Florida first baseman Jac Caglianone (14) taps helmets with infielder Colby Shelton (10), outfielder Ty Evans (2) and infielder Tyler Shelnut (6) during the first inning of an NCAA baseball matchup at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville. [Florida Times-Union]

Pat Dooley’s Back Nine: Florida Baseball Making Things Interesting

The Back Nine comes at you after a great weekend and I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Sunday. I know I did.

10. Let us start with baseball where the Gators had two walk-off wins in a series for the first time in 10 years. On Friday night, the Gators won on Cade Kurland’s single up the middle and on Sunday won on Jac Caglianone’s two-run homer. In both cases, they went into the ninth trailing. I don’t know what to think about this team, but it certainly has been interesting. I mean, they can’t win the midweek games, but have won all three SEC series against ranked teams. They have lost seven home games and only three on the road.

11. How big was Cag’s homer Sunday? If Florida had lost it would have had a 9-10 March and dropped three games behind Arkansas and Kentucky in the race for the SEC title. Kevin O’Sullivan’s plan didn’t include his team struggling at the plate the way it has of late, but it’s right in this thing.

12. And then we turn to softball where Florida also took the series from Mississippi State in dramatic fashion. The hero in Starkville was Oklahoma transfer Jocelyn Erickson who homered twice Friday and then in the top of the seventh to win Saturday’s game. This came after the Gators allowed a seven-run sixth inning to erase a 12-6 lead on Thursday. Florida is a game out of first place with a big series at home this weekend against LSU.

13. Skylar Wallace is the reigning SEC Player of the Year and it appears she is ready to repeat. She is hitting .484 with eight homers, 39 RBIs, 27 walks and 24-of-25 in stolen bases. She is the biggest reason Florida leads the SEC in almost every offensive category (LSU comes in as the second-best hitting team in the SEC). The pitching has been erratic with the three freshmen, but the Gators are 31-5. Not too shabby.

14. And, of course, let us get to the Big Dance now that we have our Final Four set. All of those brackets that went too chalky have burned them in the fireplace. But the truth is, basketball fans are torn. You want to root for the underdog N.C. State team with the Dametri Hill-like center DJ Burns. But wouldn’t you also rather see UConn and Purdue in the final? They have been the best two teams all year.  And what do we make of Alabama, a team Florida smacked twice this season?

15. That Purdue-Tennessee game was a thing of beauty. I love watching Zack Edey play and the former three-star recruit from Canada called out Rick Barnes for not offering him. It was a crazy game where you saw Edey score 40 and Dalton Knecht score 37. The trouble was Knecht needed 31 shots to get there and some of them were forced. The two All-Americans outscored the rest of both teams 77-61.

16. The Back Nine knows there is a lot going on, but wanted to send shout-outs to men’s tennis for winning at Georgia, men’s swimming for finishing third in the NCAA Championships, women’s tennis for winning a tight match at home and two former Florida golfers for making the PGA Tour stop in Houston so much fun to watch. Alejandro Tosti finished tied for second (arrggghh, that bogey on the 72ndhole) and Billy Horschel shot a 64 on the final day to finish tied for seventh.

17. Please, no April Fools jokes. They offend me as someone who spent most of his life working for newspapers and trying to get things right instead of making stories up. That said, I heard Florida is hiring Urban Meyer and Ron Zook to be the new special teams coaches for 2024.

April Fools, suckers

18. I have so much stuff running through my brain right now with multiple jobs and the golf tournament to run and life itself. I need a good playlist:

WRUF.com sports columnist Pat Dooley can be heard on “The Tailgate” along with Jeff Cardozo from 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday on 98.1-FM/AM-850 WRUF.

About Pat Dooley

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