The LSU road trip served as a BRUTAL ending to what has been a historic regular season for the No. 1 Florida Gators (44-11, 19-10 SEC).
Narrowly avoiding getting swept for the first time this year, Florida dropped the first two games of the series before salvaging the regular season finale today. With their third series loss of the year, Florida's shot at an SEC East title vanished as No. 10 South Carolina (42-13, 20-9 SEC) swept Alabama (31-24, 15-15 SEC) in Tuscaloosa.
Nothing came easy for Florida this weekend. Starting with Game 1 on Thursday, it was supposed to a battle of the aces as Florida's Logan Shore (10-0, 2.33 ERA) faced LSU's Alex Lange (7-3, 3.63 ERA). What we got instead was rain, and a lot of it.
Shore was only able to throw 35 pitches in 2.1 innings before a heavy thunderstorm suspended play for the night. When this game did resume at noon on Saturday, Shore and Lange were obviously not back on the mound. In a game of bullpen's, Florida's faltered as LSU tattooed freshman Brady Singer for six runs on six hits.
With a commanding lead, LSU's reliever combo of Riley Smith and Parker Bugg kept the Florida lineup at bay. Smith would allow all three of Florida's runs in his three innings of work while Bugg retired all nine batters he faced in his three innings.
The only offensive standouts for the Gators were JJ Schwarz and Nelson Maldonado. Both went 2-4 and JJ scored two of Florida's runs. It's also worth mentioning that Dalton Guthrie strung together some good at-bats, as he went 1-2 with a pair of walks.
Florida again was hit with starting pitcher trouble with big lefty A.J. Puk (2-3, 2.93 ERA). Just two innings into the game, Puk somehow got sick and could not continue. So once again, it became a bullpen game and once again the bullpen had a rough day.
Dane Dunning, who has been incredible all year, entered in Puk's place and got hit around. He allowed three runs on seven hits but was let off the hook due to a resilient effort from the Gator lineup.
After overcoming a three-run deficit late in the game, Florida headed into the bottom of the eighth inning tied at four a piece with LSU. It is here where the tide shifted. Nick Horvath, who had not pitched in over a month, entered the game and allowed two runners to reach base. The lead runner was not Horvath's fault, he reached on an error. The second guy, however, singled.
Seeing trouble brewing, Sully pulled Horvath and put in reliable closer Shaun Anderson. To simply put it, LSU got a timely hit. With two outs, Kramer Robertson singled in the go-ahead run. It was his ONLY hit of the night.
Horvath would be tagged with his first collegiate loss, but it's hard to find him at fault when he's been playing more of the field nowadays as opposed to solely pitching. What's even more upsetting than LSU figuring out the bullpen has to be that this is the FIFTH STRAIGHT AJ Puk start that has ended in a Gator loss.
It's incredible for me to think that the potential No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft has been a part of seven of Florida's 11 losses! This is also the sixth time that Puk has failed to go more than five innings in an outing.
Looking to the offensive side, there were many positive takeaways from this game.
Dalton Guthrie continued to see the ball well as he went 3-5 out of the leadoff spot. Behind him, Jonathan India went 2-5 with a run scored and his 10th stolen base of the season.
Near the middle of the lineup, Nelson Maldonado continued to plate runners as he drove in a pair and swiped his fifth bag of the season. Behind Nelly, Mike Rivera continued to terrorize LSU with the long ball as he launched his ninth home run of the season. It would be Rivera's only hit of the series.
In retrospect, it was neither the pitching or lack of hitting that cost Florida this one. It was the defense. The Gators had probably their worst defensive game of the season as the nation's best fielding team committed an uncharacteristic three errors!
Jonathan India was responsible for two of them while Jeremy Vasquez made one. Committing errors against teams like LSU, especially on the road, makes a difficult task of winning nearly impossible.
With the threat of a sweep looming, the Gators called on Alex Faedo (11-1, 3.58 ERA) to end the two-game skid.
The sophomore delivered. Notching his SEC-leading 11th victory, Faedo tossed 5.1 innings and allowed two earned runs on seven hits. He struck out three, walked two, and hit a batter.
After Faedo's departure, Shaun Anderson entered and earned a five-out save. Don't be mistaken, you read that correctly. Due to NCAA rules regarding the makeup game played at noon, Game 3 was limited to seven innings.
This could not have been more to the Gators' advantage as Faedo always chews up innings and Anderson had thrown just 10 pitches in the prior game.
Offensively, some familiar names dominated the stat ledger.
Dalton Guthrie went 1-3 with a run scored as he concluded the weekend with a hit in every game and a .500 average (5-10). Still swinging a hot bat, Jonathan India had a monster day as he went 1-3 with a double, three RBI's, a run scored, and his 11th stolen base of the season.
JJ Schwarz returned to his Game 1 form as he went 1-3 with a double, drove in a pair of runs, and scored once. Batting a couple spots below Schwarz and right after one another, freshmen Nelson Maldonado and Deacon Liput both ended the regular season on offensive high notes.
Like Guthrie, Nelly notched a hit in every game as he went 1-3 in the series finale. This time around, he had no RBI's. Deacon Liput, however, did. Snapping his 0-6 mark against LSU, Liput went 2-3 with an RBI double.
It's tough to see the Florida Gators squander their chance at an SEC East title in the last week of the regular season, but honestly it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of it all.
Florida finished as the fourth overall best team in the SEC, which still gives them a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. Frankly, I won't mind it at all if the Gators don't defend their SEC crown. Their ultimate goal is getting to Omaha and winning once they get there.
I tip my hat off to the LSU Tigers (39-17, 19-11 SEC), it takes one heck of a team to beat a squad with as much depth and talent as the Gators. It also helped that two of their three starters didn't go deep into their games due to either weather or sickness.
Regardless, this series loss was a good thing for Florida. It should help the team refocus as postseason play starts to swing into action. Enough of my analysis though, let's get into the schedule.
The SEC Tournament starts Tuesday and Florida is scheduled to play Wednesday at 9 p.m. Their opponent will be either LSU or Tennessee (29-27, 9-21 SEC). Needless to say, I would love for the Gators to get another shot at the Tigers with Logan Shore getting a chance to actually work past the third inning.
Florida is also at an advantage because LSU might exhaust their ace pitcher Alex Lange in Tuesday's game against the Vols. The Tiger rotation does have some depth to it though, so head coach Paul Mainieri may not have to necessarily use his ace.
Florida should keep one final thing in mind as the team rests on Sunday and prepares to head out to Hoover, Alabama, on Monday. 44-11 means nothing now. Their record might as well be 0-0.
Despite what happens in the SEC Tournament, the Gators need to be firing on all cylinders entering June. If this team can catch fire and all three dimensions of pitching, hitting, and fielding are working in harmony, then this team will win a National Championship.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
Post a Comment
Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.