Florida wins baseball national championship by sweeping LSU

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Gators celebration
Florida players celebrate with the trophy Tuesday night after defeating LSU in Game 2 to win the College World Series finals in Omaha, Neb. [AP Photo/Matt Ryerson]

OMAHA, Neb. — As Florida players basked in shards of confetti, fans and parents walked through the infield at TD Ameritrade Park, snapping pictures and rolling video on their cellphones.
They were there to document history. Through 105 years of existence, Florida baseball had never won a national title
Until now.
The Gators are returning to Gainesville as national champions after sweeping the College World Series Finals with a 6-1 victory over LSU before 26,607 fans on Tuesday night. In its 11th College World Series trip, Florida’s pitching-and-defense formula paid dividends. The Gators were able to get enough timely hits during a four-run eighth inning to break the game the open.
The dogpile engulfed UF sophomore righty Jackson Kowar, who pitched the final 1.2 innings for his first save of the season, shortly after second baseman Deacon Liput fielded the final out of the game.
“It’s taken Gator baseball way too long, and hopefully this is the start of something new,” said UF junior pitcher Alex Faedo, who earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors after pitching 14.1 shutout innings and picking up two wins in Omaha.
In his 10th season, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan guided the Gators to their first national title in his sixth CWS trip. O’Sullivan led a Gator team through adversity and injuries to starting left fielder Austin Langworthy, starting catcher Mike Rivera and starting shortstop Dalton Guthrie throughout the 2017 season.
“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,” O’Sullivan said, “But just overwhelmed with emotions for our players.”
It was the unlikeliest of Gator teams to win a national championship. Florida entered CWS play with a paltry .262 batting average and at one point was 20-11 and in danger of not hosting a regional after losing two in a row to SEC cellar-dwellar Tennessee. But the Gators went 20-4 over their next 24 games to claim a share of the SEC regular season title with LSU, then rode their pitching and defense throughout the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t know if there was a defining moment,” O’Sullivan said. “But I did sense that there was a sense of togetherness in the locker room and knowing we’ll never give up.”
Florida won 19 one-run games this season (the most in the nation) and three times won elimination games in the Regionals, Super Regionals and College World Series.
“I knew my team wasn’t going to lay down for anyone,” Faedo said. “We just did a great job playing as a single unit, playing as a team and winning ballgames for each other.”
The Gators finished their season 52-19 and joined Stanford, UCLA, Michigan, Ohio State and California as the only schools to win national titles in football, men’s basketball and baseball.
Lipit, on his 21st birthday, had two hits and 3 RBIs to pace UF’s offense, including a two-RBI single during a four-run eighth that broke the game open. With Florida holding a 2-1 lead, Jonathan India doubled to lead off the eighth and scored when center fielder Nick Horvath was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Liput then lined a single to left to extend UF’s lead to 5-1 and the Gators tacked on one more run on a sacrifice fly from first baseman JJ Schwarz.
Freshman starter Tyler Dyson worked six innings to get the win, before giving way to sophomore righty closer Michael Byrne after allowing an infield single to lead off the seventh. Byrne surrendered an RBI double to Josh Smith, cutting UF’s lead to 2-1.
Twice, Florida was able to work out of first-and-third, none-out jams in the seventh and eighth inning to preserve the lead. The Gators caught the benefit of a controversial call in the seventh. Florida appeared ready to concede the tying run when catcher Michael Papierski grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. But Smith was forced to return to third base when LSU’s Jake Slaughter was called for baserunner interference for failing to attempt to slide into second base. Byrne then got designated hitter Beau Jordan to line out to center to end the inning.
“From my vantage point, when the play happened, I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was a slow developing double play and there was some contact there.”
In the eighth, LSU had runners on first and third and none out after Kramer Robertson singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a bunt single by Cole Freeman. Byrne struck out Antoine Duplantis to get the first out of the inning, then was lifted for Jackson Kowar. Greg Deichmann then followed with a sharp grounder to first that Schwarz fielded and cut down Robertson at home for the second out. Zach Watson then lined out.
Florida took advantage of some LSU defensive miscues early behind LSU starter Jared Poche’. Liput led off the game reaching on an error by LSU first baseman Nick Coomes. Guthrie followed with a single, then Schwarz lined an RBI single to left to give Florida an early 1-0 lead.
The Gators tacked on a run in the second inning. Horvath singled with two outs, but appeared to be picked at first by Poche’. But Coomes dropped the throw from Poche’, which allowed Horvath to take second easily. Liput then followed with an RBI single up the middle, putting the Gators up 2-0.
“Going into today’s game, we saw the wind blowing in,” Liput said. “We all knew the longball really wasn’t going to come into play, so we knew we had to shorten up our swings and put the ball on the ground there or on the line and hope for the best.”
Florida had Poche’ on the ropes in the third, but failed to break the game open. The Gators loaded the bases with one, but Ryan Larson struck out and Horvath popped out to short to end the inning.
The Gators left seven runners on base in the first three innings, including five in scoring position. But those missed opportunities early didn’t come back to haunt them.
“They earned it,” Mainieri said. “They beat us twice. They’re a very deserving national champion.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.