COUNTDOWN: Baseball Collapse Was A Shock

You couldn't ask for much more than what the Florida baseball team had going last summer. The program was at an all-time high after reaching the finals of the College World Series. While the Gators had lost some key players, they also returned the core of its starting lineup and some key pitchers.

(Seventh in a series of 10 stories)

Sure, Pat McMahon's crew had lost leading hitter Jeff Corsaletti (.358, 10, 53) but the lineup was almost intact.

The losses on the mound were more much significant. Florida had to replace three pitchers (Connor Falkenbach, Tommy Boss, Alan Horne) who had combined for 22 wins, nine saves and perhaps most importantly more than 300 innings pitched.

But things began to unravel late in the summer when Justin Tordi surprised everyone by turning pro. The loss of Tordi's bat was minimal, but doing without his defense turned out to be mission impossible.

In the fall it was learned that talented lefty Stephen Locke (5-2, 4.04) would miss the season. By late winter, the bats of Daniel Brooks and Jared Kubin were also gone, but still Florida looked to have plenty on hand for another big year. The sophomore quartet of Matt LaPorta, Brian Jeroloman, Adam Davis and Brian LeClerc had combined for 61 homers in 2005. They were joined by Gavin Dickey, Stephen Barton and Brandon MacArthur giving UF seven of the top nine position players from the national runner-up.

But something went terribly wrong.

First Six Weeks Looked Just Fine

The season started well enough for the Gators who won seven of their first eight games, including the school's first three-game sweep at 16th-ranked Miami. After losing to 12th-ranked Missouri and one of the nation's top pitchers Max Scherzer the Gators bounced back to smack Ohio State 10-3. But then the first signs of trouble were shown.

The Gators went through the next seven games with a 3-4 record, but Florida scored just 13 runs in those games and was shutout three times. The offense rebounded by exploding for 49 runs in the next four games, all wins to wrap up the pre-conference schedule with a 15-6 record.

The Gators won their first SEC series, taking two of three from Arkansas. A Sunday rally gave the Gators the series win, but it was the last series Florida would win until the final weekend. Through 24 games Florida had 17 wins. The Gators had scored ten or more runs ten times and had allowed just two opponents to score in double digits. In fact, in the 15 games leading up to this point, Florida had not allowed any opponent more than seven wins.

Sunday Blowouts Hurt

The next two weekends of SEC action brought the Gators five losses in six outings, but perhaps more significantly a pair of humiliating Sunday losses. After dropping two games at South Carolina by 1-4 and 5-6 margins, the Gators were trashed on Sunday 21-4. The next weekend, Florida split the first two with Vandy (0-6, 6-4) before being embarrassed 16-2 to end the weekend. You want to put extra pressure on your pitchers? Convince the Friday and Saturday starters you have no shot on Sunday.

The Gators didn't quit. They lost the Kentucky series even though they outscored the Wildcats 21-20. Ditto the next weekend against Tennessee when the scoring margin was 18-10. The Vols series was followed by an 8-3 win at FSU that gave UF partisans cause for hope. The team was 23-18 overall, 5-10 in the SEC but they still had a decent shot at post-season play. However losing two of three against Auburn and getting swept by Georgia --- both at home --- basically ended Florida's chances.

In the final 32 games the Florida Gators managed just eleven wins. After scoring ten or more runs ten times in their first 24 games they managed to accomplish that feat just two more times --- one of those in the season finale. The Gators ended up with just 21 games of ten or more hits, but they had 15 games with double digit strikeouts at the plate.

It was a season of great promise that ended up being a season of unprecedented disappointment. It was a season that saw the Gators go from second in the nation to eleventh in the SEC. It is our choice for the #4 Gator sports story of the year.

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