Florida showed it can hit the ball a long way, but the Gators’ inability to do the little things Saturday ended their bid to bring home a national championship.
Virginia ended UF’s season with a 5-4 victory at the College World Series. Florida got two of its runs on a monster homer from Peter Alonso and another on a solo shot by Harrison Bader.
But the Gators couldn’t manufacture runs when given the chance and couldn’t keep Virginia from doing the same with its opportunities.
“When you look back on it, we couldn’t get a bunt down and we walk a guy when they were trying to bunt,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Those things come back to hurt you. To be honest with you, we just didn’t play the cleanest game.”
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Florida had forced a second Bracket One championship game with a 10-5 win Friday. The Gators twice took one-run leads before Virginia got a two-run double from Kenny Towns to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning.
After Florida tied the score in the sixth, the Cavaliers pushed across the winning run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Towns. The only hit in the inning came when Ernie Clement led off with a single.
A walk moved Clement to second, and both runners advanced on a sacrifice. O’Sullivan elected to intentionally walk Matt Thaiss, who had homered in the first, to face Towns.
Towns responded with a long drive to right field for the game-deciding sacrifice fly. Josh Sborz then finished off four innings of sterling relief by retiring six of the final seven batters he faced to put Virginia back into the best-of-3 championship series.
Florida heads home with a 52-18 record.
“It stinks to lose,” Alfonso said. “We have to use this feeling to hopefully come back next year and win a national championship.”
That could happen, O’Sullivan said, with the team the Gators will return. Still, the sting of seeing this season end will take awhile to get over.
“We’ve had a tremendous year and did a lot of things to be proud of,” O’Sullivan said. “But the end of the season is always so abrupt. There is only one team standing at the end of the year, and I’m not going to lie to you.
“If we would have had a chance to play in the final round, I liked our chances. [Saturday] just didn’t work out for us.”
O’Sullivan decided Saturday to start Dane Dunning, who has pitched just one inning since May20, instead of nine-game winner A.J. Puk.
After getting two quick outs, Dunning left a pitch up and Thaiss made him pay, launching a drive into the right-field bleachers that put Virginia ahead 1-0.
The Gators countered quickly against Brandon Waddell, who had shut down Florida’s offense in a 1-0, second-round victory. Waddell walked JJ Schwarz to open the inning and then gave up Alonso’s second homer of the CWS and fifth of the season.
Alonso’s first homer in Omaha came in Wednesday’s 10-2 rout of Miami and traveled an estimated 421 feet, making it the longest homer hit in the five-year history of the stadium. His blast off Waddell, which cleared the center-field wall just to the right of the 408-foot sign, was estimated to have traveled 429 feet, making him the owner of the two longest homers in stadium history.
Bader’s homer, also his second of the CWS, put Florida ahead 3-2 in the fifth.