OMAHA, Neb. — It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Not for the preseason favorite and top-ranked team in the country. Not for the team that shrugged off expectations and captured the regular season and tournament title in the nation’s toughest conference.
But it did.
Florida’s season bitterly ended Tuesday night, as reigning national champion South Carolina successfully defended its title and swept the Gators (53-19) 5-2 in Game 2 of the College World Series Finals.
"They earned this one. They were a little bit better than us in all phases," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of the Gamecocks, who beat Florida in four of their five meetings this season. "It's nice to make steps but the idea is to win this thing. Our goal year in and year out is to win championships."
After closing out historic Rosenblatt Stadium with a championship, the Gamecocks (55-14) opened beautiful TD Ameritrade Park with another, winning a NCAA record 16 straight tournament games in the process.
In two tries, the Gators are now 0-4 in the CWS Finals, also getting swept by Texas in 2005.
Although Florida won a school-record 53 games this season, numbers 54 and 55 exasperatingly eluded them.
In a series full of plays decided by inches, the Gators continuously fell short.
"We just didn't do enough. They just did a little bit more,” O’Sullivan said.
After struggling to score in Monday’s frenzied loss, the Gators bats were flummoxed again, this time by USC left-hander Michael Roth (14-3, 1.06 ERA).
South Carolina’s ace, pitching on three-days rest, tossed 7.2 sharp innings allowing two runs on an astounding 127 pitches.
UF flamethrower Karsten Whitson was rolling for the first two innings before unraveling in the third when South Carolina put up a three spot.
USC shortstop Peter Mooney led off the inning with an opposite field double, as Florida’s freshman All-American suddenly lost his command.
Following a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Monday’s hero and CWS Most Outstanding Player, Scott Wingo, knocked a sacrifice fly to center. After another walk, UF shortstop Nolan Fontana booted a routine high chopper, allowing a second run to score. The Gamecocks plated their third run on an infield squibbler by designated hitter Brady Thomas.
In the sixth, Mooney, whose brother Mike played for the Gators in 2009, smoked a solo homer into the right field bullpen.
Whitson (8-1, 2.40 ERA) pitched 4.2 innings but never looked comfortable after the first two frames, hitting three batters on the night — matching his season’s total coming into the game — and losing the first game in his career.
The Gators got on the board in the fourth when Mike Zunino cranked his 19th homer to lead off the inning.
But UF could never put it all together offensively, failing to get the timely hit.
"We made great strides this year," Zunino said. "But you're always going to have that hollow feeling if you don't win. It's an empty feeling.”
All season, Florida’s kryptonite has been crafty southpaws, and Tuesday night was no exception.
UF left-handed batters went 0-10 against the soft-tossing Roth, who moved his CWS ERA to 1.17 in 38 career innings.
The Gators stranded a pair of runners in the first when Preston Tucker and Josh Adams hit lazy flyouts to center field.
In the fifth, Florida had two on and no outs but nine-hole hitter Cody Dent botched the bunt attempt, fouling out on a third-strike effort. Two pitches later, Bryson Smith rolled into a routine 4-6-3 double play.
The Gators wasted two more scoring opportunites in the sixth and seventh. For the series, the Gators were just 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position with a pair of RBIs.
In the eighth, Zunino doubled — the SEC Player of the Year went 4 for 4 with two walks after going 2 for 15 to open the CWS — and later scored on Adams’ two-out RBI single. Tyler Thompson then pinch hit for Pigott and just missed a double down the left field line before USC closer Matt Price struck him out looking to end the frame. Price recorded his 20th save of the season to preserve the title.
"We stuck with our approach, but that's the game of baseball," Adams said. "Some days you can come out on top but others days you look like a fool. All you can do is say 'what if.'"