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Gators outfielder Justin Shafer is pumped up after his three-run homer Friday against Austin Peay.

Friday May 31, 2013Gators Go Up, Then Come Down To Put Season On Line

Gators outfielder Justin Shafer is pumped up after his three-run homer Friday against Austin Peay.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- At Florida's press conference Thursday to preview its game here against Austin Peay to open the Bloomington Regional, Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was asked by the moderator for an opening statement.

He started by saying what you would expect, that the Gators were excited to be back in the NCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive season.

O'Sullivan's second sentence summed up the 2013 season more pointedly.

"It's been an up and down year for us,'' he said.

Yes it has. And on Friday the ups were thrilling and the downs crushing to put the Gators' season in jeopardy.

Florida's 4-3 loss to Austin Peay dropped the Gators into the loser's bracket where they will face the Indiana-Valparaiso loser Saturday in an elimination game.

First, the up for Florida on Friday: a good start from Jonathon Crawford, who put the Gators in position to win with a solid outing, and a three-run homer by Justin Shafer that gave the Gators a 3-1 lead.

Following Shafer's blast off Austin Peay reliever Lee Ridenhour with one out in the sixth, Crawford was replaced by lefty Daniel Gibson in the seventh with the tying runs on base and one out.

Gibson struck out Dylan Riner and got Jordan Hankins to fly out to end the threat. The Gators were on the way up for sure, or so it seemed.

Finally, the down showed up, delivering a crushing blow to the Gators (29-29) as they try to make it out of the Bloomington Region.

O'Sullivan inserted workhorse Ryan Harris into the game in the eighth inning and the Governors opened the frame with a pair of singles -- one a blooper over second base and the other a ground ball that bounced off Harris' leg and never left the infield.

You could sense that this might not end the way the Gators envisioned.

Up stepped Austin Peay designated hitter Michael Davis, who looked like someone swinging at a piņata in the dark in three at-bats against Crawford. He struck out all three times and never came close to a hit.

"I really couldn't figure out his cutter the whole game and he kind of had me off-balance,'' Davis said.

Austin Peay coach Garry McClure recalled watching Harris pitch in high school and let Davis know he pitched similarly to Crawford.

Davis settled in, grateful the Crawford could only watch.

Ahead in the count, Davis waited on Harris' 2-1 pitch and skied it high toward left field. When the ball landed, the Governors led 4-3 and were three outs away from their 16th consecutive win.

"The wind was blowing out,'' O'Sullivan said. "As soon as it went up, the only chance it had was maybe that it was hit too high. He struck it good. I had a feeling it was going to go out."

In the other dugout, so did McClure.

"I didn't think we were done,'' McClure said. "We kept getting base runners and that's what gave me hope that we could still get this done, and I know we've got guys in our lineup who can hit it out at any time."

Davis came through, and after Governors closer Tyler Rogers retired the Gators in the ninth for his 22nd save, Florida was left to ponder that its season could come to an end Saturday.

Friday's loss played out like so many this season for the Gators. They had a win in their grasp, but because of a hit here, a bad pitch there, a funny hop over there they lost.

Florida's 12-game win streak in regional play ended, the bulk of that streak put together by teams that made three consecutive trips to the College World Series.

This year's Gators team lacks the same kind of experience or talent.

Still, they have hope.

"We have great pitching,'' Shafer said. "We believe we can come back and win the next four games."

That's what it will take for the Gators to keep playing after Bloomington.

First, they must flush Friday's loss from their memory and forget how close they were to winning.

"They're pretty disappointed right now, but we'll get them focused for [Saturday],'' O'Sullivan said. "It's a one-game season now. We'll approach every game like it's the last.

"It just came down to one swing and one pitch. The bottom line is [Harris] got behind 2-1 to Davis and he left a ball out over home plate. He's been real good for us all year long. It's baseball. Funny things happen."

Sometimes they go your way. Sometimes they don't. It's been that way all season for the Gators.

Up and down.

 

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