Gators gone in a Flash
Published: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.
OMAHA, NEB. — In a game where Florida didn't look like Florida, the way the final inning went was all too familiar.
Bases loaded. Nothing out of it.
Just as they did in the first game of their championship series with South Carolina a year ago, Florida squandered a chance to pull ahead in the ninth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Casey Turgeon appeared to draw a game-tying walk. Twice.
But on the 3-1 pitch, a ball delivered by Kent State reliever Josh Pierce that appeared to be 6-to-8 inches outside, home plate umpire Phil Benson called it a strike. Turgeon offered at the 3-2 pitch, but pulled back his bat. It was called a ball, but Kent State appealed and third base umpire Jeff Henrichs called Turgeon out.
Justin Shafer then flew out to end the game.
“The game was not decided by the umpires,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “The game was decided by the players. The umpires had nothing to do with it.”
Later, when told the pitch appeared to be well off the plate, O'Sullivan offered a mock chuckle and said, “That's awesome.”
As a result of another ninth-inning failure, a season filled with high expectations, high drama and high draft picks ended on a low note Monday.
It was two-and-through for UF as the Gators lost to Kent State 5-4 and were the second team eliminated from the College World Series.
“To make it out here three times and leave three times disappointed,” said catcher Mike Zunino, “you don't want it to end. It's going to take awhile for it to hit me.”
As if things couldn't have gotten much worse for the Gators after an opening night loss, Florida's all-time winningest NCAA pitcher Hudson Randall had to leave the game after the first inning with heat-related symptoms. (It was 95 degrees when the game started with temperatures on the field measured at 102 degrees).
“It definitely threw us a curveball,” said O'Sullivan. “He looked fine before the game. But I could tell he was laboring (in the first inning). When I went out there, he was obviously having trouble breathing. I asked him in the dugout to be brutally honest with me. I looked him in the eye and I could tell he couldn't go.”
Florida also had to play without first baseman Vickash Ramjit, who suffered a knee injury in Saturday night's loss to South Carolina.
UF gave up four unearned runs in the first two innings and ended the season with a 47-20 record.
The trouble started early. Preston Tucker was thrown out trying to steal in the top of the first when Zunino missed a hit-and-run sign. An error by shortstop Nolan Fontana led to an unearned run in the bottom of the inning and a double play that deflected off the pitcher ended the top of the second.
In the bottom of the inning, an error by Josh Tobias opened the door to a three-run inning off Jonathon Crawford, who had replaced Randall to start the second.
Kent State added a run in the fifth when Jimmy Rider doubled. Crawford struck out the next two batters but had a wild pitch to each of them allowing Rider to score.
Crawford, who started the NCAA postseason with a no-hitter, gave up eight hits Monday. Greg Larson and Austin Maddox gave Florida four innings of scoreless relief.
And Florida climbed back into it in the top of the seventh when they loaded the bases off reliever Brian Clark. Zunino singled home one run and another scored when Brian Johnson hit into a double play.
But in the eighth, the tying run was stranded on second when Fontana lined out the short.
In the ninth, after a Tucker walk by reliever Michael Clark and a 2-0 count on Zunino, Kent State turned to Josh Pierce. He finished off the walk to Zunino, and Florida chose to pinch-hit for Johnson with Cody Dent.
Dent took three balls and a strike before fouling one off. With the count 3-2, Dent laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced both runners. Daniel Pigott was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Turgeon was called out on the checked swing strike, and Shafer flew out to right to end the game.
It was hardly what the No. 1 seed in the tournament expected.
“It's my last game,” said Tucker. “I'm not going to get another chance.”