So close: Florida baseball's NCAA run ends with 5-4 loss to Oklahoma in regional final
After a weather delay lasting 5 hours and 33 minutes, Florida baseball (42-24) saw its narrow lead turn into a 5-3 deficit following a four-run eighth inning by Oklahoma, stunning those who had stayed through the lengthy hiatus in play in Gainesville.
The Gators would get one run back in the ninth inning — in historic fashion no less — but BT Riopelle would strike out for the final out, sending the Sooners (40-21) to the Super Regionals with a 5-4 win and spelling the end of Florida’s season.
Wyatt Langford’s 26th home run tied the most in a single season in Florida program history, but the Gators couldn’t add any more to their total in the final frame.
Good start to the afternoon for the Gators
Jac Caglianone’s home run in the second inning opened the scoring for the Gators, and the freshman had a chance to add to Florida’s total in the third inning, but Caglianone couldn’t score the runners on the corners, keeping it a one-run game.
Kendall Pettis’ home run — his second of the regional — got the Sooners on the scoreboard in the fifth inning.
Brandon Neely didn’t return to the mound after the weather delay, with the Gators opting to go with the team’s best closer in Ryan Slater for the final innings.
Slater allowed four runs on as many hits in his one inning of action, and UF found itself in a two-run hole by the time Fisher Jameson replaced Slater on the mound.
The Sooners went with their closer in Trevin Michael, who transferred to the program prior to the season from Lamar University, to start the game, and Michael tied his longest outing of the season while allowing two runs off of six hits. He tossed 91 pitches across 6.0 innings before exiting at the top of the seventh, just prior to the delay.
“Trevin started the game and he was outstanding early,” OU coach Skip Johnson said. “Just really proud of the kids and how they responded, they just kept getting after it and getting after it.”
Florida, meanwhile, was left stunned, having come so close to punching its ticket to Super Regionals, only for it all to come apart in the penultimate inning.
Reality still setting in, an emotional Kevin O'Sullivan attempted to look at the bigger picture after the game.
"We fell one run short. In a couple of days, we step back from this and I am proud of the team, simple as that. Everyone wants to win at the end of the year, we have done that," O'Sullivan said. "We have also lost in Omaha and that hurts. When you lose in a Super Regional or a Regional, it hurts, but your whole program is built around culture. I think this is a big step in building that culture back and getting to where we want to be: playing for a national championship.”
Here are takeaways from Monday's contest.
Wyatt Langford ties UF single-season home run record
It may not have sparked a ninth-inning rally, but Wyatt Langford’s solo home run in the final frame put him in historic company Monday.
Langford’s home run to right-center field against the Sooners marked his 26th of the season, tying him with former UF catcher Matt LaPorta for most home runs in a single season.
Langford’s record-tying shot was made all the more unlikely considering the Trenton native was forced to undergo a mid-delay dental procedure after his slide into second base during the first inning dislodged a pair of teeth.
“He’s tough. He slides into second base, he had to get some teeth put back in place. I didn’t even know,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought he had dirt in his eye, and then we have the rain delay, and the trainer goes, ‘Can we take him to the dentist, because he has to get his teeth put back in place?’ ... He’s sitting right in front of me the whole game, and he doesn’t say a word. He’s tough.”
Ryan Slater allows four runs in season-ending loss
O’Sullivan didn’t regret his decision to trust Slater, the team’s top closer for the majority of the season, with finishing the game on the mound for the Gators.
The right-handed Slater entered the game after the hiatus, and immediately struck out Pettis to get out of the top of the seventh inning. But everything came apart in the eighth. Slater allowed leadoff hitter John Spikerman to double to left-center, and Peyton Graham’s home run — his third of the regional — brought a pair of runs across the plate to tie the game. Rather than settle back in, Slater proceeded to walk Blake Roberston, and Tanner Tredaway’s single sent Roberston to second.
“Ryan has been our guy. It was a double and a home run, and it was a tie ballgame,” O’Sullivan said. “What hurt was the walk after the two-run homer.”
Oklahoma would hit consecutive ground-outs, but not before a run could cross the plate, giving OU its first lead of the night in a game that had started more than eight hours earlier. Slater would hit the next batter he faced, leading Fisher Jameson to step in as his replacement for the final four outs.
Slater was tagged with the loss, his fourth of the season, and O’Sullivan was quick to point out the reality of the situation in the aftermath: Slater was as devastated as anyone in Florida’s facility at what had unfolded.
“No one feels worse than Ryan does right now, but it is part of the game. It is part of life,” O’Sullivan said. “Losing is not a good feeling, but we threw three freshmen today and held one of the better offenses in the country (in check).”
Kendall Pettis stays hot for Sooners
In 99 at-bats heading into the NCAA Regional, Oklahoma redshirt sophomore Kendall Pettis had just two home runs to his name on the season, but the Chicago native was one of the team’s most impressive hitters in the stretch leading up to the Gainesville Regional. Throughout Oklahoma’s four games at Condron Ballpark, Pettis managed to maintain his form rather than feel the weight of the pressure at the plate.
Pettis hit 5 of 13 with two home runs during the regional round, doubling his total on the season and improving his batting average from .253 to .268. With the Sooners’ season on the line, Pettis said he was simply focused on trying to help Oklahoma however he could — it just happened to result in runs coming across the plate for the Sooners.
“It was very special. You know, coming into the regional I was really just trying to find my way,” Pettis said. “I know I had been hot, but I was just trying to do anything I could to help my team, whether that was offensively or defensively.”