Florida’s season didn’t end at the College World Series.
This year, the Gators baseball team lost 9-8 in an elimination game against Dallas Baptist in Lubbock, Texas, getting bounced from the NCAA Tournament in regional play for the first time since 2013.
The Gators’ CWS streak ended at four with this season’s regional exit, leaving the team short of its goal to make it to Omaha, which has become an expectation for this baseball program.
This season’s squad was filled with a mixture of youth and inexperience after key departures by starting pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, along with third baseman Jonathan India, among others.
UF performed up to expectations during the non-conference slate, entering its first SEC series with Mississippi State at 14-5.
That’s when the team’s youth and the competition of the SEC began to clash.
The Gators dropped five of their first six SEC games, including back-to-back double-digit losses to Vanderbilt at the end of that stretch.
The team used the friendly confines of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium to its advantage to regain some leverage against SEC competition.
UF swept Alabama, outscoring the Tide 21-7, using a balanced attack from the mound and the batter’s box to potentially turn a corner as the halfway point of the SEC slate drew near.
Unfortunately for Florida, not all games could be played in Gainesville. It dropped eight of the next nine conference road games, including sweeps to Georgia and Ole Miss.
Sitting at 29-21 overall and 9-15 in conference play, the Gators were in danger of missing their first NCAA Tournament since before coach Kevin O’Sullivan took over in 2008.
UF used an impressive comeback to edge Tennessee 10-9 in the first game of the series, but back-to-back one-run losses to the Volunteers to wrap up the team’s final home series of 2019 had Florida on the outside looking in when it came to NCAA postseason play.
The team did what it needed to in its final series of the regular season however, picking up a road series sweep against the Missouri Tigers.
This time the pitching staff picked up the offense, holding the Tigers to seven runs total during the series, including a complete-game shutout from starter Jack Leftwich in Game 2.
At this point, an early exit from the SEC Tournament didn’t matter. The team’s resume was too impressive to leave it out of the NCAAs.
The Gators were invited to the Lubbock Regional as the three seed, along with Texas Tech, Dallas Baptist and Army.
Although Florida didn’t end up advancing out of Lubbock, its resiliency and fight late in the season caught the eye of the manager, and there’s excitement moving into next year on the mound.
“Obviously we’re all disappointed with the game today and how the season ended,” O’Sullivan said in a release after Sunday’s game. “But Christian Scott has shown a lot of improvement. Got a bright future moving forward. Get back Tommy (Mace) and Jack (Leftwich)… Jack was great at the end of the year, and Tommy obviously had a couple good starts at the end of the year.”
In the batter’s box, the loss of Nelson Maldonado will hurt, along with the possible departures of Austin Langworthy and Wil Dalton. Brady McConnell, the team’s best hitter, likely won’t return to school next year either — he was taken in the second round of the MLB Draft on Monday. But a team that had a roster which featured 21 freshmen and sophomores in 2019 still has a lot to look forward to next season.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected].