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Virginia 5, Florida 4: Gators fall on night of maybes, mights, couldas, and shouldas

For Florida, this was a night of mights and maybes, could haves and should haves.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It was the little things that did Florida in this time, in this 5-4 loss to Virginia in an elimination game at the 2015 College World Series, a defeat that sent the Gators home from Omaha and kept the Cavaliers in the hunt for a national title.

It's always the little things, it seems.

Florida had the big things covered. Gators batters swatted two big flies — the new deepest homer in TD Ameritrade Park history, from Peter Alonso, and the one that will assuredly be the last of Harrison Bader's Gators career. Starter Dane Dunning was good, as good as could have been hoped, allowing three runs over 4.2 innings — even after a homer in the first — the same number he conceded over 1.1 innings in his last start.

Florida got to Brandon Waddell, the only pitcher who had stopped the Gators' offense this year, tagging him for four runs in five innings. The Gators erased two one-run deficits, 1-0 and 4-3 holes that tightened gastrointestinal tracts all over Gator Nation.

But Florida didn't do all the little things it could have done in this game.

And for that reason, these Gators have no more games to play this year — and a collection of coulds, mights, shoulds, and maybes to dwell on.

Florida could've had more runs than the two it scored in the second inning, and should have had more than the zero it put up in the the third. It should've had two men on with no outs in the second, even after Alonso followed a leadoff walk by JJ Schwarz with his towering blast, but an umpire's ruling that Mike Rivera leaned into a pitch that found his elbow begat a double-play ball, and the inning ended without further incident.

When Florida did put its first two runners on in the third, it failed to commit to Richie Martin bunting until it was too late in an at-bat, then sprung a double steal that half-worked, aggravating the wound and forcing Josh Tobias (who walked) and Schwarz (who flied out to right) to balance aggression with fear of making the frame's third out.

Buddy Reed, so solid in center field thanks to speed most mortals dream of, might have been able to make a play on a ball hit to deep center in the fourth inning. But he took a bad route and bobbled it to boot, and the resulting triple got Virginia another run.

Bader gave it his all on this night, the last he will play for Florida, going 4-for-5 at the plate with a go-ahead homer in the fourth inning, and a maybe-there's-still-hope single in the ninth. But he badly misplayed a ball off the wall in the fifth inning that helped Kenny Towns's double score a go-ahead run, not just the tying one — and Kirby Snead, a lefty specialist, could've been lifted before seeing the right-handed Towns or after a dismal first at-bat on the mound ended in a walk.

Florida might have been able to take the lead in the top of the sixth with more aggressiveness. A groundout that Virginia reliever Josh Sborz mishandled put two men in scoring position for Rivera, and he delivered with an RBI single. But Dalton Guthrie — who had struggled in Florida's last three games — merely battled before striking out, and Ryan Larson — who could have been easily substituted for Jeremy Vasquez, a better bat in right field, had Kevin O'Sullivan wanted to roll the dice — grounded out.

Maybe Bader, who singled to start the seventh, could've been allowed to dance on the basepaths behind Sborz in that inning. But it was only after Martin (0-for-5) and Tobias (0-for-3) produced outs from first pitches that the speedy Bader could even try to swipe second — which he did — and Schwarz, relatively quiet with his thunderous bat on this night, failed to swing at a fat pitch before fanning on a 59-footer.

Florida could've avoided the final run of the night, maybe, had O'Sullivan showed a quicker trigger finger with Taylor Lewis, who relieved Snead. Lewis gave up a single and a four-pitch walk to begin the seventh inning, and O'Sullivan visited him mid-walk. But he stayed in, and stayed through a walk, and gave up the game-winning sacrifice fly.

By then, there was nothing Florida could do but scrap. And scrap wasn't enough against Sborz, who found his footing after that shaky sixth inning, allowing just two sharp singles to Bader from the seventh inning on.

That second single came with two outs in the ninth, and allowed a glimmer of hope for the Gators. But Martin, in the final at-bat of his Florida career — before what could be an excellent one with the Oakland Athletics — grounded to second to close the book on this season.

Florida could have won it all this year.

Maybe next year, "could have" could be struck from that last sentence.