Florida scuffled early against Miami on Saturday at the College World Series. Gators ace Logan Shore couldn't hit his spots, Miami scored two runs in the first three innings — and it felt like they underachieved for the Hurricanes to only plate two — and the only run Florida's free-swinging lineup generated in the same stretch came on a balk call that was dubious at best.
Then came the fourth inning. Then came 11 runs. Then came history.
Here come the Gators.
Florida pounded Miami for 11 runs in the bottom of the fourth, setting a new record for runs in an inning at notoriously offense-starving TD Ameritrade Park — and without the benefit of a home run — and added three more before the night was done, cruising to a 15-3 victory that set a new venue record for both runs and margin of victory.
It was the worst postseason loss in Miami history, too, eclipsing 11-run thumpings handed out by, among other teams, Florida, and it came despite the Hurricanes controlling the contest early. Five of Shore's first seven outs came on strikes, but Miami put its leadoff runner on in four of the first six innings, and got that man home in the first and third innings.
But while David Thompson sacrifice flies produced both of those runs, the 'Canes could've gotten so much more. After Dalton Guthrie botched a transfer on a likely double play to load the bases in the first, a Thompson sac fly and a strikeout followed; after Miami put runners on second and third with one out in the third, a Thompson sac fly and a lineout followed.
Florida threatened in the bottom of the third, getting its first run on a balk that appeared to be a completely legal move on the broadcast, but would not cut into Miami's lead further in that frame.
And then came the deluge.
Florida started the fourth with a Josh Tobias walk, but Miami had a chance to erase him and the slow-footed JJ Schwarz on a grounder to shortstop one batter later — only Brandon Lopez, who went 3-for-3 at the plate on the evening, failed to field the ball cleanly, then threw wide of first, getting Tobias to third.
After a Buddy Reed RBI single to center and a Peter Alonso sacrifice fly, Florida had the lead. Two more runs crossed the plate thanks to three straight singles, extending that lead to 5-2 — the largest Florida had held over Miami all year.
A Harrison Bader strikeout — one of two on the night — left the Gators with one last out to work with in the fourth. All they did was squeeze seven more runs out of it.
After a Richie Martin walk loaded the bases, Tobias and Schwarz delivered two-run singles in their second at-bats of the inning, and then, after a single by Reed, Alonso nearly hit Florida's first homer of the CWS, instead settling for a towering two-run double. Mike Rivera, who had previously scored on the balk, then ripped a corkscrewing liner to center for the final run of the frame. (Florida actually got two more at-bats, thanks to Dalton Guthrie getting hit by a pitch, but Ryan Larson hitting into a fielder's choice ended the onslaught — and left two runners on base.)
Florida was up 12-2 at that point, and would add three more runs — on a Bader double, a throwing error, and a Tobias groundout — in the seventh, after giving one back in the sixth, shortly after Shore was pulled. Every Florida starter except Martin finished with at least one hit and one run batted in, and Martin still managed to score a run for himself.
It was just about the most impressive offensive performance in the recent history of the College World Series — a place where, since changing venues from the bandbox that was Rosenblatt Stadium to the massive TD Ameritrade Park, offense has suffered — and it was really all about Florida locking in for a couple of innings. Prior to the fourth, Florida had largely flailed at the plate; after it, the Gators really only swung well at the plate in the seventh.
The Gators have stringing together moments of brilliance all postseason, and have outscored their NCAA Tournament opponents — the other five teams from the Sunshine State to make the event's field — by an unfathomable 68-15 mark. And yet: They have not quite put together a totally dominant game, not unless a 19-0 evisceration of overmatched Florida A&M counts.
But if this is what Florida can be and can do even with just moments of brilliance, and substandard play in the field and on the mound, Florida at full bore is likely emphatically be the best team in the nation.
With the victory, Florida moves on to the winners' bracket, and to a Monday matchup with Virginia, which downed Arkansas earlier on Saturday. And if the Gators win that game, they will need to win just once more to make the championship series in Omaha — and will have all week to rest up for their shot at that.