Fans scattered around Florida Ballpark sat in anticipation Sunday afternoon, awaiting the start of this weekend’s rubber match against Miami.
But as the first eight runs crossed the plate, the cheers came only from Miami’s dugout.
Florida fell behind early in the last game of its series against Miami and faced unexpected pitching blunders, which head coach Kevin O’Sullivan blames for the Gators’ struggles the entire weekend.
“The offense did the job, but the bottom line is the pitching did not,” O’Sullivan said.
Left-handed pitcher Hunter Barco kicked things off with a ball to the back of Miami outfielder Jordan Lala. This snowballed into a three-run first inning before the Gators even grabbed their bats.
The next couple of innings told a similar story.
Shortstop Josh Rivera’s error granted one run in the second inning for the Hurricanes. Miami’s Raymond Gil sailed a ball over the left-center wall for a solo shot in the third.
In the top of the fourth inning, Barco gave up another run before his afternoon came to an end. Freshman right-hander Hunter Mink then took over for the Gators, but Miami still knocked in two more runs before another three-run inning came to an end.
The Gators struggled offensively early on, a contrast from the pattern established earlier in the weekend.
In the first inning, Jacob Young’s double extended his hit streak to 632 days. However, three consecutive strikeouts followed, and Young was left stranded. In the bottom of the third, two runners managed to get on base, but neither crossed home plate.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth inning that Gator fans had something to cheer about. Florida delivered three consecutive singles, which finally put a run on the board. However, even with the bases loaded and just one out, the Gators failed to cut farther into the deficit.
Then, the momentum seemed to flip in the fifth inning when the Gators started to climb back.
A couple of Miami fielding blunders and a single from Jordan Butler scored one for Florida. Still down by six runs, something clicked for the Florida offense.
The Gators earned back two more in the sixth after a pair of Young and catcher Mac Guscette singles, a walk and a balk.
The Gators inched even closer in the seventh. Rivera beat out an infield single to open the inning and scored moments later off a Sterlin Thompson double to left-center. With two outs, a hard-hit line drive off the second baseman’s glove sent Thompson home and cut Miami’s lead to just two runs.
That’s where the comeback ended.
While the defense blanked the Hurricanes, the Gators couldn’t make up the difference at the plate. The Hurricanes took game three — and the series — with a final score of 8-6.
As the unanimous preseason No. 1 team, no one, including O’Sullivan, expected Florida to fall two games to one against No. 11 Miami.
“I guess the best word to describe it was unexpected,” O’Sullivan said. “There’s no excuses, we’ve just got to get better.”
Florida will look to bounce back against North Florida in Jacksonville Tuesday.
Contact Sara Kate Dyson at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @sarakatedyson