Joe: Rewind to January 1, 2012. The ball has dropped in New York City, and I’m drinking champagne out of a plastic wine glass. A fortune teller — decked out in purple robes with a crystal ball — saunters over and tells me the Gators will win three national championships in the first six months of the year and that John Carter would be the box-office bust of 2012.
First, as the world’s biggest Andrew Stanton fanboy, I would weep bitterly. Right after that, I would have traveled to Las Vegas and bet every dime in my pocket that Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad would win the 2012 College World Series. Fast-forward six months, and I’m glad my little anecdote is just a hypothetical.
In easily the most disappointing development in UF sports this season, the top-ranked Gators baseball team was two-and-out in Omaha. Florida was the second team eliminated from the CWS this year despite losing just two starters and boasting an overachieving freshman class. After three straight fruitless trips to Omaha, the biggest championship window in UF baseball history slammed shut with a resounding thud Monday.
Corey: Alright, the baseball team flat out sucked in the CWS this year, but to say it was the most disappointing result this season — queue Chris Carter — “C’mon, man!” I know it’s hard to remember that one weekend back in May, but it took four games for the fifth-seeded Gators softball team to be eliminated from the postseason.
Not only did they fail to advance to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in five years, but they couldn’t even win their NCAA Regional, a feat not seen in Gainesville since Chris Leak was walking around campus. In the regional, consisting entirely of Sunshine State foes — teams Florida has dominated over the past decade — Tim Walton’s squad became the first Top-10 national seed eliminated from the tournament.
To say the baseball team was the biggest disappointment this season, we would have to overlook the softball team. And even Disney has to recognize John Carter bombed.
Joe: Everybody knew John Carter would be a bust just like they knew that even at full strength, this season’s Gators softball squad was not competing for a national championship. Granted, Florida fell to Arizona State in the WCWS finals in 2011, but that was a different team.
Only five players from the Gators’ starting lineup against the Sun Devils last June returned this year. And in the NCAA Regional, the five returners were hampered. Cheyenne Coyle had already left the team, and Brittany Schutte had just returned to the lineup after recovering from a broken jaw.
The baseball team was deep and reasonably healthy after five months of play. Sloppiness in the field and untimely hitting sunk the baseball team. Inexperience and a lack of depth hurt the softball team. Each squad’s demise was disappointing, but the men got their butts kicked in embarrassing fashion.
Corey: So losing in an NCAA Regional that you hosted isn’t embarrasing? And oh yeah, they were the No. 5 national seed — that number is less than the amount of UF Alerts I got yesterday, but I digress.
The rosters between this year’s and last year’s softball teams may be different, but the numbers aren’t. Both owned 21-7 SEC records, with last year’s squad putting up a slightly higher overall winning percentage heading into the postseason, 84 percent compared to 81 percent.
Hitting was down this season, but defense improved, offering the same fielding percentage as last year (.974) and showing significant improvement in opponent’s batting average (.208 to .196) and team ERA (2.16 to 1.44).
Now let’s look at the baseball team. Sure they were the top-ranked team in the NCAA Tournament, and should still be competing, but who did they lose to? Kent State would be a fluke if you consider a team that knocked out three Top-15 squads on its way to the CWS a joke.
Either way, it happens in baseball, especially in a one-game situation. South Carolina was the eighth national seed, working off of a 21-game win streak in the tournament and two straight national championships. At least O’Sullivan took his team to the CWS to lose to quality opponents. The softball team, however, lost their first game of the postseason to Florida Gulf Coast, found a way to make it to the regional final and then put up a goose egg against USF. Great things weren’t expected of John Carter, but neither was losing $200 million.
Joe: I think this debate boils down to the big picture. Softball returns the majority of its roster next season, and each player will have gained valuable experience and learned from this season’s early playoff exit.
Baseball will contend for a fourth straight trip to Omaha next season, but the road will be much tougher. The Gators had nine players drafted, including All-Americans Mike Zunino, Preston Tucker and Brian Johnson. The national championship window for Florida baseball has closed for the time being barring an Oh-Fours-type run.
The softball team has a deep pitching staff with Hannah Rogers, Lauren Haeger and Alyssa Bache. They will be just fine moving forward. In fact, coach Tim Walton’s squad should generate quite a bit of preseason buzz next season. Also, John Carter wasn’t that bad — a quality Redbox rental.
Corey: Softball’s lone senior departure this season is Michelle Moultrie, who led the team in a modest eight categories — batting average (.386), total bases (116) and on-base percentage (.489) to name a few. That in itself is a big hit for the team.
But just before the NCAA Regional, three players were suspended because of an alleged altercation and ultimately “they won’t play there anymore.” Kasey Fagan and Cheyenne Coyle, both two-year starters, brought a lot of experience to the team. And 2011 Gatorade Florida Softball Player of the Year, Sami Fagan, will not have the chance to follow up a solid season, in which she was second on the team with a .378 hitting clip.
That’s four bats gone from next year’s lineup. Pitching might be alright in the future, but a lot of talent will be missed regardless. In other words, the sequel gives us nothing to look forward to, much to the dismay of John Carter fans.
Contact Joe Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org and Corey McCall at email@example.com.