College World Series: Florida Smokes Miami, 15-3

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not after a seven-year College World Series drought and not with a team that seemed to be reaching its potential as the season rolled on.

A familiar foe was in the other dugout on Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park; a Florida team Miami topped 7-2 on the road back in February, bookended by two hard-fought, one-run losses.

The Gators headed to Omaha a favorite to win it all, but many had the Canes in a similar position—setting the stage for should’ve been a spirited opening-round match-up. Instead, as lopsided a game as one could’ve imagined and a nightmare scenario for Miami—who must now win four in a row to reach the title series, while trying regroup from the 15-3 beating Florida laid upon them.

The Gators exploded with a record-setting 11 runs in the bottom of the fourth, but the damage was already done—the Hurricanes stranding six runners in four trips to the plate, barely clinging to a 2-1 lead before Florida put up an inning’s worth of video game numbers.

The Canes went small ball early. Ricky Eusebio was hit by a pitch, Christopher Barr advanced Eusebio to second by way of a sacrifice bunt, Zack Collins reached on fielder’s choice and with the bases loaded, David Thompson flied out and brought Eusebio home. Garrett Kennedy ended the inning with a strikeout, stranding Collins and Barr.

A single by George Iskenderian through the left side and Collins single to right got things going for Miami in the third, with Thompson delivering another sacrifice fly and giving the Canes a 2-0 lead—another inning coming to a close with a Kennedy recording an out, this time with Collins on base.

A questionable balk on pitcher Andrew Suarez put the Gators on the board in the second—having already given up a walk, single and sacrifice bunt to set the stage. Still, bad call or not, Suarez didn’t have it on the main stage Saturday night. The Miami ace lasting 3.1 innings, giving up six hits, seven runs and only striking out one.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, nobody could cool off the Gators—not on the mound and not defensively. Sam Abrams—last seen getting Miami out of a Super Regional jam against VCU—lasted 0.1 innings, giving up two hits and three runs. Danny Garcia entered and also lasted 0.1 innings—surrendering three hits and two runs, before a fielder’s choice ended the nightmare.

Suarez walked Josh Tobias to kick off the inning from hell. A batter later, Brandon Lopez misplayed a ground ball and struggled to get it Barr at first. The error had runners at second and third for the Gators and no outs, which obviously came back to haunt as a six of Florida’s runs came with two outs.

Jacob Heyward also had a shot at ending the inning, but misplayed a shot to left by Tobias that went off the wall and wound up scoring two. From the Gators went single, single, double, single and hit by pitch before the nine-hit innings came to a close.

Down 12-2 entering the top of the fifth, for all intents and purposes this game was over—as might be Miami’s season as this loss will be a bitch to shake off. The Gators have owned the Canes since UM’s last trip to Omaha in 2008; knocking Miami out of two Regionals and a Super (2009-11) and winning 11 of the past 15 meetings before Saturday night.

Now the Canes must win four-in-a-row to reach the title game; needing to topple the Gators at least once, if not twice, depending how Monday’s showdown between Florida and Virginia plays out.

Of course all that is predicated upon Miami shaking off Saturday night’s shellacking and beating a good enough Arkansas squad on Monday afternoon in the losers bracket.

Miami’s last trip to Omaha had a similar scenario after the top-seeded Canes fell to Georgia in the opener. The losers bracket had Miami topping Florida State and sending the Seminoles home after two, but the excitement was short-lived as Stanford took out the Canes, 8-3.

Eighth-seeded Georgia made it all the way to the title series, knocking out Fresno State game one, but falling back-to-back games after that, earning the Bulldogs and unexpected national championship.

Depressing as it is to relive 2008 or discuss uncanny odds of coming back from opening game disaster, Oregon State provided the blueprint two years prior.

The Canes whooped the Beavers 11-1 in the College World Series opener back in 2006. Oregon State bounced back with a win over Georgia and when rematched with Miami—who fell to Rice—ended the Canes’ season.

The Beavers then knocked off the Owls in back-to-back games, reached the title series, lost game one and took two in a row to earn the program’s first national title. Oregon State faced a College World Series-record six elimination games in Omaha that June, but continued scrapping.

A year later, a much easier path as the Beavers went undefeated and captured a second consecutive title in five games.

For Miami, it doesn’t serve the Hurricanes to think of past failures or to wax poetic about another program’s success in the face of adversity.

Right now it’s a one-game season against Arkansas—who is 7-4 this post-season, falling to LSU and Florida late in the SEC Championship, before skating through an easy regional (Oral Roberts, Oklahoma State, St. John’s) and needing three games to take out Missouri State in the Super Regionals.

Living to see another day has to be the mantra while in Omaha; fueled by the goal of getting another crack at Florida, finding a way to right all that went wrong Saturday night.