It appears to be difficult for some to say these words but considering they are neither profane nor mendacious, they will be published right here: Florida baseball failed.
It really is as simple as that.
“Failure” is not a dirty word or an insult to effort. It is a factual result.
When someone or something does not meet a set objective – in the Gators’ case that was bringing home the program’s first national championship (read: title or bust) – they failed in their mission. That’s what happened on Monday – whether you like it or not.
“Failure” a word you use to describe a circumstance such as when the most talented and consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country for the preseason, much of the regular season and heading into the postseason not only gets swept out of the College World Series in two games but also falls short of capturing either their conference regular season or tournament crowns in the same year.
It is how you characterize a season that was supposed to change the shape of the program forever (making national titles an expectation, not an aspiration) but instead provided yet another depressing memory on the sport’s biggest stage.
Florida’s junior class has done a lot of great things for the program, but it did not transform it. UF had advanced to the CWS and lost on numerous occasions before they ever committed to the team. Their challenge was to win the program’s first national championship. That’s not a challenge conquered, it is one that remains unobtained.
None of this is to say the Gators did not have a nice season but since when is success determined in Gainesville, FL by anything other than conference and national titles?
Florida won 47 games this year, swept Florida State and Miami, and was dominant both through their first 21 games (20-1) as well as in Gainesville Regional and Super Regional action (5-0) to earn a spot in the CWS.
But UF also concluded the regular season on a 20-15 stretch, lost the SEC Tournament by imploding in the ninth inning (giving up five runs with a 4-3 lead against Vanderbilt) and had the rug pulled out from under them in their first two CWS games.
Gators fans have seen other teams fail at the mountaintop this athletic season. Florida gymnastics came within 0.075 points of a national title and lacrosse came within two stick checks of one as well. That’s what happens sometimes. One team wins; the rest lose. One succeeds; the rest fail. There are no participation medals at this level.
UF baseball never got the chance to suffer a heartbreaking loss like those two programs. South Carolina owned them in the CWS opener Saturday, and Kent State capitalized on every single opportunity that was presented to them on Monday.
Question head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s decisions over the two games all you want. Would the Gators have maintained their lead against South Carolina if he pulled junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson before he imploded in the fifth inning on Saturday? If he left Johnson in to bat in the top of the ninth with two on and no one out on Monday, would he have hit into a double play or tied/won the game for Florida? What if he went with his ace all season long, junior righty Hudson Randall, in the opening contest – a 9 p.m. night game that he would not have left early due to heat-related symptoms?
Decisions have to be made in sports – in the dugout, on the bench, on the field and on the court. You never know if they’re right or wrong until after you make them and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind.
Give this team credit though: The Gators fought hard until the final pitch of the game.
Florida had their opportunities to save their season on Monday. The Gators had six of nine lead-off hitters get on base including three-straight to end the game but struggled mightily both with runners on the bags and those in scoring position.
UF committed early errors, lost their starter due to a health issue and saw his replacement give up eight hits and throw two wild pitches, the latter of which scored what wound up being the game-deciding run in the fourth inning. Yet Florida’s bullpen was stellar down the stretch and gave the Gators a chance to get back in the game.
Florida was also dealt their share of bad luck in addition to the aforementioned issue with Randall. UF may have been the top-ranked team, but they also found themselves in the toughest bracket and opened the CWS against the two-time defending national champions. The Gators saw home runs fall as fly outs, line drives get caught by diving Golden Flashes and obvious balls get called as strikes at home plate.
But that’s how it goes. Them’s the breaks
Sometimes the ball rockets out of the park; sometimes the wind forces it back a foot. Sometimes the umpire sees a call as clear as day; sometimes you wonder if he’s watching another game entirely. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.
Sometimes you succeed; sometimes you fail.
That’s how baseball works.
That’s how sports goes.