Posted: 4:47 p.m. Saturday, May 4, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Florida came into this weekend's series at LSU having won its past three weekend series, won 11 of its last 13 games, and clawed its way back into the national rankings. After wins in the first two games of the series, the mighty Tigers could've merely sent the Gators home with their tails tucked between their legs — but a lopsided loss in Saturday's finale made it seem much more like Florida got spit-roasted down in Baton Rouge.
Florida fell 3-2 in Thursday night's opener, and was the fourth straight victim of an Aaron Nola complete game in a 5-0 loss on Friday night, but opened the Saturday matinee with a two-run first inning that staked the Gators to their only two-run lead of the weekend.
It lasted four outs: LSU touched up Florida starter Danny Young for three runs in the bottom of the second inning, then went on to score the game's next 18 runs, 16 of them from the fifth to the seventh, and cruise to an 18-6 win.
The loss would've been Florida's biggest ever to LSU, topping an 18-4 loss in 1986, if not for a rally in the ninth inning that plated four runs. Despite that late surge — the Gators matched their output from the first 26 half-innings of the weekend in their 27th and final one — Saturday's result is Florida's biggest loss since 2011, when Vanderbilt thumped the Gators, 14-1.
And, that ninth inning aside, it was a fairly typical Florida loss: The Gators got a slim lead and lost it, couldn't take it back, and let their opponent turn a slim lead into a massive one, thanks to an overtaxed and relatively green bullpen.
The three losses dropped Florida to 25-23 overall, and 12-12 in the SEC. It was already practically impossible for the Gators to catch Eastern Division leader Vanderbilt heading into the weekend, but Florida is now assured of at least a one-game deficit to South Carolina, a team it swept in April in Gainesville.
Florida is still likely to make the NCAA Tournament, given its impressive record against a host of ranked teams and its ridiculous strength of schedule. (Sort by SOS here, and let your jaw drop.) But this weekend was a chance to put itself in position to host an NCAA Tournament Regional by upsetting one of the titans of college baseball. For this young team, that was pretty clearly too much to ask.
The road gets easier from here, with Tuesday foe Florida Atlantic looking like the toughest team Florida will face in a closing stretch that includes weekend series against Georgia and Auburn teams that had as many SEC wins combined as Florida did entering Saturday. That also means that Florida won't get much credit for winning, however, and will be mostly unable to impact its NCAA Tournament standing until the SEC Tournament in late May.
If the Gators continue to get healthy, and finesse a weekend rotation that has been crying for consistency all year, these next few weeks could be the precursor to a surprising postseason run. If Florida struggles, or has to scrape out wins, against the easiest stretch it will see all year, it won't be surprising when the Gators make an early exit from the NCAA Tournament in June.