By Eric Olson
AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo dominated TCU for a second straight time, and now he and his Florida Gators teammates will face a familiar opponent in the College World Series finals.
The Detroit Tigers’ first-round draft pick pitched three-hit ball for 7 1/3 shutout innings to lead the Gators to a 3-0 win Saturday night, setting up an all-Southeastern Conference best-of-three finals against LSU beginning at 7 p.m. Monday.
No. 3 national seed Florida (50-19) is in the finals for the first time since 2011 and looking for its first championship in baseball. Fourth-seeded LSU, which shared the SEC regular-season title with the Gators, advanced with a 6-1 win over No. 1 Oregon State on Saturday.
Florida won two of three regular-season meetings with LSU in Gainesville in March. The Tigers will be the home team in Game 1 of the finals and the Gators in Game 2. LSU would be the home team if a Game 3 is necessary.
“I think they’ve been playing as good as anybody in the country at this point,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of LSU. “Offensively they’ve been clicking. We played them enough. So we certainly know we have our hands full.”
TCU (50-18) had beaten the Gators 9-2 on Friday to force the winner-take-all bracket final and the teams’ third meeting in a week.
“It helps that we’ve had to bounce back all year,” UF’s Christian Hicks said. “The game before has no bearing on today’s game. You just flush that and come back out and try to do your best today.”
Faedo (9-2) struck out 11, just as he did last Sunday in a 3-0 win over the Horned Frogs. Michael Byrne finished for his 18th save.
“I thought our at-bats were significantly better today than they were the last time we faced him,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “But the chances that we did get, he made pitches. We hit some balls hard. The balls we did hit hard seemed to be at somebody. But that doesn’t take away from how outstanding he was.”
O’Sullivan worked the same formula, strong starting pitching and timely hitting.
“Obviously it all started on the mound again with Alex. He gutted it out. Made some really big pitches when he needed to,” O’Sullivan said.”Got some timely hits again. But that’s kind of been us all year long.
“It was unfortunate that we lost Dalton there early in the game. We had to make some defensive adjustments. But I thought we played great defense. I thought some guys stepped up. That’s kind of been us all year long.”
Faedo was the loser in the Gators’ last game in Omaha in 2016, giving up a two-run homer in a 3-2 loss to Texas Tech in an elimination game.
“Just throughout the day, I just tried to think back to my start last year when I was kind of in the same situation,” he said. “It all came down to one pitch. And that’s what I tried to bring to the game this year — I just can’t make that pitch again that lost the game last year. We’ve been in this situation before, and I tried to bear down with every pitch I threw.”
The Gators had struggled on offense since they arrived in Omaha, but with Faedo holding down the Frogs they were able to muster enough against Jared Janczak (9-2).
Austin Langworthy doubled and scored on a groundout in the second inning, Hicks doubled in a run in the fifth, and he scored in the seventh when he tripled and came home on Deacon Liput’s grounder that deflected off first base.
Faedo reached for his cramping right calf after delivering a pitch to Josh Watson in the seventh, and he grabbed the calf again when he struck Watson out to end the inning. He came out for the eighth and got a groundout, but he left after Austen Wade singled.
Zach Humphreys greeted Byrne with a base hit, but the star closer struck out Evan Skoug and got Cam Warner to fly out to end the threat.
“All I was trying to do was get a groundball (against Skoug), and it just happened to be a strikeout, so that was big,” Byrne said. “I had to get Cam out. He got me last game on a double in the gap. I threw good pitches to him and got out of it.”
Janczak and Faedo were matched up for the second time. Janczak, who struggled against the Gators last Sunday, struck out seven, walked none and scattered seven hits in seven innings.
“We didn’t get out-efforted. We tried hard,” Schlossnagle said. “I felt good about our attitude and our effort. But Florida played better. And they deserve to be in the championship, and best of luck to them.”
Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie, son of former big league pitcher Mark Guthrie, left the game with back spasms after striking out in the top of the third. Liput moved from second base to shortstop, and Blake Reese took over at second.
“I think he just had some back spasms,” O’Sullivan said. “And I guess early indications he’ll be fine to play. But obviously that will be up to the medical staff. But they feel confident he’ll be ready to go by Monday.”
TCU caught a bad break with two outs in the seventh when Liput’s high bouncer heading right at first baseman Connor Wanhanen deflected off the bag toward surprised second baseman Cam Warner, who couldn’t make the play at first. If the Frogs get Liput, the inning’s over. As it was, Hicks was able to score from third for a 3-0 lead.
UF recorded its sixth 50-win season in school history. … Faedo took over the lead for most strikeouts this season in the NCAA’s top division at 157. LSU ace Alex Lange has 150. … Faedo broke the school record for most strikeouts in a season (157). He passed Rob Bonanno who had 148 in 1994. … Florida advances to the College World Series finals for the third time in school history. The Gators lost to South Carolina in 2011 and fell to Texas in 2005 in two games each.