The Florida Gator baseball team captures its first College World Series title in school history Tuesday night after defeating LSU 6-1 in Game 2 of the finals.
The Florida Gators are the Kings of College Baseball! 👑 pic.twitter.com/kSoJVbCQDM
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2017
“You never know how you’re going to feel when you get the last out in the College World Series, and I’m still kind of numb,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But just overwhelmed with emotions for our players.”
For a team that seemingly had to grind for every win both during the regular season and in Omaha, that same grind paid off, culminating in the ultimate celebration.
“I think something that made this team so special was I was actually talking about it with my dad was in each and every game we won, seemed like someone new stepped up,” Florida second baseman Deacon Liput said. “I think what made our team so special was you never knew who that person was going to be.”
“And throughout this season, it’s definitely been a long season, a hard season, but I think our team did a really good job of maintaining a level head and truly believing in ourselves, whether or not other people did. We have a lot of heart. We’re really close. We’re like a family.”
The Freshman Steps Up
With their pitching carrying them all season via stellar performances from Alex Faedo, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Michael Byrne, the Gators turned to a freshman in Tyler Dyson with a chance to clinch the title.
Dyson did not disappoint.
The hard-throwing righty delivered arguably his best performance of the season, improving to 4-0 on the season by giving up just one run and three hits in six plus innings pitched.
“My expectation, to be honest with you, was probably five or six, and then you can see where we’re at in the ballgame,” O’Sullivan said of Dyson. “He was probably even — he was good tonight, he was good tonight. He sunk the ball and trusted his defense.”
The freshman looked poised on the mound throughout, keeping the Tigers off the board until the seventh inning, and gave Florida the long outing from a starter they needed because of the short bullpen.
When your longest career outing comes in the #CWS Finals…
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2017
“I was prepared to go all nine if needed,” Dyson said. “But I had the mindset of going there until Sully took me out. So just feeding off the confidence from that Wake Forest outing really helped me think that I could go deep in the ballgame.”
Michael Byrne and Jackson Kowar were the only guys needed out of the pen. Kowar threw 1.2 innings and notched the historic final out, coming in to pitch in relief in the eighth inning on just three days rest.
Jonathan India, Dalton Guthrie, and Deacon Liput all had multi-hit games for the Gators. Liput, especially, had a good day, racking up three RBIs on two hits on his 21st birthday. Winning the first title in school history isn’t too bad of a way to celebrate that big of an occasion.
Florida as a whole had success on senior pitcher Jared Poche, LSU’s all-time wins leader, who took the loss in the game for the Tigers. Poche gave up seven hits and two runs, both unearned, in 5.2 innings. The loss marks the first time LSU has failed to win the College World Series after making it to the finals. They had been 6-0 in the previous occasions.
The Gators looked the far more composed team in the early going, an omen of what was to come, and struck first on the scoreboard.
An error from first baseman Nick Coomes allowed lead-off batter Deacon Liput to reach first base. Florida followed that up with back to back singles from Dalton Guthrie and J.J. Schwarz, with Schwarz scoring Liput to put the Gators up 1-0.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2017
In the second inning, Nick Horvath started a Gators threat with a two-out single to left field. He stole second base on a failed pickoff attempt in which Coomes dropped the ball, and was brought home on a RBI single up the middle from the birthday boy Liput.
After two innings, LSU had more errors (three) than they had hits (two).
With a two-run lead, Dyson continued to be special on the mound. He sat down the Tigers in order in the third, and didn’t give up a hit from the third through the sixth inning.
A lead off single from Zach Watson in the LSU sixth finished the night for Dyson and O’Sullivan pulled him right after for Byrne, looking to get a nine out save from his All-American closer.
Anxious Final Innings
Byrne gave up a run to the first batter he faced, Josh Smith, after Watson stole second, and then came home on a RBI double. LSU had cut the lead in half, had the tying run on second base with no outs, and the heavy pro-Tigers crowd was getting back into it. They grew louder when freshman Jake Slaughter singled on the next at-bat to put the go-ahead run on first and the tying run on third.
But mental mistakes can cost team championships, and the Gators benefitted from one of those from Slaughter on a turning-point play in the game.
Byrne got LSU catcher Michael Papierski to ground into a double play, but the runner from third, Smith, crossed home plate to seemingly tie the game. Instead, he was sent back to third after the umpires determined Slaughter interfered with Guthrie as he made the throw from second on the double play.
— Grace Remington (@Grace_Remi) June 28, 2017
And that mistake came back to bite LSU, as Beau Jordan flew out to center to end the inning. Instead of being tied up with LSU having all the momentum, the Gators went into the last two innings still with a lead and a big play to sequence to switch things in their favor.
The game reached its most tense point in the eighth inning.
LSU’s Kramer Robertson led off the inning with a single, and advanced all the way to third on a wild pitch and bunt single from Cole Freeman. Byrne struck out Antoine Duplantis to get the first out of the inning, but LSU still had runners on the corners with one out.
At that point, O’Sullivan made the gutsiest call of the night.
Instead of saving him for a possible Game 3, O’Sullivan brought on Jackson Kowar to try to get out of the jam and win the title for the Gators without having to go to Wednesday night.
“The biggest factor is I didn’t want to see Alex Lange tomorrow, to be honest with you,” O’Sullivan said. That was the situation that was not going to probably work in our favor, to be honest with you.”
“And with Deichmann up, I thought at that point it wasn’t a good matchup with Michael. And Jackson got that plus change and we needed an out, and I thought he was the best option at that point to get a strikeout to slow it down.”
That led to the second huge defensive play for Florida on the night. Deichmann grounded into a fielder’s choice to Schwarz at first base. Schwarz looked as if he might go for the double play, but after a quick hesitation fired to home, where Mike Rivera tagged out Robertson by just a few inches.
“So I know on the play with JJ, that’s a heads-up play,” Kowar said. “To throw on the money right there in a situation like that is awesome. He’s a catcher by trade. That’s not even his position. Our defense has done that all year for us.”
Zach Watson flew out on the next at-bat, and with everything going Florida’s way, it seemed like they could almost taste it.
“We felt snake bit right there,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. The way the game started defensively the first couple innings and those two innings offensively, just felt like it just maybe wasn’t meant to be for us tonight.”
Gators Clinch Spot in History
And Florida made sure of that in the bottom of the eighth. They added four insurance runs in a quick burst to send LSU fans heading for the exits and Florida fans into their loudest chants of the night. A hit by pitch on Horvath with the bases loaded made it 3-1, and Liput followed that up with a two-RBI single to center. Up 5-1 at that point, Schwarz tacked on the last run of the game with a sac fly.
Then in the ninth, it was all about seeing it out. Kowar worked around a one-out single to give Florida the glory. A line out, a ground out, and a ground out were the last three outs of a game that Florida grinded out to a win.
And unlike any of the other games during this season, this game ended with the Gators lifting their first national championship trophy in program history.
-The win makes Florida the first SEC school ever to win a national championship in football, basketball, and baseball.
-Alex Faedo was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player
-Faedo, Brady Singer, and Austin Langworthy were named to the All-Tournament Team