What a way to go out for No. 1-seed Florida.
Trailing 5-4 in the ninth inning of Monday’s College World Series elimination game, the Gators did what a team is supposed to do when the opposition implodes. They let them. Unfortunately, home plate umpire Phil Benson went with the sympathy vote on a strike call that effectively ended Florida’s season.
With Kent State going into the ninth leading 5-4, things went buggy for the Golden Flashes’ bullpen. Kent State reliever Michael Clark didn’t throw a strike in walking back-to-back hitters to start the inning. Josh Pierce came on in relief, but after a sacrifice bunt, hit Daniel Pigott to load the bases.
Pierce also lost the strike zone, throwing three straight balls to Casey Turgeon before pouring in a strike to set the stage for a fateful 3-1 pitch. Pierce’s next offering was nearly a foot off the outside of the plate. ESPN’s K-zone verified it. Yet, instead of forcing home the tying run, the pitch was called a strike by Benson, prolonging the at bat, which ended controversially on a check-swing strike-three call that saw Turgeon – thinking once again that he’d walked – jogging half way down the first-base line before getting rung up.
The game, and Florida’s season, ended on the next pitch when Justin Shafer lifted a lazy fly out to right field.
Kent State clearly outplayed Florida through the first eight innings. The Golden Flashes’ offense generated four runs in the first two innings, knocking out Gators starter Randall Hudson after the first, before touching reliever Jonathon Crawford for a slew of unearned runs in the second.
Florida’s offense wasn’t exactly getting shut down by Kent State starter Ryan Bores, though. The Gators were hitting the ball hard from the get-go, but consistently found Kent State’s gloves through five innings. In plating a run in the sixth, and two more in the seventh, Florida inched within striking distance to set the stage for a ninth-inning comeback, only to have it nullified by a terrible call at the most critical moment.
So, the epic career of Florida catcher Mike Zunino ends on a downer. The slugging junior was 2 for 4 with two RBIs in the game, and 8 for 25 with three home runs and 11 RBIs throughout the postseason. As the third overall pick in the draft by Seattle, however, Zunino will almost certainly be going pro.
And so, Kent State advances through the College World Series bracket as the newly dubbed Cinderella team, after Stony Brook was eliminated Sunday. And, home plate umpire Phil Benson undoubtedly need be dubbed Kent State’s Prince Charming.