Florida finally faced a challenge in the NCAA Tournament.
For three innings, anyway.
In a game that seems to epitomize the Florida-Miami baseball rivalry, the Gators used a nuclear explosion of historic proportions in the fourth inning to KO the Canes and send them where they belong- the loser’s bracket- and simultaneously vault themselves into the 1-0 game against Virginia. Florida has now beaten Miami in 20 of the last 25 games, and in the last seven postseason meetings. In fact, Florida was responsible for ending three straight Miami seasons: the 2009 Regionals, 2010 Super Regionals and 2011 Regionals. However, each of those games were in Gainesville, and they’d never met in the College World Series before.
But the Gators wasted little time proving that the location and the stage were immaterial.
Miami led 2-1 in the 4th on a pair of David Thompson sacrifice fly balls when the barrage started. The carnage lasted 52 minutes and when the weary Hurricanes finally staggered off the field, they’d matched the College World Series record for runs surrendered in an inning with 11. The Gators brought 16 men to the plate in that inning; because many of Florida’s starters got two shots at it, eight of them got at least one hit. The inning knocked Miami starter Andy Suarez out of the game, and then subsequently decimated the Canes’ bullpen, forcing UM go to through two relievers before the third one finally ended the merry go round.
It’s hard to single one or two Gators out for praise on a night like this, so I’ll just recap the inning box score style. Clear about an hour for this: (and if you don’t want to, skip right to the next paragraph, I won’t be offended.)
Josh Tobias walked. JJ Schwarz reached on a fielding error by the shortstop, advanced to second on a throwing error by the shortstop; Tobias advanced to third. Buddy Reed singled to center field; Schwarz advanced to third; Tobias scored. Peter Alonso flied out to right field; Schwarz scored. Mike Rivera singled to left field; Reed advanced to second. Dalton Guthrie singled to right field, advanced to second on the throw; Rivera advanced to third; Reed scored. Ryan Larson singled to right field; Guthrie advanced to third; Rivera scored. Harrison Bader struck out (boo, you suck). Richie Martin walked; Larson advanced to second. (Note: Gators have now batted around) Josh Tobias singled to left field, advanced to second on the throw; Martin advanced to third; Larson and Guthrie scored. JJ Schwarz singled to right field; Tobias and Martin scored. Buddy Reed singled to second base; Schwarz advanced to second. Peter Alonso doubled to left center; Reed and Schwarz scored. Mike Rivera singled to center field; Alonso scored. Dalton Guthrie hit by pitch; Rivera advanced to second. Ryan Larson reached on a fielder’s choice to shortstop; Guthrie out at second.
It wasn’t really the cleanest game by either team, which is the funny thing. Florida botched plenty of plays, including Mike Rivera dropping a routine popup and then going to the wrong side of the bag on a snap throw to first that probably would have gotten the Canes’ George Iskenderian had it been delivered with some accuracy. Logan Shore got the start tonight for Florida, and he was a bit off for the first time in a long time; he was missing his spots badly (high and outside, mostly) for an inning or two before he really settled down.
And then Miami did a bunch of things that were oh-so-reminiscent of their paths to defeat in 2009-2011. They didn’t make nine errors in a game this time, but they did make three, including two in that gargantuan 4th inning that kept it alive longer than it should have been. And Suarez was called for a balk for bouncing on his toes after stopping in his stretch (though that was admittedly a questionable call), which gave the Gators their first run of the game in the third.
Incredibly, the Gators still weren’t done after that ridiculous fourth inning. They scored three more in the seventh just rub it in, and that made the final score 15-3 in a game in which their ace didn’t even have his best stuff. Join the club, Miami; Florida has now won five of their six games in the NCAA Tournament by six or more runs (strangely, they’ve all been against teams from the state of Florida).
Next up: a Virginia team that beat a Maryland team in the Super Regionals that stunned #1 overall seed UCLA in the Los Angeles Regional and waltzed into Omaha as a sort of but not really Cinderella on Monday night. It’s not Virginia’s best team ever, but it’s a pretty good one that features a solid lineup. They’ll have to face AJ Puk, however, and a Gator offense that’s absolutely massacred everybody in its path thus far. Win that one, and Florida puts themselves in the driver’s seat at 2-0 at the World Series, meaning they’ll get to rest their pitchers and throw out Logan Shore again the next time they play. Win that one, and they’re in the Championship Series. And win twice there, and they’ll make history as the first Gator baseball team to bring home the ultimate prize.