HOOVER, Ala. — Jonathan Ducoff had already given the Aggies a lead in the bottom of the eighth inning so when he walked up in the 10th inning he was ready to just end it. Ducoff turned around an 0-2 fastball and lined it into left center field to score, Cam Blake and walk the Aggies off with an 8-7 win.
The Gators would have almost assuredly made the NCAA Tournament with a win. Florida has never missed the NCAA Tournament with Kevin O’Sullivan as head coach. Now they will have to wait and hope for a chance when the NCAA Selection Show airs on Monday, May 27.
O’Sullivan made the decision to start Tommy Mace even though Mace had thrown more than 100 pitches the Thursday before a game. While college pitchers typically go a full week between starts, Mace took the hill today on just four days rest. It was something Mace wanted.
“When we were in Missouri on Friday I asked Sully. I was like, should I throw a bullpen, what should I do? We never really talked about it. I never asked, I think I just assumed,” Mace said. “I want the ball, so what do I do (Friday). There was no conversation or back-and-forth. I assumed it and he gave it to me.”
The starting pitchers dominated early. Aggie starter Asa Lacy struck out the side with a single sandwiched in the middle in the first. Mace struck out two of his own during his frame. Lacy would strike out seven in the first four innings and he retired 12 batters in a row after Austin Langworthy’s one-out single in the very first frame.
Mace hummed along the first two innings but found trouble in the third. Ty Coleman and Braden Shewmake singled to start the inning. Bryce Blaum sacrificed the pair over a base each with a bunt before the Gators elected to intentionally walk the bases loaded. Two singles and a wild pitch gave Texas A&M a 3-0 lead before Mace navigated his way out of the inning.
The Gators stormed back. Brady McConnell singled home two runs to dip into the lead in the fifth inning. Florida would tie the game in the sixth inning with a bases loaded walk.
Brady Smith reached on an error to start the eighth inning. Wil Dalton tripled down the right field line to plate Smith and give the Gators its first lead of the game. Kendrick Calilao scored Dalton with a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 5-3.
Then, as has been the story all season long, the Gators’ bullpen blew it.
Christian Scott, who replaced Mace in the seventh inning, quickly earned the first two outs of the game. Mikey Hoehner jumped on a first pitch fastball, launching a solo home run into the left field bullpen to make it 5-4. Scott worked ahead into a 1-2 count but surrendered a single to Will Frizzell and O’Sullivan went to the bullpen. Sophomore Jordan Butler did not fare well, giving up a three-run home run to Ducoff.
“It’s easy to second guess but that’s kind of been our whole year,” O’Sullivan said. “We score then we go out and give it back. If you think about it we give up a solo home run and we get to a 1-2 count on Frizzle and next thing you know we let him back in the count. He forces you to see a lot of pitches and then gets a base hit up the middle. The same thing happens with the next hitter. One pitch and the next guy runs into it. So we give up three runs just trying to get one out.”
Florida came back to score two in the ninth inning to tie the game and force extra innings but it wasn’t enough.
The Gators’ loss ends their SEC Tournament. They will now have to wait to see if the NCAA selection committee makes them one of the last teams to make the tournament.
“With some time off I like our club,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s for the committee to decide. I’m not going to decide or even put my two cents in there. At the end of the day I like our team.”