By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
The Virginia Cavaliers shut down and shut out No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (50-17) on Monday in the second round of the 2015 College World Series, ending UF’s 10-game winning streak and handing it a loss (1-0) for the first time in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Runs were hard to come by for both the Gators and Cavaliers late Monday in a game that did not start until 10:09 p.m. ET. Sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (5.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 BB, 5 K) allowed only one hit through his first five innings but ran into trouble in the sixth, giving up three straight singles to load the bases. Junior right-hand pitcher Taylor Lewis (1.1 IP, H, 2 BB) forced a fly out that resulted in a sacrifice run, the game’s only score, to cross the plate.
Virginia LHP Brandon Waddell worked Florida, retiring 12 straight batters while holding the Gators to only two hits into the eighth inning. The Gators had runners at the corners with no outs in that frame but saw RHP Josh Sborz (2.0 IP) work his way out of the jam.
Florida, which accumulated 98 runs over its 10-game win streak, went a combined 2-for-31 at the plate. The Gators’ 1-5 hitters combined to go 0-for-17 with two walks.
Here are three takeaways from the UF’s excruciating loss:
1. Flamethrower outdueled: Only one run allowed in five-plus innings from Puk is normally enough to get the Gators a win, but Waddell outdueled him Monday. Florida made solid contact at times but was kept off the base paths most of the night.
2. Coming up short at the top: The Gators had their best chance to tie or go ahead in the top of the eighth inning with runners on first and third, nobody out. The top of the order for Florida was unable to hit a ball out of the infield and bring home a run. The hitters with the most at-bats will need to be more productive if UF is going to turn things around and get something done out of the loser’s bracket.
3. Familiar territory: Florida is no stranger to win-or-go-home games as the Gators won four elimination games in as many days to fight their way out of the loser’s bracket and claim the 2015 SEC Tournament Championship. UF has the bullpen depth and enough pitchers with the necessary starting experience to win three straight and get to the CWS Championship Series. Of course, all of that is predicated on whether the bats can get going again.
Up next: Florida and Miami will square off in a CWS elimination game on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The Gators are 3-1 against the Canes this season with UF earning a 15-3 win over UM on Saturday. Florida has never advanced to the CWS Championship Series from the loser’s bracket and has not even won a single game in the CWS loser’s bracket since 1996.