Jim McElwain, Gators football spread Mother’s Day cheer
Welcome to another installment of Good Morning, Gators, SEC Country’s daily morning column covering Florida athletics with Florida beat writer Jordan McPherson. Today, we look back at Florida baseball’s series win against Alabama, look ahead to softball’s NCAA regional and more.
Motherly love from Florida football
Sunday was Mother’s Day, and Florida football coach Jim McElwain and many current and former Florida players and coaches took the time to show their appreciation.
McElwain, heading into his third season as Florida’s coach, used a variation of a Florida classic:
— Jim McElwain (@CoachMcElwain) May 14, 2017
McElwain has mentioned his 95-year-old mother, Marjorie, on various occasions during his time at Florida.
“She’s awesome,” McElwain said on Nov. 16. “She’s one of the most loving, caring people in the world.”
He told a story two years ago about talking to her following Florida’s 31-24 win against East Carolina in his first season, a game where McElwain went on a sideline tirade with RB Kelvin Taylor after Taylor used a throat-slashing gesture following a touchdown.
“I got an earful from her,” McElwain said the Monday after the game, “and rightfully so.”
He had a chance to visit her back home in Missoula, Mont., during Florida’s spring break. They talked about life and the high school basketball tournament games she went to watch.
“She’s doing great,” McElwain said. “That’s something that’s pretty special.”
McElwain wasn’t alone in spreading the Mother’s Day love, though.
Former Gators WR David Nelson, a member of Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national championships who spent six years in the NFL, paid tribute to his mother with a post on The Players’ Tribune on Friday that includes annotations and side notes from his mom, former college track All-America Kathy Belcoff. Nelson told the story of his mom’s life and how he grew up to admire her for her hard work and sacrifice for him and his two brothers. As he breaks the story down chronologically, pointing out highlights and memories from key years, Belcoff would enter the story and explain it from her side of the experience.
The story ends as follows: “When I was 30, I wanted to pay tribute to my mom, my hero, for Mother’s Day, by telling the world about what an amazing, inspiring woman she is, and how much she has meant to me over the years. I hope that came across here. I love my mom more than I could ever put into words. And I am so proud to be her son.” Belcoff responds: “I love you, David. Your journey has only just begun.”
A quick look at social media showed current and former Florida players spreading love, too.
Anything to see her smile❤️ happy Mother's Day to my role model🙏🏽 stay strong baby.. pic.twitter.com/nZR1pYT9Aj
— Antonio Callaway (@Ripbobby_G) May 14, 2017
Mom, thanks so much for being an inspiration & someone I could look up to! You are the best and I'm lucky to have you as my mom! Love you! pic.twitter.com/dq1rsJinB5
— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) May 14, 2017
Happy Mother's Day to my mom and grandmother. I appreciate God putting you both in my life love yall❤️😘❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/WQTb1pE1LO
— TJ McCoy (@Iamtjmccoy) May 14, 2017
Being a mother is not easy , so for all the moms out there Happy Mother's Day
— Cleve (@Tyrie_1) May 14, 2017
A glance at Florida softball’s regional
As was expected, the Florida softball team earned the No. 1 overall seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, which means its path to the Women’s College World Series will run through its home stadium. Before Florida (50-6) can get ahead of itself and think about the WCWS, though, the Gators have to advance out of their own regional first. Let’s take a look at the three teams joining Florida at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium this weekend:
Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls are 35-23 on the season and enter the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection from the Big 12. Oklahoma State finished second in its conference tournament, falling 2-0 in the championship game to Oklahoma. Junior Vanessa Shippy (.394 average, 44 RBI) paces the offense while senior RHP Brandi Needham (19-9, 2.60 ERA) is the team’s ace. As an aside, Oklahoma State is coached by Kenny Gajewski, who played college baseball at Oklahoma with Florida’s Tim Walton and served on Walton’s staff as an assistant coach until taking the OSU job in 2015.
Florida International: The Owls are 45-13 on the season and come to Gainesville as an at-large selection from Conference USA. FIU enters the NCAA Tournament having won 13 of its last 15 games and sits at No. 43 in the RPI. Sophomore OF Jackie Schoff (.442 batting average) and senior Stephanie Texeira (15 home runs) run the offense. Freshman Shannon Saile (19-9, 1.38 ERA) leads the pitching staff. Florida defeated FIU, 5-0, in the regular season.
Florida A&M: The Rattlers are 23-30-1 and the four-time defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, reaching the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier. Sophomore OF Alexis Day (.335 average) and junior Toni Anderson (12 home runs) pace the offense. Senior Kenya Pereira (11-11 2.21 ERA) leads the pitching staff. Florida is 2-0 this season against Florida A&M, winning 7-1 on Feb. 17 and 8-0 on May 7.
Thoughts from AD Stricklin
During the softball selection show on Sunday, Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin sent out a tweet that’s probably been on the mind of Florida baseball fans for a few years now.
— Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) May 15, 2017
It’s a fair point to make, especially from Florida’s perspective. As it is now, the NCAA baseball selection committee only publicly names the seeding for the top 8 national seeds, which are the teams that would host super regionals should they advance out of their double-elimination regional. The other eight regional hosts are matched to a national seed due to a variety of factors, which include geography and team conference. The selection committee tries to avoid pairing regional hosts from the same conference, so not formally ranking the Nos. 9-16 seeds gives the committee extra flexibility.
Because of this, the Gators have been paired with the University of Miami or Florida State for super regionals each of the last three years and four of the seven times overall the Gators have hosted regionals in coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s first nine years. Florida also was on the opposite side of the super regional bracket as Florida State in 2013 when the Gators were in the Bloomington, Ind., regional.
This comes despite the fact that Florida plays three regular-season games with both teams each season.
Regardless of who Florida plays, though, Stricklin will most likely be in attendance. This past weekend alone, Stricklin was at all three days of Florida’s NCAA tennis matches, as well as Florida’s NCAA lacrosse match.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Stricklin said of having multiple Florida teams hosting NCAA tournaments at the same time.
Speaking of baseball …
The fifth-ranked Florida baseball team earned its third straight conference sweep this weekend when it took all tree games on the road at Alabama by scores of 2-1, 13-6 and 10-5. With the wins, the Gators (38-14, 19-8 SEC) have a one-game lead over both Kentucky and LSU in the league standings with three games left to play. Florida hosts Kentucky for a Thursday-Saturday series and took two of three against LSU earlier in the season, so the Gators will win the conference outright if they can take two games against the Wildcats.
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a look back at how Florida won its games in Tuscaloosa, Ala., this past weekend:
Alabama took a 1-0 lead on Florida in the fourth and maintained the lead until the top of the seventh when Florida junior JJ Schwarz slugged a home run over the left-field fence. OF Nelson Maldonado broke the tie in the ninth with a deep sacrifice fly to center field that scored Dalton Guthrie.
UF closer Michael Byrne, who is tied for the school’s single-season save record, earned the win by tossing 2 scoreless innings to end the game. Alex Faedo tossed another quality start — 3 hits and 1 earned run in 7 innings with 8 strikeouts to 4 walks — before being pulled for Byrne. It was Faedo’s sixth start this season where he went at least 7 innings and gave up fewer than 2 earned runs.
Florida’s overcame Brady Singer’s worst start of the season with a resurgent offensive performance. Singer gave up a career-high 5 earned runs in 6 innings of work — 3 in his first inning, 2 in his last — while striking out 10 batters. Florida, which held a narrow 6-5 lead after 6 innings, put the game out of reach by scoring 7 runs over the next two innings, punctuated by a 3-run double from Ryan Larson in the eighth.
Overall, the Gators recorded 16 hits — including a season-high 7 doubles — in the win. Five Florida starters had multiple hits and all 9 scored at least 1 run.
After falling behind 1-0 at the end of the first inning, Florida scored 7 straight runs over the next 5 innings to take a 7-1 lead. Starter Jackson Kowar then gave up 4 runs (3 earned) before being pulled with two outs in the seventh inning. Junior Nick Horvath and freshman Garrett Milchin tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts to finish off the sweep.
Florida closes out the regular season with a three-game series with Kentucky beginning on Thursday that, along with the Mississippi State-LSU series, will determine the SEC regular-season champion.
Florida tennis teams advance in NCAAs
The top-ranked Florida women’s tennis team and the No. 15 seed men’s tennis team made quick work of their first two rounds of NCAA Tournament action and will both advance to Athens, Ga., for the duration of the tournament.
For the women, the Gators’ quest for their seventh national title started off at a relatively brisk pace. UF swept the University of Massachusetts in the opening round on Saturday before defeating the University of Miami, 4-1, a day later.
In the opening round, UF won the doubles point in less than a half-hour before wrapping up its three singles matches — all straight sweeps — before the match hit the two-hour mark. Miami posed a slightly tougher threat on Sunday, but the Gators, who have five players ranked in the top 50 nationally in singles action and and all three doubles tandems ranked in the top 45, still cruised to a 4-1 win against their in-state rival.
True freshman Ingrid Neel paved the way, winning her doubles match both days with teammate Anna Danilina on the show court and winning both of her singles matches on Court 3.
— Gator Women's Tennis (@GatorsWTN) May 14, 2017
For the men, Florida made quick work of both Florida Gulf Coast and Georgia Tech, earning 4-0 sweeps in both matches.
While the score doesn’t show it, the Gators’ second-round win was as gritty as it could have been. Florida fought for each point until freshman Johannes Ingildsen clinched the match.
UF had a strong showing from its two seniors, Elliott Orkin and Maxx Lipman. As a doubles tandem, the seniors were the first off the court both days. Orkin also earned the first singles point in Florida’s win against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
— Gators Men's Tennis (@GatorsMTN) May 13, 2017
Both teams will begin Round of 16 action on Friday with the men facing No. 2 seed Virginia at 9 a.m. and the women confronting Texas A&M at 7 p.m.
Lacrosse stumbles in NCAAs
The Florida women’s lacrosse team looked poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament once again. The third-seeded Gators entered the tournament on a nine-game win streak. Their lone losses of the season came against the top-2 teams in the country.
But on Sunday, Florida saw its season come to an end — again — without the glory of a national title after losing 15-12 to Southern California in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. This marks the third straight year where UF failed to reach the quarterfinals.
The Gators (17-3) trailed 6-3 about 20 minutes into the game before the offense found life. UF scored 3 of the final 4 goals of the first half to cut its deficit to 7-6 before tying the game at 7. The teams traded goals throughout the second half before Southern California (18-3) ended the game on a 4-0 run in the final 7 minutes, 7 seconds to complete the upset.
As Florida made the long walk off the field to its locker room, Kygo’s “Stole the Show” blared in the background.
“We used to have it all,” the song’s chorus begins, “but now’s our curtain call.”
Track and field teams wrap up SECs
Despite winning 3 total individual championships, the Florida track and field teams finished near the middle of the pack at the SEC Outdoor Championships this past weekend. The men, ranked No. 2 nationally, finished fourth at the conference meet while the eighth-ranked women’s team took fifth place at SECs.
Florida’s individual titles came from junior KeAndre Bates (men’s triple jump), junior Lloydricia Cameron (women’s shot put) and senior Kyra Jefferson (women’s 200 meters).
Gators in NFL rookie camp (in tweet form)
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 13, 2017
— New York Jets (@nyjets) May 11, 2017
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) May 13, 2017
- The Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Baker wrote this fantastic long-form profile on Florida football coach Jim McElwain.
- Former Gators hoopster Al Horford is ready for Game 7 against the Washington Wizards as his Boston Celtics try to clinch their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. MassLive.com’s Jay King has a nice primer here in which Horford remembers back to 2008, his rookie year with the Atlanta Hawks as they played against the Celtics.
- Former Florida baseball player Nolan Fontana hit an extra-inning, walk-off inside-the-park home run Saturday night for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Joseph Coles of DesertNews.com has the breakdown.
- This New York Daily News piece from Daniel Popper takes an interesting look at how former Florida Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow is adjusting to the personal side of minor league baseball.
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