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Mad Hatters: Stetson cries foul after weather cancels game with Florida

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Meteorology and scheduling can be complicated. But safety should be simple.

Florida Gators

With Stetson leading Florida at McKethan Stadium on Tuesday night, rain began to fall in Gainesville — again.

It rained early in the morning and late into the night in Gainesville on Tuesday, with more than two and a half inches of precipitation falling on the city, per Weather Underground, just three-tenths of an inch off the record for an April 4. The sky held tremendous moisture all the way through the day, with humidity at 100 percent at 8:19 a.m. and 97 percent at 11:53 p.m. (Humidity would remain exceedingly high at least until Wednesday morning, per Intellicast.)

Lightning, too, was present, with “thunderstorm” listed as the description of conditions from 8:28 p.m. to 9:28 p.m.; “rain” was the listed condition from 8:53 p.m. until 10:53 p.m. Tuesday.

And so Florida’s game with Stetson went into a lightning delay that would last nearly two hours. And so, in the top of the fifth inning, with Stetson up 10-1 on the Gators, the game was cancelled, with Florida tweeting about the cancellation at 9:58 p.m, and Stetson following with its own tweet at 10:04 p.m.

Those tweets, though, were somewhat different in tone.

The latter tweet picked up some traction, as Kendall Rogers of national college baseball site D1 Baseball retweeted it — after initially calling the cancellation a “tough break” for Stetson — and the replies to that tweet made clear that few were keen to give Florida anything but a hard time for calling off a game in which the Gators were clearly set to take a lopsided loss.

And that makes sense: Florida is nationally ranked, and a behemoth; Stetson is 13-17, and previously lost narrowly to Florida at home in a 9-8 game that went extra innings. A midweek game with Stetson means infinitely less to Florida than a midweek game with the mighty Gators does to the Hatters.

But then Florida and Stetson posted their official postgame recaps, and things got a bit more bitter.

Florida’s recap is simple: The game “has been canceled due to rain and lightning in the area that is expected to continue throughout the night” and “will not be rescheduled.” That recap makes no mention of the score, which is noteworthy — but the game itself doesn’t count, so why mention the score?

Stetson’s recap? It drips pettiness.

“Gators Call “No Mas”, Refuse to Answer Bell after Rain Delay” is the headline. These are the first four paragraphs, credited to Ricky Hazel, associate athletic director.

The only winner on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium was Mother Nature.

She intervened on behalf of the home-standing Florida Gators in the fifth inning with Stetson leading 10-1 and, when the rain stopped after a one hour, 45 minute delay, the Gators refused to come out and finish the game.

With two available open dates for the teams to resume the game, Florida also balked, saying those dates – Tuesday, May 10 and Tuesday, May 16 – were too close to the SEC Tournament for them to be able to play.

So, the Stetson Hatters will have to be happy with knowing that they beat the mighty Gators into submission, even though they won't get the win, or the stats, to show for their efforts.

That sure makes it sound like Florida is a) maybe in control of the weather and b) didn’t want to take a loss now or later because c) Florida is a bunch of punk-ass cowards, doesn’t it?

It isn’t until the 11th paragraph of the Stetson recap — one that goes 15 grafs deep for a game that did not officially happen, only six fewer paragraphs than Sunday’s recap of a sweep of the 3-21 New Jersey Institute of Technology — that the true cause of the cancellation is mentioned.

Stetson pushed its lead to 10-1 in the fifth before lightning brought and early end to the night. Arenas led off the frame with a double, the sixth for Stetson, off reliever Nick Long, and then scored on a Hale single. Ben Rowdon and Koops followed with consecutive hits to score another run and the Hatters then swiped one when Rowdon scored from third as Koos was being thrown out trying to steal.

That was where the game was halted. The players were cleared from the field, but the Florida grounds crew did not immediately roll the tarp out. It was not until rain started falling heavily that the crew started to move toward the tarp. With the help of the Stetson coaches, the tarp was deployed at 8:40 p.m., 25 minutes into the delay.

At 9:55 p.m., Florida announced that the game would not be resumed and that no makeup would be scheduled. At that point, the rain had completely stopped falling.

That recap’s existence has, predictably, delighted certain parts of the Internet where partisanship and bias hold far more sway than fairness and journalistic rigor, and helped loose a stream of vitriol toward Florida that continues to this moment.

Sorry: It’s embarrassing. To Stetson.

At the risk of stating the obvious, cancelling Tuesday night’s game hurts Stetson more than it helps Florida. Stetson could have crowed about a win over the “mighty Gators” all season, even if it had continued its sub-.500 campaign to the conclusion, and now all it has is a phantom win to brag about. And while a loss to Stetson by nine or more runs would have hurt the Gators a bit, sure, the results of even the full span of a season’s midweek games don’t matter as much to Florida as the results of one or two weekend series of SEC play.

That’s just how things work in college baseball, and why big programs throw their reserve arms on weekdays and save their best pitchers for weekends, even though the smaller schools they’re typically playing may be trotting out an ace or two. (Stetson, it should be noted, has not done that this year, with freshman Ryan Stark making both of his starts against the Gators.)

And so Stetson has the right to be frustrated at having a big win washed away, especially given that Florida would have been dodging only a minor embarrassment at worst, and has already lost to Jacksonville, UCF, and Florida Gulf Coast in midweek games this season.

But Stetson should be frustrated with the weather, and maybe with the SEC’s rule on lightning, not with Florida.

Florida reminded fans of that rule when it tweeted about Tuesday’s lightning delay, but didn’t make clear that it is SEC policy. Here’s the full rule, as written in the 2015-16 SEC Commissioner’s Regulations (the policy has not changed since last academic year):

When lightning is detected within eight (8) miles of the competition site, competition shall be suspended. Competition may be resumed after 30 minutes of no detected lightning strikes within an eight mile radius. A 10 minute warm-up period may be granted following this 30 minute suspension.

Was there lightning within eight miles of the competition site when the game was cancelled? I don’t know: I wasn’t there, and don’t have access to records of lightning strikes in Gainesville from last night, which is why the first three paragraphs of this post establish what I can tell from public weather records.

But The Gainesville Sun’s Graham Hall reports that there was lightning in the vicinity until at least 10:30 p.m., and perhaps later.

Assuming that as true, Florida, as the home team, had two choices:

  1. abide by SEC policy and keep hundreds if not thousands of players, personnel, and fans safe by suspending play
  2. defy policy and the weather by continuing play, putting those people at risk

Which of those makes any sense at all?

Florida’s cancellation of the game is something beyond mere suspension, to be fair, and suspending the game just before the middle of the fifth inning, when the game would have gone official, is at least a little convenient. But lightning was sighted in the area in the early fifth inning, and play continued — briefly, but for long enough for Stetson to score two runs in the top of the fifth — which would suggest Florida at least made an effort to play through the weather before it became completely unplayable.

And it did become unplayable, with resuming the game also becoming unlikely at best. Radar showed major storms in the area, and forecasts suggested that the unplayable weather might not clear until well after midnight.

The rain, of course, stopped. But the lightning, per Hall, didn’t — and, regardless, as anyone who has lived in Florida for more than maybe five minutes knows, lightning and rain are just frequent buddies, not perpetual partners. (The NCAA’s lightning safety guidelines note that “Lightning can strike from blue sky and in the absence of rain. At least ten percent of lightning occurs when there is no rainfall and when blue sky is visible; this is especially prevalent with summer thunderstorms.”)

Should Florida (and Stetson) have stuck it out with the goal of resuming a relatively meaningless game after 1 a.m., played a minimum of four more innings, and aimed to finish a game at or around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, ensuring that all involved would struggle to get to sleep before 3 a.m.? There appears to be no NCAA rule against it, but common sense makes that ludicrous on its face.

I have no doubt that Florida made the right call to cancel the game, given the information available to it.

And while there’s more to quibble with in regards to the Gators’ disinterest in resuming or making up the game, I have no problem with them doing that, either.

Stetson’s account of the reasoning for no makeup suggests that was Florida’s decision, as you will recall:

With two available open dates for the teams to resume the game, Florida also balked, saying those dates – Tuesday, May 10 and Tuesday, May 16 – were too close to the SEC Tournament for them to be able to play.

And that reasoning checks out, even if the math on two Tuesdays somehow being six days apart does not. (May 10 is a Wednesday.)

Florida hasn’t played a midweek game before its final SEC series since 2014, when it lost 12-7 to Sanford on May 15, two days after finishing a series against Mississippi State and two days before beginning one with Auburn. And while it routinely plays a single midweek game before its penultimate SEC series — the Gators have faced USF in such a game in each of the last three years, and have a game with the Bulls scheduled for May 9 this year — the last time the Gators played two midweek games two weeks before the SEC Tournament was in 2005, under former coach Pat McMahon.

That didn’t prevent the 2005 Gators from having postseason success, obviously: That team was the first in Florida history to make the College World Series championship series. But Florida did fail to make the SEC Tournament final in 2005 — and Kevin O’Sullivan is obviously allowed to have different preferences for scheduling than McMahon did back then.

Simply, Florida is not obliged to bend over backwards to accomodate Stetson’s interest in acquiring a season-making win — and Florida can’t do anything about the weather other than grin and bear it.

That this engendered bad feelings for Stetson was probably predictable, especially considering that Stetson — which could have improved to 31-85 against Florida all-time on Tuesday — did not get to play Florida from 2010 to 2014, and promptly resumed being beaten down by the Gators when they met again in 2015, with JJ Schwarz’s famous four-homer performance coming in a 22-2 demolition of the Hatters that year.

That game also featured a weather delay — but one of less than an hour. (Tuesday’s lasted nearly two hours before the game’s cancellation.)

So, again, it’s easy to understand Stetson players, coaches, and/or athletic department workers being miffed about being robbed of an opportunity to define a season with a big upset win.

But, again, aiming the cannons at Florida — while obviously successful, in the sense that the “mighty Gators” are an easy target, even without considering last fall’s similarly overblown brouhaha about the cancellation of Florida’s football game against LSU in the context of Hurricane Matthew — instead of the weather? That strikes me as pettiness that reeks of unprofessionalism — and I imagine the lengths to which Stetson has gone to be petty might be off-putting to Florida athletic department officials, even if the obvious implication that the Gators were more concerned about ducking a loss than keeping people safe from lightning is lost on those who are only using this as easy ammo to fire at Florida.

Update, 6:02 p.m. Wednesday: And if you’re asking exactly which people might be the source of that pettiness, D1 Baseball’s Aaron Fitt clarifies that both Florida and Stetson coaches agreed both to cancel and not make up the game — meaning this conflict boils down to the hand on Stetson’s Twitter account and website having trigger-happy fingers.

Fortunately, after the blasts from Stetson’s Twitter account and site, Stetson baseball coach Steve Trimper — working in his first season in DeLand after coming to Stetson from Maine, and thus removed from the context of series interruptions or previous hard feelings — had some sane, rational things to tweet on Wednesday.

While those tweets pretty clearly reveal their motive — “future match ups” — they are far, far removed from the recap posted by Hazel, and opt for dignity over disgust and accusations of disgrace.

Would that we could all take a lesson from that, and learn that it’s okay to be safe and sound when lightning strikes, instead of overreacting.