Little Relief Doomed Gators in Super Regional

All season long the Gator Baseball team survived and at times excelled with decent starting pitching, decent offense and defense and superb relief pitching. That makes it all the more ironic that Florida's season ended due in large part to failures out of the bullpen.

The Gators dropped two straight home games to Southern Miss by 9-7 and 7-6 scores to end their season at 42-22. The tough thing for Coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his guys to take is the fact the Gators enjoyed leads in both games. Florida led by scores of 4-2 and 6-5 in game one, but Southern Miss scored four runs off Patrick Keating while Golden Eagles reliever Jonathan Johnston tossed 3.2 scoreless innings.

In game two the Gators had a bigger lead, 6-1 after three innings and took a 6-4 lead into the eighth but couldn't finish the deal. Southern Miss middle man Scott Copeland shut down the Florida offense with three scoreless innings giving his team a chance to rally. Tony Davis gave Florida a career high 3.2 innings allowing just one run and handed the ball to closer Billy Bullock. However the big righthander hit the first batter and walked the second on the way to surrendering three runs and handing Southern Miss its ticket to the College World Series in Omaha.

I asked O'Sullivan what he saw as the biggest problem for Bullock who had been so reliable all season.

"It didn't look like he had the same fast ball to be honest with you. His first guy, the ball scattered and he walks the next guy and things happened. You got to throw first pitch strikes as we say all the time and jump ahead. It just got away from us. I can't explain it. I feel bad for Billy, but that's what happens when you play good teams. If you give them an opening they're going to take advantage."

Bullock actually had a chance to get out of the inning with the score tied but the Gators failed to execute on a potential double play grounder. First baseman Preston Tucker couldn't handle shortstop Mike Mooney's low throw and the go-ahead run scored. O'Sullivan said that should not have happened.

"We had more time. We spoke about that before the series that they don't run an awful lot, and when we do get chances for double plays you have time. We rushed our throw a little bit and didn't set our feet. It short hopped Preston and that's what happened."

It's not like all the blame can or should be foisted on the guys in the bullpen. Florida's two starting pitchers in the Super Regional, Stephen Locke and Nick Maronde combined to throw just seven innings and allowed seven earned runs. Sophomore second baseman Josh Adams came to the plate with six men on base for his final three at bats and did not drive any of them home. Sunday the bottom three of the Florida lineup went 0-for-11 and got the ball out of the infield just once.

The Gators can certainly point to progress in the second year under O'Sullivan. Florida improved by eight games overall and won the SEC Eastern Division. After going two-and-out in the Regional last year the Gators won the Regional before being eliminated one step short of Omaha.

Florida will lose five seniors off this team, notably left fielder Avery Barnes (.364, 8, 42) and third baseman Brandon McArthur (.338, 3, 41). Locke (5-2, 4.32) and Keating (4-4, 5.12) also ended their Florida careers Sunday night as did part-time catcher Teddy Foster (.321, 7, 25).

Of course the key for next year comes down to pro ball. Florida is expected to have two guys chosen on day one in Bullock (3-3, 11 saves, 2.64) and center fielder Matt den Dekker (.296, 5, 37, 17-18 SB). Florida also has the top ranked recruiting class in the country and eight of those recruits rank among the top 200 draft prospects according to Baseball America. For a complete rundown check out my article on the draft.


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