match next Monday. The women couldn’t get past Southern Cal to stay alive.
15. I watched a lot of the golf on Sunday and the raw emotion shown by Rory McIlroy after his win was pretty intense. Golf needs McIlroy to be a factor in majors and I am really fired up for the PGA because I know that course. Also, congrats are in order for Gator golfer Rick Castillo, who played really well for the winning United States Walker Cup team.
16. It seems like we keep losing players who were a big part of Florida football in the 1990s and the latest was Tim Paulk. He was a ferocious linebacker who was one of the key defenders on Florida’s first official SEC championship team and had four interceptions from his outside linebacker position. Just a great player. Really makes me sad.
17. The “Florida Four” is a bit of a trivia question. Can you name the four Gator players who have been finalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the best college tight end? Ben Troupe, Aaron Hernandez, Jake McGee and Kyle Pitts. Hernandez and Pitts both won the award.
18. For today’s three-way playlist, we start out with “I Wanna Play” by the Trews.
“How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths.
And for an oldie, because it always puts me in a good mood, “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles and now I will go sit on a cornflake.