Ridaught: Gators facing elimination today

Jac Caglianone (right) is scheduled to start Monday's game against NC State.
Jac Caglianone (right) is scheduled to start Monday's game against NC State.
Photo by John Paternoster/UAA Communications

We saw firsthand on Saturday night a few reasons why the game of baseball is considered a game of inches.

In Florida’s 3-2 loss to No. 3 national seed Texas A&M
, the Gators were robbed of a two-run home run in the ninth inning on a perfectly timed leaping catch by 6’6 Jace LaViolette.

If he’s two inches shorter, we might be talking about a winners’ bracket game today thanks to Cade Kurland’s knock to deep right field.

In the previous inning trailing 3-2, Florida had the bases loaded with two outs when Dale Thomas’ slow ground ball to second resulted in a high throw to first. However, first baseman Ted Burton made the long stretch, keeping his toe on the bag without jumping to secure the final out of the inning.

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There was also the play at third base, which appeared to be a force out by Thomas on a fielder’s choice.

However, the ruling on the field was safe and Florida did not challenge. Replay showed the runner would have been out.

On the next play, Gators’ starting pitcher Liam Peterson threw a wild pitch which gave the Aggies a 2-0 lead.

While those plays contributed to the loss, the fact that Florida was 1-of-11 (.091) with runners in scoring position and 3-for-17 (.176) with runners on base likely resulted in their demise.

Florida, which stranded 10 runners overall and seven in scoring position, also struck out 16 times during the game. Plus, the Aggies drew seven walks, turning two into runs.

The middle of the lineup, Florida’s No. 3-5 hitters (Ashton Wilson, Colby Shelton, Luke Heyman) went 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts.

“When you lose one-run games, it really just comes down to the fundamentals,” said Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “And we just weren’t good enough in certain areas.”

Instead, the unseeded Gators (34-29) will play No. 10 seed NC State at 2 p.m. today (ESPN) in an elimination game at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Aggies (50-13), who reached the 50-win plateau for the sixth time in school history and the first time since 2015, will face No. 2 seed Kentucky tonight at 7 p.m. (ESPN) in the winners’ bracket.

The Gators and the Wolfpack both have their share of success athletically.

Florida is the only school in the country to have both its softball team and baseball team advance to this year’s College World Series.

NC State, which is back in Omaha after a controversial 2021 exit, is the only school in the nation to have its men’s and women’s basketball teams make the Sweet 16, its baseball team make the Super Regionals and its football team go to a bowl game.

The ACC school is one of just eight schools to make the postseason in baseball, football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. The Wolfpack is joined by Arizona, Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Alabama.

While Florida had the No. 1 strength of schedule in the country, NC State’s strength of schedule finished at No. 3 nationally, according to warrennolan.com.

The Wolfpack’s strength of schedule ranked first among all ACC teams. They had 12 wins over Quadrant I opponents ranked second in the league just behind Duke (13), the winners of the ACC Tournament title. They also finished with a perfect 9-0 record against Quadrant IV opponents.

NC State (38-22) is coming off a 5-4, 10-inning loss to Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

The Gators hold a 5-2 record against NC State all-time, winning five straight NCAA Tournament games.

The Wolfpack and the Gators last met in the NCAA Tournament on June 9-10, 2012, as Florida edged the Pack in game two of the Gainesville Super Regional 6-5 in 10 innings to advance to Omaha.

Six of NC State’s seven matchups against Florida have come in the NCAA Tournament, playing twice in 2012, once in 1996, twice in 1991 and once in 1988.

NC State won the first postseason matchup against the Gators 13-3 at Florida State’s Dick Howser Stadium on May 27, 1988.

Florida is 7-6 all-time in its second game at the CWS

Junior left-hander Jac Caglianone (5-2 with a 4.71 ERA) will get the start today for the Gators.

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