The Florida Gators overcame their starter giving up a three-run inning, outlasted a Texas A&M ace throwing seeds, and came back from a two-run deficit in the ninth in the SEC Tournament opener on Tuesday.
But they lost anyway, and will now have to sweat out their NCAA Tournament fate as a result.
Texas A&M’s Jonathan Ducoff smacked a three-run homer in the eighth inning and then lifted the Aggies to their 8-7 win with a walk-off single in the 10th inning, doing all of his damage against a Florida bullpen that may have betrayed the Gators for the last time this year.
Christian Scott, Jordan Butler, and Nolan Crisp each allowed at least one earned run — and Scott and Butler allowed two each — in relief of Tommy Mace, who survived a three-run third inning to allow just two earned runs in 6.2 innings on the bump in Hoover, allowing four hits, issuing four walks, and striking out six.
Scott got the last out of the seventh and stranded a runner at second after a two-out double off Mace, then recorded the first two outs of the eighth inning without incident despite a pair of long at-bats. But then he gave up a solo homer and a two-out single in his next three pitches.
Butler then allowed just a single to his first batter faced, and worked Ducoff back from a 2-0 count to five consecutive 3-2 pitches, but gave up the three-run homer that would end the portion of the day that saw Florida leading.
And it was a shame, too, because the Gators fought hard to go up. They scratched together two runs with two outs in the fifth, as A&M’s Asa Lacy began to lose the control that had made him nearly unhittable through the first four frames, and then tied the game in the sixth on a bases-loaded walk.
And in the eighth, Florida struck for another two-spot, with Wil Dalton putting the Gators in front with an RBI triple and scoring on a sacrifice fly.
Florida would fight again in the bottom of the ninth. Jud Fabian led off with a double, allowing Austin Langworthy to score him from second on a shot to the warning track that might have left less spacious stadiums than the Hoover Met, and senior leader Nelson Maldonado made sure his career would get at least another half-inning with the game-tying RBI single to score Langworthy.
But Florida could not score again in the frame, nor in the top of the 10th. And after A&M threatened in the ninth thanks to a four-pitch leadoff walk and a sacrifice to move the runner to second, the Aggies worked a walk out of a 1-2 count, sacrificed that runner to second, and got him home on Ducoff’s game-winning rap.
The loss eliminates Florida from the SEC Tournament before its double-elimination portion begins, and maybe more importantly puts the Gators’ NCAA Tournament resume in amber. That resume isn’t a great one, with a sub-.500 conference record and few marquee wins in SEC play, but Florida could yet get into this year’s postseason thanks to a weak bubble and its strength of schedule — and its close to the regular season, a road sweep of fellow bubble resident Missouri, may prove vital.
For this Tuesday, though, all the Gators are guaranteed is a trip back to Gainesville — and one that might be fraught with frustrations about what might have been.