Pitching and defense are the keys to any good ballclub.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they only had one of those important attributes on Thursday.
No. 25 Florida (5-4) committed four errors — two of which led to unearned runs — in its 2-1 tournament-opening loss to Florida Gulf Coast (6-3) at McKethan Stadium.
“It was uncharacteristic and really frustrating,” catcher Braden Mattson said. “The errors and a little laziness after the errors — you boot a ball, that’s alright, but you can’t let it snowball.”
The first error seemed innocuous enough. FGCU shortstop Alex Diaz hit a ground ball to UF freshman Peter Alonso at third base. Alonso held up his end of the bargain, making a solid toss to first. But freshman A.J. Puk dropped the throw, allowing Diaz to reach safely.
Two pitches later, shortstop Jake Noll, who came into the game with a .387 batting average, laced a double down the left-field line to score Diaz.
Despite the error, Gators starting pitcher Logan Shore retained his composure. The freshman right-hander locked down the Eagles for most of the night.
Making his second career start, the Coon Rapids, Minn., native had the best outing of any Florida pitcher this season. Shore tossed six innings without giving up an earned run while striking out seven batters — a season-high for UF hurlers.
“He had two bad pitches, I thought,” Mattson said. “Some unfortunate errors in the field that led to the runs, but he pitched really well, so you can’t really put the score on him.”
He allowed six hits, but it was the two runners who got on via error who caused the damage.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s a part of the game,” Shore said. “Players are going to boot balls. It’s going to happen, and I just did my best to try to limit the damage.”
The defense’s struggles hurt Florida again in the fifth inning.
FGCU center fielder Gage Morey singled to lead off the inning, and UF center fielder Buddy Reed gave him a gift, bobbling the ball in center and allowing Morey to reach second base.
After a sacrifice bunt by Diaz moved him to third, Morey scored on a single by Noll.
While multiple players struggled in the field, shortstop Richie Martin had the toughest night.
The sophomore committed two errors during the game — his fourth and fifth this season. Martin’s performance dropped his fielding percentage from .930 to .896.
Martin, however, caught a lucky break — neither of his errors led to the Eagles tacking on any runs.
“Balls going underneath his glove,” O’Sullivan said.
Although two runs is not an impossible deficit, the Gators struggled to capitalize any time they had runners on.
Florida racked up nine hits on Thursday but struggled to get a rally going. The Gators went a measly 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“Nine hits, but none of them were strung together in any kind of way that led to runs,” Mattson said.
The Gators eventually got on the board in the bottom of the eighth, but even then, they showed the inability to drive in runs. Before UF scored the run, Florida had players on second and third with no outs for junior Taylor Gushue — UF’s most prolific power hitter. If the Gators were going to win the game, this was the opportunity to do it.
After working a 3-0 count, Gushue struck out.
The Gators tacked on one run in the inning, but the chance for a rally evaporated, taking the wind out of Florida’s sails and ending its last real chance for a win.
“Got to put the ball in play, simple as that,” O’Sullivan said.
Follow Adam Lichtenstein on Twitter @alichtenstein24
Richie Martin fields a ball during Florida’s 4-0 shutout over Maryland on Feb. 14 at McKethan Stadium.