Yeah, College of Charleston came to Gainesville ready for a Friday matchup with Florida, and the Cougars were touted as the toughest No. 4 seed in this — and maybe any — NCAA Tournament. Florida should have had an advantage, though, playing at home as the No. 2 national seed and coming off a strong series of performances in the SEC Tournament.
Then the rains came. And then the Cougars washed Logan Shore early. And then Florida failed to ever pull even, taking a 3-2 loss that is the first in program history in an NCAA Tournament opener as a national seed.
College of Charleston scored all of its runs in the top of the first inning, jumping all over Shore and rattling off seven hits in the frame. Florida applied its tourniquet as well as it could, getting one out via hidden ball trick — seriously — and the final out of the inning on a Buddy Reed putout at the plate, but the 3-0 lead would prove insurmountable for Florida, despite Shore giving up just three more hits on the night and Justin Shafer spinning four perfect innings of relief.
Blame the batters for that. Florida put runners on in seven of the first eight innings of play, loaded the bases in the third and fourth, loaded the bases for all intents and purposes in the fifth on a Braden Mattson single to the wall that resulted in an out thanks to Mattson overtaking Taylor Gushue on the basepaths ... and stranded 12 runners, coming away from those opportunities with just two runs to show for it.
Mattson's error was the most egregious of the night — likely pipping his own failure to take a pitch that was clearly inside enough to graze him and score a run with the bases loaded, though your mileage may vary — but the Gators were, almost to a man, woeful with men on base. Mattson struck out with two men on in the first, Gushue and Mattson — his night was terrible — struck out with the bases loaded in the third, Richie Martin flew out with the bases loaded in the fourth (though he later atoned with a sacrifice fly), Mike Fahrman mustered only an RBI groundout with runners on second and third in the fifth, Harrison Bader lofted a pop-up to second with a man on first in the sixth, Mattson — really, really terrible, I'm telling you — grounded into a double play to waste a leadoff walk by Gushue in the seventh, and Casey Turgeon couldn't keep a two-out rally going in the eighth.
Consequently, Florida hung on the edge of tying up the game or taking the lead — a homer would have done at least the former in 21 discrete UF at-bats after the second inning — for a little less than three hours, and still came up short. The Cougars, particularly relievers Eric Bauer and Michael Hanzlik, deserve credit for hanging on, but this was their win only as much as it was Florida's loss, and the Gators could be haunted all offseason by what could have been in this game.
Or the Gators could rebound from this loss. They did that much last week in Hoover, rebounding from an opening loss to Kentucky to dominate South Carolina, Mississippi State, and, in a rematch, the Wildcats, all en route to the tournament's final. A deep pitching staff with a multitude of arms helped Florida roll in Hoover, and could help the Gators scamper through the back door of the Gainesville Regional.
But the bats will have to wake up, starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday against North Carolina. If not, it will be night-night for the Gators in swift and embarrassing fashion.