UVA ends Gators’ season in Omaha

Florida had its chances on Saturday, but Virginia was able to take advantage of the Gators’ mistakes and move on to the championship series.

The Cavaliers took a one-run lead in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly and allowing closer Josh Sborz to finish the 5-4 win, ending the Gators’ season and pushing Virginia to a national championship series rematch with Vanderbilt. Florida finishes the year at 52-18.

“Tonight just didn’t work out for us, but I’m awfully proud (of the players),” Florida Kevin O’Sullivan said.

Florida took a 2-1 lead in the second inning when sophomore Pete Alonso hit a two-run homer. Alonso hit the longest home run in College World Series history against Miami on Wednesday with a 421-foot blast, but his 429-foot homer on Saturday set a new record.

In the fourth inning, Florida center fielder Buddy Reed misplayed what should have been a one-out double, allowing Pavin Smith to reach third for a triple. He would score on a sacrifice fly to even the game at two.

Harrison Bader gave the Gators a 3-2 lead in the fifth, but it wouldn’t last long. A two-out, two-run double for Kenny Towns gave the Cavaliers a 4-3 lead. The Gators would bounce back to tie it in the next inning on an RBI single by Mike Rivera, but Florida would strand the go-ahead run on third.

The Cavaliers would take the lead for good in the seventh inning. Florida reliever Taylor Lewis allowed a leadoff single and then walked Adam Haseley. After Daniel Pinero moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt, Florida intentionally walked Matt Thaiss to load the bases with one out.

Towns again got the job done with a sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Cavaliers a 5-4 lead they would hold.

Ultimately, the Gators simply weren’t able to get a big hit with runners in scoring position or hold Virginia off the scoreboard late.

“Those things come back to hurt you,” O’Sullivan said. “We just didn’t throw strikes out of the pen. Late in the game, the deciding run happened when Haseley was trying to bunt and we ended up walking him. Those are the kind of things that end up hurting you, especially in a one-run game like this. We just didn’t play the cleanest game.”

It was an emotional day for the Florida players, ending the season and likely the careers of multiple juniors and seniors. One of the juniors was St. Louis Cardinals third-round pick Harrison Bader, who participated in the postgame press conference and shared his emotions after his career likely came to an end.

“It has been an absolute honor to play under Sully, Brad (Weitzel), Craig (Bell) and all the other assistants,” Bader said. “It feels like yesterday I was a freshman. I’ve enjoyed every second. I can’t be more thankful for everyone sticking with me because there were some tough things along the way. To everyone that poured everything into my development as a player and as an individual, I’m forever grateful.”

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