By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- For 65 games this season, the Florida Gators were one of the nation's premier teams. Head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was at the helm of the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, a squad that breezed to a 5-0 regional record en route to a third straight trip to the College World Series.
This was supposed to be Florida's year.
Just two games later, the Gator's magical run is over.
In a game filled with missed opportunities and ill-timed mistakes, UF fell 5-4 to upstart Kent State on Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park. Florida's last turn at bat was a microcosm of their entire evening, as they loaded the bases with one out yet failed to score the game tying run. Instead of trying to fight their way back to the winner’s bracket, the unlikely eliminated Gators are headed back to Gainesville.
For the third straight year, they'll leave Omaha empty handed.
Florida becomes the second top-seeded team in College World Series history to head home after just two games, joining Arizona State in 2010. At first glance, this might seem like a major letdown for this program and their fans, seeing as how the Gators made light work of their earlier NCAA opponents.
But, the Gators early exit is rather easy to explain. If you follow baseball, especially in the postseason, you know that anything can happen. Baseball is a game of endurance, where the best teams prove their worth over the course of several months in a season. However, that all goes out the window during playoff time, or in this case the NCAA Tournament. The marathon schedule that gets teams to Omaha is condensed into a four-team tournament, as you either advance or lose twice and call it a year.
Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who was featured in the popular book and movie "Moneyball", had a famous saying about his teams and the playoffs. While Beane used more colorful language to describe his thoughts, the PG-13 version still gets the point across. Allow me to present the edited version (Google "Billy Beane Playoff Quote" if you are feeling brave).
“My stuff doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is luck.”
Beane's philosophical idea of the "crapshoot" nature of playoff baseball revolved around the small sample size each team participates in. While the major league season spans 162 games, the postseason consists of far less, making each team more susceptible to variables or luck, as he called it.
This can apply to college baseball as well, because the stakes are raised that much higher with the way the NCAA sets up their bracket schedule. Think about it. Florida played 59 games going into the NCAA Tournament, giving them a complete body of work to be judged upon. They competed in 10 SEC series (three games per series), and 14 three-game sets overall. At no time in the regular season, other than the SEC Tournament, did their entire 2012 campaign hinge on two games.
In Florida's case, it came down to matchups. Although they were the top seed of the eight that made the College World Series, they were placed in arguably the more difficult bracket. Among the four teams Florida had to compete against, they found two of their SEC brethren, as Arkansas and South Carolina were listed in that end of the group. Instead of the Gators squaring off against underdog Stony Brook had they been in the other bracket, they instead had to take on two-time defending champion South Carolina to start the tournament.
Talk about a bad draw. The Gamecocks have now won 22 straight NCAA games, including defeating Florida in last year's CWS Championship Series. UF's "luck" in having to face the current defending champion first put them on the spot early, adding more difficulty to an already challenging task. As we know, Florida lost, putting the Gators in the losers' bracket just one game into their trip to Omaha.
Okay, that's one game you say. Surely they'll bounce back against Kent State.
Any former baseball player can tell you that one game is random, and you can essentially flip a coin to decide the winner. Who will get the breaks? Will someone get hurt? Will your offense hit balls right at the defense? There is no tangible way to answer these questions. In Florida's case today, all of those variables went against them.
UF's starting pitcher Hudson Randall, easily regarded as one of the SEC's best, got sick only one inning into his outing. Florida, a home run hitting team, had to play in a driving wind, making homeruns almost impossible to hit. Balls that have left the park all year for them were caught, neutralizing a key part of UF's attack. Key pitch calls, including a near game-tying walk in the 9th, didn't go their way.
One game...bad luck...season over.
Again, college baseball is unique in this type of randomness. College baseball plays double the amount of games then men's basketball does, and six times more than football does. Football is used to one game meaning everything, and basketball play single contests all year long. Baseball is played by series, and at no point is it ever a sudden-death style format.
Yet, that is how a National Champion is crowned. The Gators knew that, and despite a memorable five months of winning...it is all over.
In two days.
Only college baseball can be so cruel.