Alligator Awards: Who was Florida’s best freshman of 2016-17?

Ingrid Neel returns the ball during Florida’s 4-2 win against Oklahoma State on Feb. 18, 2017, at the Ring Tennis Complex. In this edition of the Alligator Awards, we debate which UF freshman was the best of the 2016-17 season. Sports writers Mari Faiello, Andrew Huang and Morgan McMullen join alligatorSports editors Dylan Dixon and Jake Dreilinger in a roundtable discussion to debate the five nominees. Debates will go in alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.

Dixon: Langworthy’s heroics came up big in postseason

The UF baseball team wouldn’t have won its first national championship in program history this year without the services of freshman outfielder/pitcher Austin Langworthy. It’s just a simple fact.

The Williston, Florida, native made 54 starts in Kevin O’Sullivan’s lineup this season, batting .238 with four home runs and 26 RBIs as well as sporting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He also made seven appearances on the mound, recording a 3.71 ERA over 17.0 innings pitched.

Those numbers are respectable, but what puts him over the top was the clutch gene he displayed during the NCAA Tournament. Langworthy had arguably the best single-game performance of anyone on the Gators roster this season against Bethune-Cookman on the final day of the Gainesville Regional.

With his team’s postseason life on the line, he came out of the bullpen in the third inning and threw four scoreless innings of relief to keep the game knotted at 0-0. In the bottom of the sixth inning, he then blasted a three-run homer over the right field wall of McKethan Stadium to give Florida its first lead of the night.

UF wouldn’t look back from that point on, scoring three more runs against the Wildcats to ultimately win the contest 6-1.

Langworthy’s heroics continued on into the College World Series. The left fielder smashed a solo shot against Louisville on June 20 in a 5-1 victory against the Cardinals and tallied another RBI against LSU in Game 1 of the CWS Finals.

All in all, there’s very little argument against Langworthy for being the best freshman at Florida in 2016-17. How can you contest against a guy that helped his team win its first national championship in 103 years?

Dreilinger: Gardner Jr. stepped up in a big way

Why is the Florida Gators football team dubbed Defensive Backs University?

Because when a spot opens up in the secondary, an inexperienced player can always be relied on to fill that role.

And Florida always produces top defensive backs for the NFL Draft.So when Nick Washington suffered a season-ending injury against LSU, who did coach Jim McElwain turn to for the start in Florida’s final three contests?None other than standout freshman Chauncey Gardner Jr.And he proved that coach Mac’s decision was the right one.Long before the Cocoa, Florida, native took the field with the starting defensive squad, he provided solid minutes as a reserve, making 15 tackles in UF’s first 10 games.Once he got his chance to shine, he performed at an even higher level.In his first game as […]