Staying power? Gators facing elimination at College World Series

After Texas Tech loss, Gators look to regroup with season on the line Tuesday in CWS against Texas

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Florida's Jonathan India (6) hits a triple in the first inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game against Texas Tech in Omaha, Neb., Sunday, June 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Getting to Omaha wasn’t easy for the 2018 Florida baseball team.

Staying there will be even harder.

Defending national champion Florida put itself in a bind following its 6-3 loss to Texas Tech late Sunday night in its College World Series opener. The Gators (47-20) will resume play on Tuesday afternoon against Texas (42-22) needing four straight wins to return to the CWS championship series for the second straight year.

Florida has gone 5-0 in NCAA Tournament elimination games since the beginning of the 2017 season, but will have no margin for error the rest of the week. The last team to lose its opening College World Series game and win a national title was South Carolina in 2010.

Junior righty Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.24 ERA) will start for the Gators against the Longhorns, who lost 11-5 to Arkansas earlier Sunday afternoon.

“We’re going to have to have Jackson pitch really good on Tuesday,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said following the loss Sunday night. “We’ll have to take it one day at a time. And ultimately we’ll have to have some guys step up because we’ve got to win some more games here. But it’s certainly doable.”

How much more O’Sullivan will shuffle the lineup remains to be seen. Senior captain JJ Schwarz, in his first game back in close to a month after breaking his hand, was shaky at first base during the Texas Tech loss. Schwarz misplayed a grounder that would up being scored a two-RBI single by Gabe Holt, which put the Red Raiders ahead to stay 3-1. Schwarz also did not have his foot on the bag when catcher Brady Smith fired a throw to first while attempting to get Texas Tech runner Cody Farhat out following a strikeout on a wild pitch to start the ninth inning. Farhat scored Texas Tech’s final run on an RBI single from Holt.

Schwarz was playing just his eighth game at first base on the season and first game at first since May 13 against Georgia. He’s started 45 games at catcher this season, but O’Sullivan opted to play him at first base due to concerns about how his hand would hold up for nine innings behind the plate.  Schwarz was not inserted at designated hitter because that is the regular spot for junior Nelson Maldonado, who belted a two-run homer Sunday. Maldonado could play outfield, but that would mean Florida would need to bench one of its three starting outfielders, left fielder Austin Langworthy, center fielder Nick Horvath or right fielder Wil Dalton.

At the plate, Schwarz went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. That dropped Schwarz to .319 on the season with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs.

“He hasn’t played in a while,” O’Sullivan said. “The first at-bat was pretty good. He hit the ball to the warning track the other way. He had a good approach. We’re here because he’s one of the main reasons why we’re here. And he felt like he could play tonight and I wasn’t going to juggle the whole lineup. Just put him right in there and see what happens.

“We did that a couple of years ago with Pete Alonso and he had a really good tournament. So I’m just happy that JJ went out there for his team and gave a great effort.”

Schwarz wasn’t the only Gator to struggle in the field Sunday night. Shortstop Deacon Liput had a throwing error, just his fifth of the season, which extended Texas Tech’s two-run fifth inning. Langworthy misplayed a fly ball to deep left field in the eighth inning.

“I can’t put my finger on it,” O’Sullivan said of the defensive problems. “I do know when we start struggling defensively we start doing some more live defense during practice. Actually we do it every day. We hadn’t done that up until the last part of the year, but once we start struggling defensively we tried to play some games, you know, some defensive live stuff during practice and our defense got back on track. But obviously tonight it hurt us a little more.”

Offensively, Florida will be looking to jump-start a lineup that went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and 1 for 15 with runners on base against Texas Tech. Florida has scored three runs or less in each of its last three games.

“We went through all the pitchers,” O’Sullivan said. “We knew exactly what they were going to do — start with their lefty and then go to (Ryan) Shetter and then go to their little right-hander there with a good arm. We were prepared. We went through everybody and they just executed some pitches.”


Tuesday

What: College World Series elimination game

Who: Texas (42-22) vs. Florida (47-20)

When: 3:38 p.m.

Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (Neb.)

TV: ESPN

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

Pitching matchup: UF Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.24 ERA) vs. Texas sophomore RHP Blair Henley (6-6, 3.32 ERA)


 

12 COMMENTS

    • Hind-sight is perfect right? I trust Sully, so He made a bad call, now we move on. Hopefully, with this in mind, however, he does not start JJ at 1st again. I think he should catch, that alleviates the issue with Girand not hitting anything, and that keeps our regular 1st baseman and all of the Outfielders, which can all hit HR.

      • You Dun Messed Up A A Ron! 😉

        Feels more like common sense than hindsight here, but sure. I totally admire Sully – he’s done amazing. But he’s not infallible nor above reproach. Girand can also hit HR (see regionals).

        • Girand hasn’t had a single hit since though…he is a guaranteed out. Maybe DH him, but I agree…not one of Sully’s best moves. It did, however, work with Peter Alonso previously so there was precedent.

          • I did mess up! lol. for real though, after I went to the principal’s office, I got to thinking…Girand can hit HRs, like 3 in the regional, was MVP, then has not hit a dang thing and strikes out almost every at bat. he is not ready for this stage, so bench him, start JJ at catcher, and keep Reese at 1st for solid infield play, then keep our outfield intact, as all three can hit. I do see both points, it was a bad decision and it did cost us dearly, but it worked for Alonso, but today is another day. Go Gators!!

  1. Congrats to the Gators for making it back to the CWS. Only 8 teams can go…so kudos!!! But let’s face it…this team basically became distracted and called it quits after the UGA final home series with a regular season SEC Chamionship in hand. Haven’t been the same since. Great season though!

    • Indeed, congratulations on a great season. Just to get back to Omaha is impressive, but I agree, they seem to have changed their minds after UGA. But, hopefully, they have some fight left…They certainly have the talent.

      But, MSU keeps pounding everyone, our nemesis this year, the only team to sweep us, and they just put up 8 in the top of the 8th against UNC. They are destroying everyone. Even if we beat Texas, we are going to have to face MSU, again. Go Gators!

  2. AA Ron, agree with your assessment on MSU playing so well. My wife has even gotten out her famous MS cowbell. But a team as talented as the Gators should relish the opportunity to play the ‘Dawgs” again, right there in Omaha and show what they really can do. I say let’s kick it in gear and simply go after every team that the draw puts in our path, regardless. If the Gators go down fighting, then so be it; you had a GREAT season. (Note to Tampa Gator; as you see, not winning it all does not constitute a failed season!)

    • @ Dan F – Yes, agreed. So, are you rooting for UF and your wife for MSU? family split! Yes, we need to put the gas on now and just roll on, we have the talent. But, this season was still a great season, no matter what happens this afternoon. Go Gators!!!

  3. I just looked at the line-up card. I see that Sully is going with JJ at 1st base, again. I really hope this pays off, He was a liability the first game, no offense to him. His footwork was rusty, and he is not a 1st baseman. I was hoping he would catch, but it is not going to happen. Good luck and beat the horns!

  4. Bases loaded with no one out, and we can’t even bring ONE run home. This team is starting to annoy me real badly. Seriously, they don’t look they care one bit anymore. I hope they surprise me, but to have this many chances with men on and no outs and have 1 run to show for it is lame.

  5. The Gators were locked in, making only one minor (though really dumb) baserunning mistake all game. There have been distractions through injuries, draft, and weather. But to think that this team has at any point given up is just plain stupid. 6 teams left. And the Gators can beat any of them.

    Just enjoy this. Please. UF has never ever had this kind of consistent success. There was so much joy walking along the stadium’s plaques of champions, finding the last one with the University of Florida, recognizing that they still have a chance to repeat. You could feel the intensity of their play yesterday…they’re fighting for it. And their experience will help them as the other teams deal with the delays and postponements.