North Carolina 5, Florida 2: Gators go quietly in NCAA Tournament, torpedoed by RISP woes

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

For the second straight day, Florida got men on. It just couldn't get them in. And that's why the Gators are out of the NCAA Tournament.

Florida's 5-2 loss to North Carolina on Saturday followed the script from its loss to the College of Charleston on Friday so well that the first game could have been a rehearsal.

Florida gave up three runs in one inning immediately after a three-hour rain delay on Friday, then didn't allow another run; it gave up five runs in one inning immediately after a five-hour rain delay on Saturday, then didn't allow another run. The Gators left 11 men on base against the Cougars; they left 13 men on against the Tar Heels. Florida loaded the bases twice against C of C, and could have loaded them a third if not for a baserunning error; Florida loaded the bases twice against North Carolina, and could have kept them loaded after a run-scoring single if not for a baserunning error.

But this was an early exit, Florida's first two-game departure from the NCAA Tournament as a national seed in program history, that went so perfectly to script that one rehearsal couldn't have been enough to pull it off. No, this went off without the hitch of leading or winning a game because this is something these overachieving, lucky Gators have been capable of all year.

We saw as much in the midweek losses to Florida A&M and Mercer and Jacksonville and Florida Atlantic: Florida struggled to play from behind at times this season, because its offense struggled to put runs on the board. Sure, Florida could manufacture runs with the best in college baseball, and that proficiency helped on the weekend and in SEC play, especially with a precocious and occasionally devastating pitching staff holding other offenses in check, but big innings were rare, and Florida's lineup often featured hitters who functioned as black holes that men on base would be sucked into, never to be heard from again.

This weekend, those guys were Zack Powers (1-for-5, one RBI, five men left on) and Braden Mattson (1-for-8, six men left on), who combined to go 2-for-9 with five strikeouts and 10 runners left on in the No. 5 spot in the order against the Cougars and Heels. But it could have been anyone, really — Florida had enough offensive deficiencies for that, and went just 4-for-20 with runners in scoring position on the weekend. It's not like the hitters around Powers and Mattson were much better; it's not like anyone was driving runs in with regularity.

Florida will be better than this before long, if young players develop as they should and new hitters join the mix with another stellar recruiting class. The pitching is likely to be even better in 2015 than it was this year.

But that is forecasting, and this is a funeral. 2014 Florida realized its destiny as a schizophrenic team that had the pitching and close-game savvy to beat any team in the country, and an offense spotty enough to lose to anyone.

This weekend, the offense won out — and the Gators lost.

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