GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A near four-hour rain delay couldn’t keep the Florida Gators away from a win over Wake Forest. The Gators took Game 1 of Super Regionals play over the Demon Deacons 2-1 after 11 innings of baseball.
The Gators led 1-0 coming back from the delay and looked like they may earn the shutout when Wake Forest’s Ben Breazeale sent one over the left field wall to tie it up in the top of the ninth. Both teams created opportunities to finish it off but it wasn’t until the Gators Ryan Larson sent a shot up the middle to score Jonathan India from third.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) June 11, 2017
Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said the team did just enough to win in their 18th one-run game of the year.
Going into the game, the Demon Deacons statistically seemed superior to the Gators offensively. Only three hitters in the Wake Forest lineup had an average below .300. Meanwhile, the Gators only had two hitters with an average above .300. Not only that, but Wake Forest leads the country in home runs with 100.
But they were no match for the Gator pitching they faced. Ace Alex Faedo started the game, racking up nine strikeouts and allowing four hits through four innings pitched. That’s when the rain set in and put the game on hold for three hours and 49 minutes.
The pitchers did their thing and Ryan Larson came back in style.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 11, 2017
Instead of returning to Faedo, the Gators looked to usual second-day starter Brady Singer. Now faced with a totally different animal at the plate, the Deacons struggled. Singer entered in and threw four innings, giving up only two hits, no runs and earning eight strikeouts.
When asked if there was any sympathy for batters facing Faedo and Singer in the same game, O’Sullivan said he knows: they are REALLY good. But he said he also knows how good of hitters Wake Forest has and didn’t want to take a chance.
It looked like the Gators would walk away with the win after a string of hits and small ball in the third put them ahead. Rivera started the inning off with a single up the middle and Deacon Liput followed up drawing a walk. India laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the base runners and put Rivera in scoring position. All they needed was the ball put in play and Dalton Guthrie came through with a grounder that plated Rivera.
The Deacons didn’t go down quietly though. After Michael Byrne entered into close, the home run by Breazeale shifted the momentum into their favor. They threatened to score in the tenth with runners on second and third and again in the eleventh with a runner in scoring position.
The Gators were able to keep them at bay for Larson’s dramatic finish. India drew a walk to start off the innings and advanced to second on a wild pitch. JJ Schwarz and Nelson Maldonado found their way on as Wake Forest’s Colin Peluse struggled, hitting both of the batters.
With two outs, and after Mark Kolosvary went down swinging the at-bat before him, Larson made his return to the team after injury memorable. Larson was hit in the head by a pitch at the SEC Tournament and missed regional play. He wouldn’t be shaken at this at bat. After sending one on a line and India touching home, the team rushed the field and dog-piled on top of him to celebrate the end of long anticipated and hard-fought win.
Larson said he was happy to be returning to the field and able to have fun with his team again. With that kind of finish, how could you not?
Rearing Up for Game 2
Now the Gators are just one win away from a trip to Omaha for the College World Series for the third consecutive year.
O’Sullivan said Jackson Kowar will start Saturday’s Game 2. Nothing has come by easy for the Gators baseball team this summer and the go-ahead win for the CWS should be no different.