Florida had been riding high. The Gators came into the 2014 SEC Tournament with the outright SEC regular season championship, and a 15-3 record over their last 18 SEC games.
And then they ran into the one team that had hit them harder than any other this season: Kentucky.
The Gators' 4-2 loss on Wednesday — in another one of those midweek games, naturally — was less surprising if you were paying attention to Florida before the Gators made the world pay attention. Kentucky hammered Florida pitchers in their three-game series in April, which happened concurrently with the Final Four, lighting up the Gators for 36 runs over three games, including 17 in the opener.
That was also, perhaps not coincidentally, the last time a pitcher other than Logan Shore started for the Gators in a series opener.
And it was a surprise that Shore, who has become this staff's ace despite being only a freshman, had arguably his worst outing this season against the Wildcats on Wednesday. He gave up four earned runs, including the first homer he's yielded as a Gator, in 5.2 innings of work, and took his third loss of the year.
Shore wasn't terrible — those runs didn't even get his ERA over 2.00, as it rose to just 1.99 — but he wasn't brilliant, and Florida has needed and likely will need him to be brilliant, especially against aces. The SEC teams Florida mustered more than a single run against in a series opener this season were Texas A&M, Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, and Tennessee — in aggregate, the No. 8, 10, 11 and 12 seeds in the SEC Tournament, and Missouri, the worst team in the SEC by far.
That's the troubling takeaway from Florida's loss to Kentucky: A worrisome and persistent lack of hitting, especially against the aces that most NCAA Tournament teams have, is worse for the Gators than any one loss in this tournament could be. Florida locked up a national seed on the strength of what it did in the regular season, and shouldn't have to leave Gainesville in the postseason unless and until it punches its ticket to Omaha; while it wouldn't be advisable, Florida could lose 30-0 to South Carolina on Thursday and probably still earn a national seed. There's nothing the Gators can do to fully erode the foundation they built.
But there are cracks in the foundation, and always have been, and getting this far with a team that has one legitimate ace in Shore and an offense that sometimes leaves even him out to dry is a tribute to the slurry that Kevin O'Sullivan has applied to make these Gators more than the sum of their parts. (Even if, no, his is not the best coaching job by a Florida coach this year.)
Worry about what happens when the slurry isn't enough.