All is not lost for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball just yet, but if Sunday felt familiar while watching Florida open the 2016 College World Series by suffering 2-1 loss to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, well, there’s good reason for that.
This is the Gators’ 10th CWS appearance, fifth in the last seven seasons, but Florida has never brought home a national title in baseball. That’s not breaking news, of course.
UF is far from alone with such a distinction as there are four other teams among the top 13 with the most CWS appearances in history to have never won, but with so many chances in such recent history, there’s a trend forming.
Florida and Omaha, Nebraska, simply do not get along.
Uncharacteristic defensive miscues, a complete inability to hit the ball in clutch situations and lucky breaks for their opponent all went against the Gators on Sunday as they dropped a CWS opener for the second time in their last five appearances and fall into the loser’s bracket one more defeat away from complete elimination.
That will go down Tuesday at 5 p.m. against Texas Tech, but before Florida can worry about that opponent, it has to come up with some answers.
Here’s the biggest question: Do the Gators, ranked No. 1 nationally most of the season and the favorite to win the CWS, have the bats to double their output in the Super Regional and rebound from this loss by putting enough runs on the board to win four straight games to clinch an appearance in the CWS Championship Series?
Here’s another: Now that junior right-handed pitcher Logan Shore has suffered his first loss of the season — and the first in his last 23 starts — can Florida’s highly praised pitching staff pick up the slack? That starts with redshirt junior left-hander A.J. Puk, who made a short relief appearance Sunday but will have to go out and win a game if UF wants to stay alive in this bracket. He won’t be the first called on, though, as sophomore RHP Alex Faedo will take the hill against Texas Tech.
And lastly: Are Florida’s CWS struggles merely a coincidence — perhaps a combination of late-season fatigue and MLB Draft distraction before playing against top-tier competition — or an inherent problem within the program?
The Gators last went two-and-out in 2012, but it also happened just two years earlier in 2010. They went all the way to the CWS Championship Series in 2005 and 2011 but were swept both times, going 0-4 when it mattered the most.
Look, the CWS can be fickle, and with eight teams advancing every season, no one is guaranteed anything. But those Florida teams, as talented as they were at the time, were not lauded for months on end like this one.
Going out in back-to-back games would be, by definition, a failure. Hell, failing to advance to the CWS Championship series — or at the very least the semifinals — would be, too.
“This is the year” has a common phrase around Gators baseball, but it has never been spoken more loudly and universally than in 2016.
Florida is now one loss away from it being just another year — again.