Because I was in the Middle East for the past week and a half, I didn’t watch a single pitch of Florida in the NCAA Tournament, and I didn’t need to. Coming through customs at Kennedy airport in New York, the guy asked for my passport and then did a double take when he saw my hat. He shook his head and asked me, “what the hell did I watch this weekend?”
And in that moment, I knew what had happened. I just knew.
Florida, the SEC Champion and #2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, was stunned by the College of Charleston, 3-2, and then by a North Carolina squad that’s fielded far better teams over the years, 5-2. Just like that, the season of one of the best Gator baseball teams in school history was over.
But I wasn’t surprised.
Because at this point, nothing would surprise me about this team.
This is a squad that went 8-1 against top 8 national seeds LSU, FSU and South Carolina, but lost to mid majors Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic, Florida A&M, Mercer and Jacksonville. This is a squad that’s been ranked as high as #2, and yet at points in the season were completely left out of the rankings. And now, despite the laundry list of accomplishments during the regular season, this is a squad that will forever be remembered for the biggest postseason choke in the program’s history.
A quick look at the game stats revealed something interesting. Both of Florida’s opponents scored all their runs in one inning. The Gators’ starters, Logan Shore and Kirby Snead (who was replaced by Bobby Poyner after a weather delay) against College of Charleston and UNC respectively (and then the Gators’ bullpen) pitched flawlessly the rest of the regional. In 16 of the 18 innings Florida played, their opponents were held scoreless. Yet their bats went so cold that the 16 stellar innings pitched were wasted.
It’s not even like the other two innings yielded deficits that were insurmountable: Florida had 9 innings to score three runs against CofC, and then 6 innings to score five runs against North Carolina. Giving up eight runs in two games shouldn’t really be a problem, anyway. Shouldn’t the #2 team in the country be able to score more than eight runs in two games? Shouldn’t the #2 team in the country be able to rally against adversity and come back against two inferior teams? The failure to pull off either comeback now leaves the Gators to sit and watch the rest of the NCAA Tournament from their couches.
And it’s a shame, too. This team was so capable, so talented, and for most of the season, so resilient. Sadly, teams are remembered for how they finish. This team did not finish at all, leaving Gator fans with a bitter taste in their mouths about each of the “Big Three” sports teams: football’s ugly 4-8 campaign, basketball picking the worst time of the year to lay an egg against UConn in the Final Four, and now baseball’s heartbreaking collapse in the NCAA Tournament after all fans knew they were capable of so much more.
But on the bright side, Florida’s softball team is in the national championship series against Alabama, so let’s turn our attention to that and see if Florida’s most prominent women’s sport can salvage something from a tough 2013-14 academic year for Gator sports fans and bring home a national title.