By Eric Olson
AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. — Florida entered the College World Series last year with eight players taken in the first 10 rounds of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft and was an overwhelming favorite to win its first national title in baseball. The Gators scored three runs in 18 innings and became the first Southeastern Conference team since 2007 to go two games and out.
This year, with 16 freshmen and sophomores and two 2017 draft picks, the Gators have allowed one run in their first two games and are one victory from playing in the best-of-three finals next week.
A couple guys who went through that 0-2 debacle last year played major roles in the Gators’ 5-1 win over Louisville on Tuesday night. Brady Singer pitched seven strong innings, Deacon Liput hit a three-run homer, and Florida (49-18) has won its first two CWS games for the first time in four appearances since opening 3-0 and reaching the finals in 2011.
“We learned so much last year, going two and out, and now winning the first two games, we’ve learned a lot,” Singer said. “Obviously, slow the heart rate down and then just pitching to your strengths and hitting to your strengths and doing what you’ve always done.”
Florida plays Friday in the Bracket 2 final against the winner of Thursday’s Louisville-TCU elimination game.
Louisville (53-11) managed one run and six hits and struck out nine times against Singer (8-5). Florida pitchers finished with 10 strikeouts, making it their fifth straight game with double-digit Ks.
Left-handed-swinging freshman Austin Langworthy sliced a ball just inside the left field foul pole in the third inning and Liput hit a three-run homer to right in the fourth. Both homers came against Louisville starter Kade McClure (8-4), who otherwise was impressive in striking out nine and walking one in six innings.
“I thought the stuff was electric,” Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. “He just had that one hiccup in the fourth. I know that’s going to eat him up.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound McClure walked Nelson Maldonado with two outs in the fourth and Jonathan India blooped a single before Liput drove a low 1-2 pitch into the bullpen for his second homer in four games and third of the season.
“A four-pitch walk is on me, and then a jam shot and (Liput) golfed the ball over the fence,” McClure said. “That’s what happens. Like Coach said, it’s baseball. Not too worried about it.”
Singer hummed along through six innings, striking out eight, walking none and limiting the Cardinals to three singles. Louisville broke through for a run in the seventh when Brendan McKay doubled and scored on Colin Lyman’s two-out single. A base hit and walk followed, but the Cardinals left the bases loaded when Logan Taylor grounded out.
“I guess I was getting a little bit tired,” Singer said. “I just had to fight through it.”
Now the Gators get two days off and will be content to face Louisville or TCU at the end of the week.
“I’ll be honest with you,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, “I stay out of their way. Every team’s different. You just hope that the more times you come out here (to Omaha), you get more relaxed. And let’s face it, you have to have breaks go your way, too.”
Florida’s Maldonado, already playing on a bad ankle, hurt his right shoulder diving back to third base on a pickoff attempt in the fourth. The athletic trainer and O’Sullivan tended to Maldonado, who stayed in the game after moving his arms to loosen up.
WHAT’S THE COUNT?
A discrepancy on the ball-strike count arose in the third inning when Louisville’s Taylor took first base on a full count rather than a ball four. Home-plate umpire Troy Fullwood went to the video review area and put the headset on even though it was not a reviewable situation. Fullwood ordered Taylor to return to the batter’s box, and Singer struck him out on the next pitch.