U. Florida eliminated from College World Series

By Anthony Chiang

With just one swing, Florida State’s Mike Zunino crushed a pitch and the U. Florida Gators’ dreams of winning the College World Series.

Down by three runs with the bases loaded and just one out in the ninth, the freshman catcher smashed a ball that went straight into the glove of shortstop Stephen Cardullo, who then doubled off Austin Maddox at second to end the game and eliminate third-seeded Florida (47-17) from the CWS.

“I kind of leaped up like I do on most line drives,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I was hoping it would go either over his head or a little right or a little left.”

But his wish did not become a reality as UF’s stay in Omaha, Neb., was cut short with a 8-5 loss to in-state rival FSU.

It marked the fourth time the Gators have fell to the Seminoles this season. Each of the losses featured one consistent theme – unreliable Florida starting pitching.

UF’s starters put up a miserable 14.63 ERA in the four regular season contests against the Seminoles.

That did not change in the CWS as FSU battered Hudson Randall around for four runs in 2.2 innings.

“(Randall) threw the ball pretty good and then in the third something didn’t quite look right,” O’Sullivan said. “He got a little overheated and he just didn’t look himself.”

After the Gators grabbed an early 1-0 advantage in the first off of an RBI single from freshman Maddox, the Seminoles struck back quick against the heat-fatigued right-hander.

Junior Tyler Holt, who graduated from Gainesville High School, smashed a leadoff homer off the pine green backdrop in center field to tie the game.

“It was big, especially since they scored a run in the opening inning,” FSU All-American Mike McGee said. “That got the momentum back on our side.”

Just two innings later, McGee, who also earned the save against UF, crushed a ball over the left-field fence for a three-run shot, which gave FSU a lead it would never relinquish.

Randall, who had allowed more than two runs in just one of his last 10 starts, did not give the Gators the start they were looking for.

But the Seminoles didn’t have the same problem.

Left-hander Brian Busch came into Monday’s game with two relief appearances against UF earlier this season, which resulted in seven scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts. He carried that success into the start and turned in 5.1 innings of work while only allowing two hits and two runs.

“I was just working ahead,” Busch said. “In the first inning I could not control anything. But I just let my defense work.”

The Gators put runners in scoring position in each of the last four innings, but could only convert in the ninth.

Preston Tucker, who popped out with runners on first and second in the seventh, hit a double down the right-field line to drive in three runs and cut the deficit to just three, but Zunino’s line out ended the threat and the game.

UF was outscored 19-8 in the two games it played in Omaha.

However, all was not lost in the Gators’ short stay in the CWS.

“I think we are all foolish if we don’t pull something away from this and don’t try to improve and make ourselves better for next year,” O’Sullivan said. “I can tell you we are looking forward to breaking in the new (CWS stadium) next year.”

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