It must have been a stunning result for the few Gator fans who were remaining at McKethan Stadium on Wednesday night. Walk-on infielder Jandy Rosabal hit a harmless infield pop fly which was snagged by Steven Wiggens, and just like that Florida dropped a 17-5 decision at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast University.
In the aftermath of one of the worst pitching performances by the Gators this decade, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan seemed less disappointed in the result, than in the fact that several of his young pitchers didn’t respond the the challenge presented them.
“Yeah, you know…it was one of those games where we knew going in that we weren’t going to use the guys we have been going to a bunch,” O’Sullivan said. “We needed to get a good start out of Poovey and Chapman, they haven’t thrown very much. They needed to get us deeper into the game, and they didn’t.”
The Gators (34-15) hadn’t given up as many runs in a game since losing at home to Stetson, 21-17 on April 11, 2001.
The turning point in the game can be pinned on a missed double play opportunity in the top of the third where Florida Gulf Coast designated hitter Brad Roberts hit a one-out grounder to Florida second baseman Josh Adams. While left fielder Joe Guarnaccia was forced out at second, Roberts managed to beat out the throw to first. Second baseman Mikel Alvarez would walk, followed by a Tim Roberson grand slam (his 18th homer of the year), and FGCU was on its way. Roberson and teammate Zach Maxfield went a combined 6-of-12 with 2 home runs (Maxwell hit a 3-run homer in the seventh, his 16th roundtripper of the season) and nine RBI.
The Eagles (31-16) had 20 hits while the Gators had just nine, three of them from freshman Jerico Weitzel. Preston Tucker and Mike Mooney had two hits each.
Florida wasn’t entirely without life, however. After the Gulf Coast lead swelled to nine runs following the top of the fifth inning, the Gators responded, putting up five runs in the bottom of the fifth. The big run by the Gators was reminiscent of come-from-behind wins earlier this season against Alabama and Georgia, and O’Sullivan remarked after the game that he believed his team had a chance to put the Eagles away after the big fifth inning. However, it was not to be.
“I thought we had a chance to come back,” O’Sullivan said. “Even though (FGCU scored) just one run in the sixth, we lost momentum. We just couldn’t stop them from scoring.”
However, that was the theme of the night. In an effort to rest a tired staff, O’Sullivan went to a few of his younger pitchers to see what they had. Clearly, he was less than pleased with the results.
“Those pitchers [Poovey and Chapman] knew what was in store for them,” O’Sullivan said. “This is somewhat of an audition to see who we’re going to take this weekend. To see who we’re going to take for [the] postseason. It’s not like they have to go out there and pitch nine shutout innings. I’m just looking for some glimpses of success so we can figure this thing out. We just didn’t do very well on the mound tonight. It’s as simple as that”
To O’Sullivan, this wasn’t as much a loss as it was a lost opportunity for a couple of his younger pitchers to step up. “I’m trying to figure out the last spot or two on that 25-man (roster) for the postseason. I’m just trying to give guys opportunities, and unfortunately I didn’t come out of this game with a whole lot of answers.”
However, O’Sullivan was also quick to praise the efforts of Florida Gulf Coast, which is in the last year of its transition from a Division II to a Division I program. “They’ve got a good club,” the Gators coach said. “They threw some pitchers out there who haven’t thrown very much, and they did a better job than our guys. I think you have to give those guys all the credit in the world.”
But for now, the focus is being placed entirely on this weekend’s SEC showdown between No. 9 Florida (16-8 in the SEC East with a two-game lead over Georgia) and No. 3 Louisiana State (16-8 in the SEC West with Mississippi) in Baton Rouge. It’s a series that could propel Florida to a huge postseason if the Gators can steal a game or two in Louisiana this weekend. O’Sullivan knows it will be no easy task heading into the Tigers’ lair.
“It’s a tough place to go,” he said. “We’re going on the road to LSU, and in some polls they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the country. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m disappointed in the loss, but I don’t want this leaking into Friday.”
Clearly the priority was on trying to develop younger players and see who is (and isn’t) ready for the postseason. While the results were disappointing, there is still a huge series to be played. O’Sullivan hardly seems worried by the response of his team in light of an ugly Wednesday loss. “We’ve got older players on this team,” he said. “They know how important this weekend is. I’m not going to have to tell them a whole lot. I just want them to play loosey-goosey like they have. We’ve been playing with a lot of confidence. This is one game. It is what it is, but it’s certainly disappointing.”
Florida is expected to start senior Stephen Locke (3-0, 3.69 ERA), who celebrated his 23rd birthday Wednesday, for game one in Baton Rouge at 8 p.m. EST on Friday. Locke will look to rebound from his last start where he gave up eight runs in a Friday appearance against Georgia that the Gators won on Saturday, 10-9, in 11 innings.