Gators Continue Struggles Against FSU

TAMPA -- It's a frustration that was only made worse on Tuesday night at Steinbrenner Field. In the past three seasons under Kevin O'Sullivan, it's hard to point to any negatives. Three top-six recruiting classes and deeper runs in the postseason every year have the program viewed as one of the elite in the country. It's the series against Florida State that was supposed to be fixed this year.

With Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Seminoles in Tampa, the frustration was easily seen on the faces of Florida players and coaches after the game. Florida State has now won eight of the 13 meetings between the team since O'Sullivan took over as the head coach.

When he took the head coach job at Florida, the Gators weren't on the same playing field as Florida State. The Seminoles were a well-oiled machine and Florida was just trying to make the tournament. That has changed in recent years. The Gators have a top ranked recruiting class, now sophomores, leading their team to a No. 1 ranking.

Yet the frustration around playing Florida State remains.

The motivation for Tuesday night shouldn't have been tough to find for the players. The Seminoles won four of the five matchups last season, including sending the Gators home in the College World Series. However, the struggles continue.

The biggest problems against the Seminoles come on the biggest stages. In the first matchup between the teams at Steinbrenner Field last season, the Seminoles used a seven-run first inning to basically seal the game before it even started. On Tuesday night in the same stadium, Florida State used a five-run third inning to win. It's the big inning that continues to hurt Florida on the big stage.

"It just spiraled out of control," Florida reliever Anthony DeSclafani said. "It was just that one inning and we put up zeroes the rest of the game. We knew what they did to us last year. It was just that one inning that got away from us."

The Gators have lost all of their matchups with Florida State at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in the last three years. With Tuesday's loss at the Yankees spring training facility, Florida has now lost six straight against its instate rival at professional stadiums in the last three years.

The Gators were 2-6 in neutral site games in 2010 and are 4-13 in the last three years.

Last year, nerves were an acceptable excuse. It was a young team led by a freshman class that was used to playing in front of hundreds of people in the crowd during their high school games. After playing on the road in SEC environments and the College World Series last season, being overwhelmed by the environment doesn't work.

It's most noticeable on the mound. Florida has taken successful pitching staffs into big environments during the last two seasons, only to struggle and become hittable. The Gators had walked five batters and hit one through seven games this season. Against Florida State on Tuesday, the pitchers walked five and hit two batters. They had only walked five batters in the first seven games this year.

No one expects the pitching staff to be as dominant against the top teams in the country as they were against smaller opponents to open the season, but this team is built around not walking batters and playing defense. The pitching staff can't expect to change its philosophy and be successful when playing some of the better teams in the country.

Whatever the reason for the dismal performances on the big stage, the players need to figure it out. Being ranked No. 1 coming into the season put a lot of pressure on the team before a game was even played, but if they want to win big in Omaha and have a chance to win a national championship, the struggles on the big stage have to come to an end.

It's only the first game against Florida State this season, but the Gators have to figure out how to beat the Seminoles before the postseason comes around. It wouldn't be a surprise to anyone if the two had a showdown with a spot in the College World Series on the line.

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