Things were looking good for the Florida Gators' chances of finishing a swing through the 2016 SEC Tournament symmetrical to their 2015 run from the losers' bracket to the conference title in Hoover, Alabama. The Gators had recovered from two early deficits and bounced back from a weak inning of work by Logan Shore, and led Texas A&M 5-3 entering the seventh inning.
Then, uh, the rest of the game happened.
The Aggies hammered Florida relievers for nine runs over their final two frames at bat, erasing the Gators' edge and powering through to a 12-5 victory that is good for their program's first SEC Tournament title in baseball.
Florida, though, had its chances to not just put away the Aggies or keep the game competitive enough for a comeback bid late, but to stave off red-hot Texas A&M's comeback attempt.
The play that gave Florida a 5-3 lead was an RBI fielders choice with the bases loaded by Buddy Reed, whose sprint to first evaded an inning-ending double play in the fifth. JJ Schwarz wasn't able to finish a fine SEC Tournament by following that with a big knock, though, and Florida wasn't able to tack on any more runs over its remaining outs.
The Gators could also have exited what would become a four-run seventh inning with the lead had Jonathan India started a double play by fielding a grounder to the hot corner. Instead, he made an error — his 11th on the year, most on Florida's roster — and kept the inning going.
Aggies sluggers J.B. Moss and Nick Banks made the Gators pay for India's miscue with a two-run double and a two-run homer, respectively, and A&M added five more runs in the eighth inning.
Michael Byrne, a freshman reliever unlikely to play a major role in Florida's NCAA Tournament run, was responsible for all of the damage of the seventh, while Kirby Snead, a very wild Eddy Demurias, and Nick Horvath combined to let up the five runs in the eighth.
Those four pitchers and Frank Rubio combined to throw seven innings to Shore's one, as Florida's ace made what was likely to be a short start a very short one by looking less than totally sharp in his first inning of work, allowing two hits and a run and getting an early hook from Kevin O'Sullivan.
And while Florida stabilized after Shore's exit, it was probably asking a bit too much of a bullpen without the Gators' complement of starters-slash-long relievers — mainstay Dane Dunning, freshmen Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer, and Saturday star Scott Moss — or the ability to throw closer Shaun Anderson for multiple innings to hold off the Aggies' relentless attack, which churned one fewer run on Sunday than they did in Florida's three-game sweep of A&M in Gainesville in April.
Florida is a mortal lock to not just host a regional but to receive a national seed for the 2016 NCAA Tournament. While they'll get confirmation of a Gainesville Regional later Sunday night, the full field won't be announced until midday Monday — so the Gators will spend the night wondering whether they will be the nation's top overall seed.