By ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Florida’s Harrison Bader sat at the podium and choked up as reality hit him.
“No crying in baseball,” he said Saturday night, a few minutes after the Gators’ season ended with a 5-4 loss to Virginia at the College World Series.
Virginia goes to the CWS finals for the second straight year.
Florida goes home.
“When you get to this part of the season, the end of the season, it’s just so abrupt,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s just like a runaway train: It’s over. It’s over like that. There’s only going to be one team standing at the end of the year that’s going to be the champion.
“I’m not going to lie to you. I felt like if we had a chance to play in the championship round, I liked our chances. But obviously we won’t be getting that opportunity.”
The Cavaliers, who open the best-of-three finals against defending national champion Vanderbilt on Monday, came from behind twice to beat the Gators. Josh Sborz pitched four innings of shutout relief, and Kenny Towns delivered the winning run on a seventh-inning sacrifice fly.
Florida (52-18), which beat Virginia 10-5 on Friday, lost two of three CWS games against the Cavaliers (42-23).
Sborz (6-2) ran his shutout innings streak to 23 since May 15, getting Richie Martin to ground out after Bader reached on a two-out single in the ninth. Danny Lewis (6-2) took the loss.
Bader is among nine Florida players who were drafted. He was taken in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals and is expected to sign.
“I just want to go on record and say there’s just so much the kids have poured into this program outside of what you see on the field,” Bader said. “And it’s just been an absolute honor to play under Sully and all the assistant coaches I had. Like Sully said, it’s like yesterday I was a freshman. It flies by. But I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
The Cavaliers took the lead for good after Lewis intentionally walked Matt Thaiss to load the bases with one out in the seventh. Towns, Virginia’s career leader in NCAA Tournament RBIs who hit a game-winning double against Arkansas earlier in the week, sent a sacrifice fly to right to bring home Clement for his third RBI of the game.
Thaiss already had homered and singled, and Towns had doubled in his previous at-bat.
“Thaiss put two good swings on the ball,” O’Sullivan said. “We hang a pitch in the middle of the plate and he runs into one. Those two guys are swinging the bat good. I think falling behind in the count, that’s what hurt us. If we pitch ahead in the count, we keep the count on our side. You fall behind in the count, you get a hitter’s count, they tend to do damage, and that’s what they did.”
Sborz, who hasn’t allowed a run since the eighth inning against North Carolina over a month ago, allowed three hits in relief of Brandon Waddell.
Thaiss’ homer in the first inning, and Florida’s Peter Alonso hit a two-run shot 429 feet over the center-field wall for the longest home run in TD Ameritrade Park’s five years. After Pavin Smith tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly for Virginia in the fourth, Bader homered leading off the fifth to make it 3-2 Florida.
The Cavaliers went back ahead in the bottom half, with Thaiss, the catcher, scoring the go-ahead run from first on Towns’ two-RBI double down the left-field line. Florida tied it at 4 in the sixth on Mike Rivera’s single off Sborz, who entered with none out after Schwarz singled off Waddell.
“There’s a lot of disappointed players in that locker room right now,” O’Sullivan said. “But there are some things we can improve on moving forward and these guys are resilient. We’ve got a great club coming back.”
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