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Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan and pitcher Johnny Magliozzi discuss a disappointing end to their season Saturday.

Saturday June 1, 2013Gators' Short Stay in Bloomington Resembled Their Roller-Coaster Season

Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan and pitcher Johnny Magliozzi discuss a disappointing end to their season Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- There are only so many ways to say the same thing.

That's what it seemed like after the Gators' 5-4 loss to Valparaiso on Saturday in the second round of the Bloomington Regional. It seemed that way on Friday, too, when the Gators lost 4-3 to Austin Peay in their NCAA Tournament opener.

"It comes down to the little things,'' Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "And we were not quite good enough on the little things."

In baseball jargon, those "little things" O'Sullivan is talking about include such tasks as moving runners over, being selective at the plate, throwing to the right base, hitting the cutoff man. The list goes on of those fundamental tasks that don't show up in the box score but make a difference in the outcomes of games.

Especially games in the postseason when every pitch counts.

Playing to keep its season alive, Florida carried a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday.

Starter Johnny Magliozzi was cruising along. The sophomore right-hander, the team's closer much of the season, had retired seven consecutive Crusaders and 11 of 12 when Billy Cribbs stepped into the batter's box to lead off Valpo's seventh.

The Gators were nine outs away from advancing after Friday's disappointing loss to Austin Peay.

Cribbs singled. No worries. Magliozzi then fell behind No. 9 hitter Bryce Hara, prompting a visit to the mound from O'Sullivan.

The brief chat didn't prevent Magliozzi from walking Hara to bring leadoff hitter Andrew Bain to the plate with two on, no out. Bain singled to load the bases and O'Sullivan had seen enough. He made the walk back to the mound.

Magliozzi was good Saturday, limiting the Crusaders to four hits and a run through six innings. He just wasn't good enough in the seventh.

"The bottom line about Johnny Magliozzi is if he doesn't perform like he did all year long, we would not be playing in this tournament,'' O'Sullivan said. "His numbers say that and his heart says that."

The Gators still led 4-1 when O'Sullivan called on left-hander Daniel Gibson to come in and face left-handed hitting shortstop Spencer Maloney, who homered in his first at-bat Saturday -- his first home run of the season and only the Crusaders' ninth -- to give Valparaiso a 1-0 lead.

Gibson induced a chopper to third baseman Josh Tobias. As Tobias smothered the ball and then tried to make a play at the plate, he fumbled the ball. He quickly grabbed it but Cribbs scored. Tobias then froze as Hara ran past him to third.

Those little things started to not go Florida's way.

"I just tried to keep it in front of me and it got off my chest and got behind me,'' Tobias said. "I should have stayed down better."

Instead of one out and the bases loaded, the Crusaders trailed 4-2 with the bases loaded and no outs. Gibson couldn't throw a strike to the next two batters, issuing bases-loaded walks to Tanner Vavra and John Loeffler to tie the game.

Back to the mound O'Sullivan went, replacing Gibson with reliever Ryan Harris.

Harris, who served as a workhorse in the bullpen this season, was a victim of a three-run homer Friday that led the loss to Austin Peay. Facing Chris Manning, Harris got Manning to hit a grounder up the middle that led to the first out of the inning but also scored Mahoney from third with the game-winning run.

Harris retired the next two batters, providing Florida hope in the ninth down by only a run.

After Casey Turgeon walked and moved to second on Justin Shafer's single, senior Vickash Ramjit dropped down a sacrifice bunt to put the go-ahead run at second with only one out. However, Taylor Gushue and Harrison Bader were unable to bring them home and just like that, Florida's season was over when Bader grounded out to end the game.

The two dugouts couldn't have reacted more differently. For Valparaiso, the Horizon League Tournament champions, it was the school's first NCAA Tournament victory in 47 years.

Meanwhile, for a Florida program coming off three consecutive trips to the College World Series, Omaha was out of the equation. So was playing Sunday. The Gators slowly gathered their belongings and began to make their way off the field.

The loss cemented Florida's first losing season (29-30) since 2007, the year before O'Sullivan arrived.

The Gators' short stay in Bloomington resembled their season. They were good but not good enough. They were close but far away.

The Gators started the season with seven losses in their first 10 games. They turned it around midseason to win 14 of 17 and peak at 25-19. However, they stumbled to the finish line by losing 11 of their final 15 games, including their last five.

This Gators team wasn't last year's team that featured a pair of first-round draft picks or any of the last three Florida teams that produced 18 players now playing professionally. Compounding the talent drain is that seven players who committed to the program this season opted to sign professionally.

Still, O'Sullivan didn't want to hear about a rebuilding year Saturday.

"To be honest with you this season is not the standard we want in Florida and there's no rebuilding at Florida,'' O'Sullivan said. "I keep hearing that all year long. We've got young players but it's time to grow up. They are not freshmen anymore."

O'Sullivan said probably the biggest disappointment was that some players didn't improve as much as the coaching staff expected. As his postgame press conference neared a close, he reeled off some positives this season.

But the disappointment lingered in his voice. After three straight trips to Omaha, two-and-out in Bloomington was not what the Gators had in mind.

"It's just hard when you have expectations for your team and the season comes to an abrupt end like it has," O'Sullivan said. "We have a standard at Florida and I don't think we met that standard."

 

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