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June 19, 2012
Some somber Omaha hotel hosted the world's most talented barbeque last night.
It was full of first-round draft picks and promising youngsters and various other strands of college baseball elite, Florida's last hoorah after a six-day trip to the College World Series.
The Gators are headed back to Gainesville, while the Kent State Flashes are still dancing.
It shouldn't be that way - not on Monday night, not ever. The match-up wasn't even close. Florida had six players picked in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft before the first Kent State player was taken.
In their College World Series opener on Saturday, the Flashes had four hits in a seven-run loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
They tripled their hits total on Monday.
But this dates back before all of that.
Every time Florida has come close to greatness this season, it has faltered. After starting the season 25-2, it hit a 1-5 rut that included back-to-back series losses in the Southeastern Conference and a midweek loss against North Florida. When the Gators hit a stride in the SEC Tournament, they blew a 4-3 lead in the semifinals by giving up five runs to Vanderbilt in the top of the ninth, highlighted by a successful triple steal.
Date it as far back as a year ago, when Florida infamously stranded runner after runner in scoring position to lose to South Carolina in the finals of the College World Series. UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan drilled situational hitting into his players all fall, but it didn't stop them from failing to score a single run in Monday's ninth inning after loading the bases with one out.
"It's an unfortunate way to end the season, but I think Kent State deserves a lot of credit," O'Sullivan said.
The truth is this UF group had it all: the deep and versatile pitching, the power, the speed, the seemingly perfect blend of upperclassmen and stud freshmen. It had a sophomore pitcher who threw a postseason no-hitter and won six games after throwing just 3.2 innings as a freshman. It had two freshmen turn in two of the best defensive seasons a second or third baseman has ever turned in at Florida. It had Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker and Nolan Fontana and Brian Johnson.
But it leaves it all behind with nothing.
"I've been able to make it out here three times, and all three times I've been just as disappointed," Zunino said. "You don't want it to end."
"It's just another ball game, but it's my last," Tucker said. "I'm not going to get another chance."
Chalk it up to a number of reasons, just not the one O'Sullivan used. Of Kent State's five runs Monday, only one was earned - and it came courtesy of a wild pitch. Florida's five errors in two College World Series games showed a lack of mental focus, first because of previous history against South Carolina and then due to the pressure of elimination against Kent State. The Gators stranded 21 runners in two games in Omaha.
Maybe there hasn't been a more disappointing season in UF history. That will be the talk around Gainesville in the coming days.
Since February, Florida has been dubbed the nation's No. 1 team and an overwhelming favorite to win it all. Instead, the Gators are the second team sent home from Omaha.
Stony Brook and Florida: what a pair.