OMAHA, Neb. – All Florida freshman catcher Mike Zunino could do was kneel and wonder.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of Monday’s College World Series elimination game with Florida State, Zunino hit a line drive off Seminoles closer Mike McGee headed for the gap in left-center field.
With speedy Matt den Dekker on first base, the ball looked destined to roll to the wall, which would have tied the game up at 8-8.
But Florida State shortstop Stephen Cardullo had something to say about it.
He snared the ball a few feet above his head and flipped the ball to second baseman Devon Travis to double up freshman Austin Maddox and end the threat and Florida’s season. Florida State held on to win 8-5 for its first win over the Gators at the College World Series in front of 19,841 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I kind of leaped up, like I do on most line drives, hoping it would go over (Cardullo’s) head or a little left or right,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He (Zunino) put a good swing on it and that’s all you can ask of him. We put together a really good inning there.”
Zunino couldn’t bear to look up. He knelt halfway down the first baseline, staring at the dirt, trying to comprehend that his line-drive hit that almost saved the Florida season had just ended it. Ironically, Zunino had hit a rocket off FSU starter Brian Busch with den Dekker on first base with one out in the top of the fourth. Busch put his gloved right hand up to protect himself and snared that one and threw over to first to double up den Dekker.
Junior Josh Adams and den Dekker picked up Zunino and shared some hugs and handshakes to celebrate a season that earned the Gators the No. 3 national seed. But it was little consolation for the opportunity that was left on the table.
“Our goal was not only to get here, but to win,” sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker said. “Anything less than that is a disappointment, especially for the seniors. All we can do is try harder next year. It was new for everyone on the team, so if we can get back here next year, everyone is going to have a lot more confidence.”
Tucker’s bases-clearing double in the ninth inning pulled the score to 8-5, giving Florida some confidence. Florida State went straight to closer McGee, who promptly gave up a single to Maddox. He hit den Dekker with a pitch to load the bases for Zunino.
As good as the Gators swung the bats in the ninth inning, they did so equally as badly in the previous eight. They scored only two runs in that time, although they did have an early 1-0 lead when Maddox lined an RBI single to left in the first inning.
They scored again in the fifth inning when Jonathan Pigott drove an opposite-field home run into the front row of the bleachers in right field.
“I was awfully proud of our team and the way they battled,” O’Sullivan said.
Florida starting pitcher Hudson Randall wasn’t as sharp as he was throughout the second half of the season. He lasted only 2.2 innings, giving up four hits and four runs while striking out one batter.
He threw 70 pitches, but only 40 strikes, an uncharacteristically low number for a pitcher who has pounded the strike zone all season.
“He threw the ball pretty good, but in the third (inning), something didn’t quite look right,” O’Sullivan said. “I think he got a little overheated. He just didn’t look quite himself. He’s the type of kid that probably wouldn’t admit anything was wrong. It took him a little while to catch his breath.”
Florida State leadoff hitter Tyler Holt worked a full count to start the game and hit the seventh pitch of the at-bat off the batter’s eye in center field, easily clearing the 408-foot fence. From then on, the Seminoles’ hitters worked deep counts and had Randall’s pitch count high enough that he may not have gone five innings even if he was more effective.
The big blow came in the third inning. McGee hit a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers, giving the Seminoles a 4-1 lead after three innings. It gave Florida State all the momentum, and the Seminoles continued to tack on runs throughout the game.
McGee later dropped down a squeeze bunt to score Holt to make it 5-1. Besides recording the save on the mound – his 13th of the season – McGee ended the game 2-4 with a home run, two runs scored and four RBIs.
“He threw a first-pitch slider that I could’ve hit and I thought was my pitch,” McGee said about the home run. “He left a 1-2 slider hanging, and it was just a mistake pitch. I was sitting on a slider that whole at-bat.”
In Florida’s two games in Omaha, there weren’t many similarities to the team that wore the Orange and Blue during the season. The starting pitching combined to give up nine runs in six innings, while the Gators also committed two errors in two games.
For a young team that went on the road the last weekend of the season and won the SEC regular-season championship in Columbia, S.C., playing in front of crowds of 20,000 people at Rosenblatt certainly shouldn’t have rattled the nerves.
But the Gators will never really know if the environment at the College World Series did have an effect.
“I don’t know if it was nerves,” O’Sullivan said. “We obviously didn’t play like we have all year. We’re a much better pitching team and defensive club than this.”
The upside is the youth of the Florida team. They will lose center fielder den Dekker, right fielder Jonathan Pigott, relief pitcher Jeff Barfield and closer Kevin Chapman. The other key players are expected to return for next season, giving the Gators a good shot at returning to Omaha.
“Coaches and players alike, you get a taste and you want to go back again,” O’Sullivan said. “Anytime you come to Omaha, you learn something from this experience. There are things we all need to prepare better for if we get this opportunity again.”
Only 20 minutes after the 2010 season ended for the Gators, the sights were already being set to 2011. With a team returning so many key players, the Gators already have their sights set three miles north of Rosenblatt to TD Ameritrade Park, which is currently being built.
“We’re disappointed with the outcome, but to be a part of this tournament in the last year at Rosenblatt, that’s something that can never be taken away from these players and coaches,” O’Sullivan said. “I can tell you, we’re looking forward to hopefully breaking in the new one next year.”
COLLEGE WORLD SERIES / Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium / Omaha, Neb. / Monday, June 21, 2010 / Game 5 (elimination game)
FLORIDA STATE 8, FLORIDA 5
Florida Gators 5 (47-17)
ab r h rbi
1. Nolan Fontana, ss 4 2 2 0
2. Josh Adams, 2b 3 0 0 0
Ben McMahan, ph 1 1 0 0
3. Preston Tucker, 1b 5 0 1 3
4. Austin Maddox, dh 5 0 2 1
5. Matt den Dekker, cf 2 0 0 0
6. Mike Zunino, c 5 0 1 0
7. Daniel Pigott, lf 2 0 0 0
Tyler Thompson, ph/lf 2 0 1 0
8. Jonathan Pigott, rf 4 1 2 1
9. Cody Dent, 3b 1 0 0 0
Bryson Smith, ph 1 0 0 0
Jerico Weitzel, 3b 1 1 1 0
Hudson Randall, p - - - -
Brian Johnson, p - - - -
Anthony DeSclafani, p - - - -
Kevin Chapman, p - - - -
Greg Larson - - - -
TOTALS 36 5 10 5
Florida State Seminoles 8 (48-19)
ab r h rbi
1. Tyler Holt, cf 4 3 3 2
2. Sherman Johnson, 3b 4 1 1 0
3. Mike McGee, lf/p 4 2 2 4
4. James Ramsey, rf 5 0 1 0
5. Stephen Cardullo, ss 5 1 2 1
6. Jayce Boyd, 1b 5 1 3 1
7. Sean Gilmartin, dh 1 0 0 0
Stuart Tapley, ph/dh 1 0 1 0
Justin Gonzalez, ph 1 0 0 0
8. Devon Travis, 2b 4 0 1 0
9. Rafael Lopez, c 3 0 0 0
Brian Busch, p - - - -
Geoff Parker, p - - - -
Daniel Bennett, p - - - -
Totals 37 8 14 8
Score by innings
Florida 100 010 003 — 5 10 1
Florida State 103 100 21x — 8 14 2
E—Fontana (4), Johnson (9), Cardullo (21). DP—Florida State 2. LOB—Florida 10, Florida State 11. 2B—Tucker (17), M. McGee (15), Boyd (14). HR—Holt (13), M. McGee (14), J. Pigott (3), Cardullo (11). HBP—den Dekker 2, Tapley. SH—M. McGee (1), Tapley (4). CS—Thompson (5).
Florida ip h r er bb so era
Hudson Randall 2.2 4 4 4 2 1 3.24
Brian Johnson 3.1 6 2 2 0 3 4.03
Anthony DeSclafani 0.2 2 1 1 1 0 7.08
Kevin Chapman 1.0 2 1 1 0 1 1.65
Greg Larson 0.1 0 0 0 0 1 5.70
Florida State ip h r er bb so era
Brian Busch 5.1 2 2 2 4 3 3.94
Geoff Parker 2.1 4 0 0 0 1 4.71
Daniel Bennett 0.2 3 3 2 0 1 3.65
Mike McGee 0.2 1 0 0 0 0 1.33
Win—Brian Busch (6-2). Loss—Hudson Randall (8-4). Save—Mike McGee (13).
WP—Chapman (5). HBP—by Johnson (Tapley); by Busch (den Dekker); by M. McGee (den Dekker). Inherited runners/scored: Johnson 1/0; Chapman 2/0; Larson 1/0; Parker 2/0; Bennett 2/0; M. McGee 1/0. Pitches/strikes: Florida, Randall 73/41; Johnson 57/37; DeSclafani 15/9; Chapman 22/17; Larson 4/3. Florida State, Busch 89/46; Parker 41/28; Bennett 23/14; M. McGee 7/5.
Umpires: HP, Chris Coskey; 1B, Paul Guillie; 2B, A.J. Lostaglio; 3B, Jim Jackson. Start: 4:39 p.m. ET. Time: 3:33. Attendance: 19,841. Weather: 81 degrees, mostly sunny, win S/SW 5 miles per hour.
Randall replaced in bottom of third with 2-1 count on Jayce Boyd
Johnson faced one batter in the 7th.
NCAA DIVISION I BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
COLLEGE WORLD SERIES / Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium / Omaha, Neb. / June 19-30
Saturday, June 19
Game 1: Texas Christian 8, Florida State 1
Game 2: UCLA 11, Florida 3
Monday, June 21
Game 5: Florida State 8, Florida 5; Florida (47-17) eliminated.
Game 6: Texas Christian (52-12) vs. UCLA (49-14), in progress (ESPN2HD)
Wednesday, June 23
Game 9: Florida State (48-19) vs. Loser Game 6, 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Friday, June 25
Game 11: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 9, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Possible elimination game. If Winner Game 6 wins Game 11, it moves into Championship Series and Loser Game 11 is eliminated; if Winner Game 6 loses, teams play Saturday, June 26 at 2 p.m.
Saturday, June 26
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11, 2 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Winner to Championship Series, loser eliminated.
Sunday, June 20
Game 3: Oklahoma 4, South Carolina 3
Game 4: (1) Arizona State (52-8) vs. Clemson (43-23), ppd. because of weather delays to Monday morning at 11 a.m. ET
Monday, June 21
Game 4: Clemson 6, (1) Arizona State 3
Tuesday, June 22
Game 7: South Carolina (48-16) vs. (1) Arizona State (52-9), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Game 8: Oklahoma (49-16) vs. Clemson (44-23), 9 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Thursday, June 24
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Friday, June 25
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 9 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Possible elimination game. If Winner Game 8 wins Game 12, it moves into Championship Series and Loser Game 12 is eliminated; if Winner Game 8 loses, teams play Saturday, June 26 at 2 or 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 26
Game 13/14: Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12, 2 or 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Winner to Championship Series, loser eliminated.
CHAMPIONSHIP / Best-of-3 series
Monday, June 28
Game 1: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, 7:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 29
Game 2: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 30
Game 3: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, if necessary, 7:30 p.m. ET