The number of Gator publications that dub tonight’s Gator loss to South Carolina in game one of the CWS finals as a “heartbreaker” will be many. My first thought was to title this article the same, but I don’t think “heartbreaker” quite covers it. The Gators didn’t just lose a heartbreaker, they redefined the term. They came so close to winning so many times and South Carolina just kept coming up with great plays.
Before I get too deep into the game itself I’m going to digress into a bit of a personal anecdote here and talk about the state of college baseball in general. I’m not going to poke around the fact that baseball has been the furthest thing from my mind in the last few years. I grew up a huge baseball fan. I remember hanging out down the newly renovated 1st base side of McKethan Stadium for 20+ games a year and watching Brad Wilkerson, Chuck Hazzard, David Eckstein and company win the hearts of Gator fans. I was equally as in to major league baseball, waking up every morning and running to grab the paper and look over literally every single box score.
Then came the offensive explosion of both sports, and while the long ball was fun for a while it soon got old. Then the steroid mess came out of it and I gave up on baseball after tiring of not being able to watch Baseball Tonight without the first 20 minutes being wasted on steroid talk that I didn’t care about.
Now we fast forward back to this year’s College World Series and it’s like a slice of heaven, with this game being the very epitome of it. Great pitching, small ball, and great defense (for the most part) ultimately leading to the one thing that makes a boring looking sport so great…suspense. I can’t speak for everyone else, but pretty much from the end of the 6th inning of this game through its horrifying 11th inning end, I was nervous and on the edge of my seat the entire time. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away as things remained tense throughout. Every at bat, every pitch, and every runner was important.
And ultimately, that’s where the Gators fell short. The Gators finished 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position with even the one hit that they did get failing to bring in a run. Combine that with some phenomenal defense and some really bad luck and you end up in a 0-1 hole that should have been a 1-0 advantage.
So many things had to go right for South Carolina to win that game, and so many go wrong for the Gators to lose it. Hudson Randall stops that ground ball up the middle that South Carolina tied the game on 7 out of 10 times, but not that time. Lost in the play where Scott Wingo made the great diving stop with no outs in the bottom of the 9th is how quickly he popped up to make the throw home, and how good of a catch it was at home to get the out. Lost in the double play that followed it up is that Daniel Pigott was very clearly safe at first, and the Gators should have had another chance.
Even the double throwing error the brought in the game winning run needed some extra bad luck beyond just the throws. The South Carolina runner didn’t notice that the ball had been overthrown at 3rd and had it merely been an overthrow that went to the fence rather than actually bouncing into the stands, he would not have scored.
But all of those things did happen, and the Gamecocks found a way to win. If there’s one regret I have for the way the Gators played it’s that the bottom of the lineup played much too defensively. Both the bottom of the 9th and the bottom of the 11th came down to Tyler Thompason and Daniel Pigott with a chance to make a play, and both played scared. Rather than attack the ball, they hid and slapped away at it with no goal other than to fight off the pitch or put the ball in play.
But that’s the way it works in a pitcher’s duel sometimes, it gets into the player’s heads. I’d just like to thank both Florida and South Carolina for giving us such an amazing game to watch, and I just hope that next time we end up on the other end of it.
Looking forward, things are a bit bleak. Florida badly needed to win this game with Hudson Randall out on the hill for them and Michael Roth on the bench for SC. Beyond the pitching matchups, there’s the Gator psyche to deal with. How often do you see teams lose a game like this and bounce right back? Not often. It’s very tough to do, and even in longer series a loss like this can be tough to overcome, much less the short 3-gamer that makes up the CWS finals.
At least they won’t have too much time to stew on it, as we jump right back in Tuesday night. Let’s hope the Gators can knock in some of those runners in scoring position this time.