NO. 1 Florida pitcher Alex Faedo, center, holds the NCAA trophy as he, Brady Singer, left, and Michael Byrne enter McKethan Stadium during Wednesday's national championship celebration.

Big plays, repeat NCAA titles and a fantastic finish in a memorable year

By Pat Dooley Sun sports columnist
Friday, July 07, 2017 11:52 AM

Florida was still in the middle of the College World Series when UF athletic director Scott Stricklin sent out an electronic letter to the Gator Nation lauding the accomplishments of the athletic programs on and off the field.

Obviously, it only got better a few days later.

It was a special academic year for Florida sports, one that is to be applauded and cherished.

Gator fans have a couple of months to smell the roses of multiple seasons of excellence until there is another game or match of consequence.

Try to enjoy the time off.

There were so many special moments, more than some schools have in a decade. It wasn't easy to limit it to the 10 best, but 10 is a round number so sit back and revel in a program that finished third in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup.

1. Oma-happy Gators

It wasn't just that Florida won its first national title in baseball. It wasn't just that this team had been kicked to the curb in April.

It was how they won it.

If you needed any verification as to why this was the top story, go find the final call of the last out and watch Mick Hubert and Jeff Cardozo get weepy at the end.

Because it wasn't just winning it all, it was beating a storied rival twice in front of two crowds that were 90 percent LSU fans in Omaha to do it.

It was amazing for the casual Gator baseball fans, emotional for the hardcore Gator baseball fans and the perfect way to end the academic year.

2. A home win on the road

Jim McElwain sent a message to his football team before it faced LSU in Baton Rouge — this is our home game.

The drama leading up to the game was part of the story after it was postponed to the latter part of the year because of a hurricane. LSU won the battle to get the game in Tiger Stadium, but Florida won the war.

A goal-line stand, stopping LSU running back Derrius Guice at the 1-yard line on the game's final play, set off a wild celebration by the players, coaches and UF fans in the south end zone.

Oh, and Florida won its second straight SEC Eastern Division title that day in November.

3. Did they just win?

When Chris Chiozza let the shot fly at Madison Square Garden, many people thought it was to tie the game. When it went in and the Gators began celebrating with Chiozza holding three fingers in the air, there was a sudden realization that he had let it go beyond the 3-point arc.

The stunning win over Wisconsin in the Elite Eight made Chiozza an instant legend and gave him an argument that he made the biggest shot in UF hoops history.

If you've seen the replay less than a dozen times, you need to learn how to turn on your computer.

4. Stricklin in the house

When Jeremy Foley surprised the Gator Nation by retiring, fans wondered who would take over. They had to wait extra time because the search was extended.

In the end, UF decided on Stricklin and the transition has been seamless.

He was introduced in November and went right to work learning more about the culture at Florida and taking steps to make things even better.

We'll all miss Foley, but the athletic department is in excellent hands.

5. Take that Stanford

A year earlier, the Florida women's tennis team was eliminated by an under-seeded Stanford team. This time, they would meet in the final.

Florida led 3-0, but it was a dogfight until the end when freshman Ingrid Neel clinched UF's seventh championship with a three-set win.

And in Athens, Ga., of all places.

6. Holloway and Holloway

Florida won the men's outdoor championship for the second straight year and captured coach Mike Holloway's seventh national title.

It came down to the final race in Eugene, Ore., and Florida needed a fifth-place finish. Grant Holloway, a four-star receiver from Virginia who chose track over football, ran the final leg for a fourth-place finish and the title.

7. Alex for the win

Alex McMurtry had been limited during her career at Florida because of two fractures in her back, but she cut it loose during her junior season.

McMurtry won the all-around title in St. Louis, Florida's fifth in the last six years, with a score of 39.8125, the second best score ever in all-around competition.

8. So close to another title

Florida's softball team battled back in the Super Regionals to beat rival Alabama, then stormed into the WCWS finals by blowing away three opponents with superior pitching.

The Gators fell just short in two epic games against Oklahoma in the finals.

9. New look O-Dome

It caused the basketball and volleyball teams some discomfort, but when the O'Connell Center's facelift was complete, it drew rave reviews and gave UF a showcase while not taking away from the noise level produced by the Rowdy Reptiles.

Think Mary Wise is looking forward to this next volleyball season?

10. The trifecta

Florida lost three in a row in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party before Will Muschamp turned the tables in 2014. McElwain made it three straight with his second win over the Bulldogs that set up UF's Eastern Division title.

The Gators won 24-10 as they limited Georgia to 167 total yards off offense and the Georgia running game to 21 yards.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.




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