Silent night: Gators fall to Virginia at CWS, face elimination

In the span of three outs on Saturday against Miami, Florida produced 11 runs on nine hits. In the 27 outs they got in last night’s game, they came away with zero and two, respectively.

Big difference.

And now Florida finds themselves one loss away from elimination. The Gators’ bats went cold and wasted an outstanding pitching effort by AJ Puk, and then the Florida bullpen, to lose 1-0 to Virginia and drop to the losers’ bracket. Florida will face Miami tomorrow at 8pm in an elimination game.

Virginia got a brilliant performance from Brandon Waddell, and then produced the game’s only run in the sixth inning on a Robbie Coman sacrifice fly. The Gators had their chances to match that run and then some, but a combination of bad luck, a lack of clutch hitting, and some questionable decision making ruined those chances.

Florida’s best chance to score came in the eighth. Dalton Guthrie led off the inning in a peculiar way- he fell back in the count 0-2, and then watched four balls sail by to draw a walk. Ryan Larson followed that with a single right back up the middle. So first and third, no outs, Harrison Bader up. Florida’s chances to score were pretty good.

But Bader’s at bat produced the worst result possible. He smoked a line drive right back at the pitcher’s glove, which interrupted the flight of the ball, and resulted in an easy toss to second to force out Larson. Had that ball been hit four inches higher, lower, or to either side, it’s a run scoring single, and there’s still two on and no out. That’s bad luck. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Bader try to bunt in that situation- that’s what it’s meant for- but I can’t hate on letting one of our hottest hitters swing away.

In any case, Florida was still in good shape to score, with first and third and no outs. Then Richie Martin and Josh Tobias each grounded out, and the Gators were sunk.

I should point out that by itself, this loss means nothing. All it does is negate the positive of Saturday night’s win, and now they’ve got to do it all over again: beat Miami in order to face Virginia, and then beat them twice to reach the Championship Series. This time, however, there is no margin for error for Florida; lose again, and their season is done.

Then again, the Gators have played their best baseball when they’ve been backed against a wall.

Florida lost the opening game of the SEC Tournament to Arkansas, and then proceeded to rip through the loser’s bracket, clobbering Auburn and Arkansas to reach the semifinals. There, they beat LSU to reach the finals against Vanderbilt, and won that game, too. So think about that: Florida faced elimination in the SEC Tournament four straight games, and won them all. OK, so the stakes are exponentially higher here in Omaha, but Florida has shown that they can win four straight games in situations where a loss would send them home; now they have to win three. Their pitching staff is deep enough to do it, as they showed in that SEC Tournament, and I highly doubt their bats will be kept silent all night again after that.

In other words, they’re down, but not out. And they play great when they’re down.