Florida put up a better effort against the LSU run machine that threshed its competition in Hoover in Sunday's championship game of the 2014 SEC Tournament.
But the Gators, like every other team that played the Tigers, fell prey to them.
Florida starter Karsten Whitson put together his finest outing of 2014, scattering three hits over six scoreless innings and silencing what had been a white-hot LSU offense. But the Tigers got a two-run shot from Sean McMullen in the top of the eighth inning, and Florida was unable to answer afterward, giving LSU a 2-0 victory and the SEC Tournament title.
Ryan Harris allowed the homer and took the loss for Florida, which was seeking its first sweep of the SEC's regular season and tournament titles since 2011. Florida went 3-2 with wins over South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky and losses to Kentucky and LSU in Hoover during the SEC Tournament.
And that performance probably only solidified Florida's standing in the eyes of the 2014 NCAA Tournament selection committee, which named Florida one of 16 regional hosts, as expected, on Sunday. The Gators boast a gaudy RPI and a truly staggering sheaf of wins over top competition — Florida has played five of the 15 other regional hosts, compiling an 11-6 record against them, and spent much of its year playing and beating NCAA Tournament teams. Before even arriving in Hoover, Florida was a mortal lock to receive a nationsl seed, given to the top eight teams in the NCAA Tournament field, and the Super Regional hosting privileges that come along with that seed.
But Florida's strong play there — and LSU's own strong play, which has quite possibly made the Tigers a national seed in their own right — may well get the Gators the No. 1 overall seed. The Gators are 6-1 this season against Florida State, a lock to receive a national seed, and LSU, a good bet to grab one, and won the SEC, widely regarded as the nation's best conference in college baseball this season — Florida is one of five SEC teams that were named regional hosts.
Since the NCAA started handing out national seeds and switched to its current regional/Super Regional model for the NCAA Tournament, Florida has been the No. 1 overall seed once, in 2012, with a team that was older, more talented, and more consistent than this team. But these 2014 Gators may actually have a slightly better résumé than their predecessors.
If they earn the same seed, though, Florida fans will be hoping for the same sort of ride to Omaha and the College World Series — and a dramatically different result from the Gators once they arrive.