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For No. 1 Florida Gators baseball to drag itself all the way to the final game of the 2016 SEC Tournament after dropping its opening contest is certainly worthy of praise. But a depleted bullpen and incomplete roster simply did not allow the Gators to keep up with their competition on Sunday as the No. 2 Texas A&M Aggies left Hoover, Alabama, with a 12-5 victory and their first SEC crown.
Florida got off to a rough start in the tournament, tying its opener in the bottom of the ninth against LSU only to fall 5-3 in a 14-inning affair that lasted more than five hours on Wednesday.
Somehow able to turn around less than 12 hours later for an elimination game against Alabama, UF won 5-4 on Thursday to advance. The Gators routed Mississippi State 12-2 on Friday and got a measure of revenge against the Tigers with a 1-0 victory on Saturday to advance to the title game.
By the time Sunday’s finale kicked off, though, Florida was on its last legs. The Gators used five pitchers in Wednesday’s opener, and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was forced to re-tool his rotation when stud junior right-handed pitcher Logan Shore caught a stomach bug and was not able to make a Friday start.
O’Sullivan chose not to play Shore on Saturday, and it was obvious Florida’s ace would not see a full compliment of innings — perhaps three or four — on Sunday even when he was announced as the starter. O’Sullivan threw Shore on Sunday — for one inning. He was one of six to pitch for the Gators, including two relievers who had combined for 13.1 innings entering the contest.
It was somewhat surprising that Florida held a 5-3 lead entering the seventh; much less surprising that Texas A&M blew the game open with four runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth to ultimately hand the top team in the nation its most lopsided loss of the season.
There is certainly a silver lining in this loss for the Gators as Florida should have its full compliment of players available for the 2016 NCAA Tournament, which begins on Friday, June 3.
Junior first baseman Peter Alonso, who has been out the last two weeks healing a small fracture in his left hand, is expected to be healthy and ready to play next week.
Though Florida (47-13) has dropped five of its last 10 games, it will almost certainly be awarded a national seed (top eight) when the NCAA Tournament field is announced on Monday. As such, the Gators would host the Gainesville Regional for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
Florida will be looking to advance to the College World Series for the second straight season and 10th time in program history. The Gators, however, do not simply have a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, on their minds. UF hopes this is finally a year it can bring the baseball national title trophy home to Gainesville, Florida.