Fitting End to Frustrating Season

Matt LaPorta, the Gators' all-time Home Run record holder was on deck. The tying runners were in scoring position and the Gators had a chance to keep their season going. Instead, Avery Barnes grounded out, LaPorta put his bat back in the rack and the 2007 Gator Baseball season ended in Birmingham, Alabama.

Oh, technically, Florida could be invited to the NCAA tournament on Monday, but it is completely unrealistic. When the chairman of the selection committee thinks you must have at least a .500 record (Mississippi State Athletic Director Larry Templeton) you aren't likely to get much consideration. Plus how much love will Templeton have for the coach who left his program for Florida six years ago?

The 5-3 loss to South Carolina was typical of the Florida season. The Gators grabbed an early lead on LaPorta's 20th homer of the season, but could only hold the lead for a couple of innings. The Gators committed a pair of crucial errors in the sixth inning, allowing two runs to score, essentially handing the Gamecocks the margin of victory. And just for good measure they rallied in the ninth inning to get the tying runs into scoring position, only to come up short.

These were the very things that have plagued Gator Baseball for two years now, and that's why Florida will be on the outside looking in when the NCAA Tournament begins next week. After reaching the finals of the College World Series in 2005, Florida has faded into mediocrity, posting a 57-58 record over the past two seasons.

Game "Three" Failures Added Up

Throughout the season the Gators just couldn't find a way to win the third game of a series very often. In fact the Gators won just five of 16 "game three" contests all year long, and in the SEC it was even worse. In ten SEC series Florida won game three just three times and all three wins were over teams that did not make it to the SEC Tournament (Georgia, Auburn and Kentucky). The tournament was more of the same as the Gators lost the first game they played, won the second and then lost "game three".

Florida "game three" failures were so pronounced that in elimination game at the SEC Tournament Coach Pat McMahon elected to give Patrick Keating his first career start. Keating pitched reasonably well, allowing three earned runs in five and a third innings, but it shows the struggles this team had finding a guy who could take the ball in a game three situation and do the job. Freshman Billy Bullock was Florida's guy most of the year, but in 15 starts he had just two wins against seven losses, an ERA of 6.31 and averaged just over four innings a start.

Second Half of the Season Disastrous

In early April it certainly seemed as if the Gators' failure to make the NCAA Tournament in 2006 would be a one year aberration. On April third Florida routed top-ranked Florida State 16-7 in Jacksonville, raising their record to 19-13 with a 7-2 SEC mark. Florida was on pace for a 35+ win season and led the SEC race at that stage.

However the Gators were just 10-17 the rest of the way and once again will not be part of the field of 64. After that strong start in the SEC, Florida was 9-15 against SEC teams the rest of the way.

There are a number of areas of concern that have to be addressed to get this program out of the rut it has been in for two seasons. But there are also some very good building blocks on hand with which to do it. The biggest issue facing Gator Athletic Director Jeremy Foley is the future of McMahon and his staff. The biggest issue facing the ball club is establishing three SEC caliber starting pitchers and coping with the loss of LaPorta. We'll examine that situation in detail on Monday.

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