Mike Zunino hugs Justin Shafer after Shafer's game-ending — and season-ending — flyout. (Minda Haas)
In the end, once again, Florida found heartbreak in Omaha.
The Gators fell behind 4-0 and 5-1 to Kent State before rallying to 5-4 down entering the eighth inning, but could not score from situations with two men on and no outs and the bases loaded with one out in the top of the ninth and became the first top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament to go 0-2 in Omaha since 1999.
Hudson Randall allowed one run in the first inning before being removed from the game due to heat-related exhaustion, and Jonathon Crawford allowed four more in his three innings of work. All but Crawford's last were unearned, as errors by Nolan Fontana and Josh Tobias led to the run in the first and three in the second. Greg Larson and Austin Maddox combined for four innings of scoreless relief.
But the more agonizing part of the night was the Florida offense's inability to make runs happen.
The Gators had a runner on in every inning, had every member of the order reach base, got hits from every starter except Tobias, and got the leadoff runner on six times. However, they got just two extra-base hits — both doubles by Justin Shafer, who flied out to end the game — stranded 12 runners on the bases, and got just one run out of two bases loaded situations.
That run came when Brian Johnson grounded into a double play in the seventh, scoring a run (it does not count as an RBI), and may have influenced Kevin O'Sullivan's thinking in the ninth. With Johnson due up and Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino on first and second, O'Sullivan called on Cody Dent, bunter extraordinaire, to move the runner over. After taking three balls that ran a string of consecutive balls from Kent State pitchers to 11, Dent took a strike and fouled a bunt back before successfully laying down a sacrifice. Daniel Pigott was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Casey Turgeon struck out on a failed attempt to check his swing (and after watching ball four be called strike two) and Shafer lifted a deep fly to right to end Florida's threat — and season.
We'll have more in the morning (I have a confession to make ... a big one), but for now, I have a question: How disappointed are you, from a scale of 1 to 10, in these Gators?