Originally Published: May 3, 2012

Gators need a big weekend in Lexington

By Michael DiRocco

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Slumps are as much a part of baseball as curveballs and home runs.

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Damon Tarver/Cal Sport MediaBrett Mooneyham has been part of Stanford's starting rotation since his freshman year in 2009. He missed all of 2011 because of an injury.

Right now the Florida baseball team is mired in one, and it's coming at a crucial time: with the SEC regular-season championship on the line.

The fifth-ranked Gators (33-12, 12-9 SEC) have struggled offensively in their past six SEC games, hitting just .220 and scoring only 17 runs -- including two runs in their past 21 innings. It's as poor a stretch as UF has had this season, and it's not what coach Kevin O'Sullivan envisioned as the Gators head to sixth-ranked Kentucky (35-9, 14-7) for a three-game series Thursday (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET) through Saturday.

"It's just been very hard for us to score runs," O'Sullivan said after the Gators lost at McKethan Stadium to Arkansas 3-1 in 10 innings last Sunday, their fourth home loss in their last nine conference games. "Teams go through this, and we're not immune to it. It's a difficult time right now but we will get through it, and we'll hopefully be better because of it."

Florida has scored more than three runs just once in its past six SEC games, and the Gators went 13 consecutive scoreless innings against the Razorbacks. UF scored its only run in a 5-1 loss Saturday in the third inning and didn't score again until the bottom of the eighth inning in Sunday's 3-1 loss.

"We just haven't been able to put it together," O'Sullivan said.

The Gators better start if they hope to repeat as SEC regular-season champions. Kentucky is tied with No. 3 South Carolina (33-11, 14-7) and No. 4 LSU (35-10, 14-7) for first place in the overall league standings, and Florida trails those three teams by two games. If the Gators don't take at least 2-of-3 from the Wildcats, they'll have a hard time keeping pace or catching any of the three teams.

UF, which has gone 10-10 since a 25-3 start, has 11 regular-season games remaining, including nine SEC games (Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn).

Mooneyham follows his dad on the mound

By Walter Villa
Special to ESPN.com

When his son is pitching for Stanford, ex-major leaguer Bill Mooneyham sits behind home plate for a couple innings, then down the third-base line and, finally, down the first-base line.

He takes his video camera and films Brett Mooneyham from every angle, just in case his son needs to study the tape but also to give himself something to do other than watch from the sidelines.

"I was never nervous when I used to pitch," said Bill, who played one season with the Oakland Athletics. "But I want so badly for Brett to do well. I love to watch him pitch, but I'm not relaxed."

Some of Brett's recent starts have been more stressful than usual as his record has slipped to 5-4, including a 7-4 loss to No. 14 UCLA on Saturday.

But overall, there is ample evidence to suggest that Brett Mooneyham, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound left-hander who throws 90 to 94 mph, could one day match or exceed his father's big league feats.

Mooneyham, who is ranked among the nation's top 100 prospects eligible for the 2012 MLB draft, has a 3.98 ERA. He is the Saturday starter for a Stanford team that is ranked seventh nationally in the USA Today / ESPN Top 25 Coaches' Poll.

He's been part of Stanford's starting rotation since his freshman year in 2009, compiling a 9-10 record in his first two years. He missed all of 2011 because of an injury.

It all started in January 2011, when he cut his left middle finger trying to open a can of black beans.

"I was making lunch, and I was getting frustrated because the can opener wasn't working properly," he said. "The can was about 60 percent open, and I used my hand to try to finish the job. The next thing I know, I'm in the emergency room and I took five stitches."

He tried to return to the mound after a month of rehab. However, the finger became swollen after pitching in an intrasquad game.

The cut had partially torn a tendon and surgery was required.

After the operation, he couldn't pick up a ball for three months. During his time away from the mound, he spent more time with his then-girlfriend, Ashley, who is now his wife.

The couple met when Mooneyham was a freshman in high school and a neighbor made like a matchmaker and handed him a phone. It was Ashley, and they spent the next three hours getting to know each other by phone.

This past November, they wed.

"We got married on 11-11-11," said Mooneyham, the only married player on Stanford's baseball team.

Mooneyham, 22, returned to regular-season baseball on Feb. 18, when he beat Vanderbilt, allowing three runs and striking out eight in six innings.

He was even better in his next two starts. He allowed just one run in eight innings to beat Texas, and he blanked his hometown team, Fresno State, over eight innings, tying a career high with 13 strikeouts.

Mooneyham, who also beat Rice and USC, is second in the Pac-12 with 74 strikeouts, trailing only Stanford ace Mark Appel.

Drafted in the15th round by the Padres out of high school, Mooneyham was selected in the 38th round by the Nationals last year, when he was recovering from his finger injury.

He said he's not concerned with where he will get picked this June, and his father said that even-keel temperament is something they share.

Physically, though, the two are very different. Bill, a 6-foot right-hander, was a first-round pick, 10th overall by the Angels in 1980. He made it to the big leagues in 1986, going 4-5 with a 4.52 ERA, appearing in 39 of his 45 games as a reliever.

Bill pitched in Triple-A the next two years then retired. But before he did, he witnessed the birth of the Bash Brothers. Mark McGwire made his big league debut in '86, and Jose Canseco made that his breakout year, smashing 33 homers at age 21.

Canseco was particularly impressive, Bill said.

"He won this home-run hitting contest at [Triple A] Tacoma," he said of the right-handed hitting Canseco. "For his last two swings, he hit lefty and hit both of them out. He was so talented."

Brett has his own skills, of course, and his father couldn't be prouder.

"He's a power pitcher with a nasty slider and a good changeup when everything is working," Bill said. "He just needs to keep the ball down and be more consistent."

Spoken like a father who has spent some anxious moments watching his son pitch.

Places to be this weekend

By Eric Sorenson
Special to ESPN.com

1. Dartmouth (23-16, 14-6 Ivy League) at Cornell (29-14-1, 14-6 Ivy League)
Cornell Dartmouth Hoy Field, Ithaca, N.Y.

What's at stake: Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament berth

The first tux fitting for the postseason gala happens this weekend in the Ivy League playoffs in which Cornell and Dartmouth face off in a best-of-three series. When these two last matched up on April Fools' Day, Cornell's Connor Kaufmann threw a no-hitter at Dartmouth as part of a two-game sweep. Dartmouth leads the Ivy League offensively by a big margin with a .303 team average. But Cornell has the top arms corps with a 3.69 team ERA. The big difference here might be Cornell reliever Kellen Urbon, who is 2-1, 0.59 ERA with nine saves and holds opponents to a .170 average. Big Green versus Big Red for the Big Dance. Let's go.

2. No. 5 Florida (33-12, 12-9 SEC, No. 2 RPI) at No. 6 Kentucky (36-9, 14-7 SEC, No. 10 RPI)
UK UF Cliff Hagan Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

What's at stake: Staying in contention in the SEC East title chase

These two have been drawing a lot of headlines this season, and for good reason, since they have arguably been the upper crust of the SEC. The Gators, easily the preseason national favorites, have been scuffling of late, on the mound and now at the dish after getting shut down by Arkansas last week. To make matters worse, ace reliever Austin Maddox was listed as day-to-day, putting his availability for this weekend's series in some doubt. The Bat Cats come in with a .308 average and will face the Gators in the comfort their hitting-friendly stadium known as The Cliff. So look for their offense to give UF its biggest test this season. Conversely, if the Gators can't get their offense back to where it should be consistency-wise, this could be a long weekend for the Gators. It almost feels strange to even type that, but it's true.

3. No. 11 Purdue (34-7, 14-4 Big Ten, No. 5 RPI) vs. No. 14 UCLA (29-12, 12-9 Pac-12, No. 4 RPI)
UCLA PU Jackie Robinson Stadium, Westwood, Calif.

What's at stake: National seeding prospects

At the beginning of the season, it was hard to imagine this series would be as huge as it is. But it looks like the winner here will get a big leg up on improving their shot at a national seed. But this one means more to the Boilermakers, who won't have the luxury of a strength-of-schedule bump after this. Both teams have great offenses -- Purdue has a Big Ten-best .318 team average; UCLA a Pac-12 second-best .306. Believe it or not, Purdue might have the arms to get the best of UCLA (2.97 team ERA), issuing just 87 walks all season. UCLA, however, has earned a Pac-12-high 161 free passes. Who is more motivated here? We'll see.

4. No. 12 Oregon (32-13, 14-7 Pac-12, No. 15 RPI) vs. No. 16 Arizona (29-13, 12-6 Pac-12, No. 18 RPI)
Zona Oregon Hi Corbett Field, Tucson, Ariz.

What's at stake: The top spot in the Pac-12

With Oregon's three-game sweep of Cal last week, the Ducks inched ahead of Arizona in the conference standings, making this week's matchup even bigger. And what a classic this should be. You couldn't get two more polar opposites. Oregon leads the Pac-12 with a 2.99 ERA, and Arizona leads the Pac-12 with a .336 team batting average. Oregon is the best fielding team in the conference at .979; Arizona is second-to-last at .962. Oregon's hitters have struck out an alarmingly high 310 times; Arizona pitchers lead the conference in whiffs at 307. The Alex Keudell (7-3, 1.87) versus Kurt Heyer (8-1, 2.42) showdown should be a thing of beauty on Friday night. Can't wait to see where this one goes.

5. Oklahoma (29-17, 9-8 Big 12, No. 58 RPI) at Oklahoma State (26-17, 11-7 Big 12, No. 100 RPI)
OSU OU Tulsa and Oklahoma City

What's at stake: Bedlam … and a possible at-large berth

Both teams are still within striking distance of getting into the at-large discussion, so this one is really big. Both teams are light sticks, hitting .273, which makes the Friday matchup of OSU's Andrew Heaney (6-1, 1.82) and OU's Jordan John (8-4, 2.36) so vital. Whoever gets the more effective start from that matchup will give their team a huge boost for a weekend win.


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