OMAHA, Neb. — Florida is one win away from the first baseball national title in school history, thanks to record-setting performance from sophomore righty Brady Singer, some timely hits and a big throw from a defensive replacement.
All factored into UF’s 4-3 win over LSU on Monday night in Game 1 of the College World Series finals before 25,679 at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Gators (51-19) won their 19th one-run game of the season, jumping to an early 3-0 lead and holding on before a partisan LSU crowd. Though it was UF’s first win in a College World Series finals in school history, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said the work is far from over.
“We’re here to win this thing,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the message. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow. We’re going to have to play better if we want to win this thing. And this thing is not nearly over. We got six hits tonight. Brady had to pitch his tail off.”
O’Sullivan will start freshman Tyler Dyson in tonight’s Game 2 of the series against LSU (8 p.m., ESPN) and will look for at least five innings from the righty who has thrown 7.1 straight scoreless innings during the postseason. UF is the designated home team.
“He’s got a really good arm so we’re gonna ride it,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s been really good for us the last three weeks and we’re gonna run him out there and see what he can do for us.”
On Monday night, the Gators rode the arm of Singer, who struck out a career-high 12 in seven innings to set a College World Series finals record for strikeouts in the process. Closer Michael Byrne recorded the final six outs for his 19th save of the season.
Singer (9-5) allowed three runs on eight hits, walking two and hitting a batter in 112 pitches to pick up his second career CWS win.
“It wasn’t part of the plan,” Singer said. “I wasn’t trying to strike everybody out. I was trying to get ground balls. But that’s part of baseball, part of pitching. The outs just come.”
Singer gave way to Byrne after allowing a leadoff double to Greg Deichmann in the eighth inning. LSU pulled to within 4-3 when third baseman Josh Smith lined an RBI single to right center with one out, scoring Deichmann. But Florida center fielder Nick Horvath was able to cut down Smith at second as he was trying to extend the hit for a double for the second out of the inning.
Byrne then got Beau Jordan on a comebacker to end the eighth and retired the side in order in the ninth.
Horvath was brought in as a defensive replacement in center in the eighth inning, with center fielder Ryan Larson moving to right to replace Nelson Maldonado.
“That changed the whole complexion of the game,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re down a run with one out, and all the momentum is in their favor.”
Smith took issue with the call, thinking he eluded the tag at second.
“The ball beat him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I don’t know if Josh with his swim move got around it or not. I haven’t seen the video of it.”
After three scoreless innings, Florida broke through for three runs against LSU starter Russell Reynolds (1-2) and reliever Nick Bush in the fourth. Reynolds, who entered the game with an 8.59 ERA, lost the strike zone, walking Dalton Guthrie, JJ Schwarz and Maldonado to load the bases with no outs.
Mainieri then pulled Reynolds and summoned the lefty Bush to face left-handed hitting Florida freshman outfielder Austin Langworthy, who lofted a sacrifice fly into foul territory to put the Gators up 1-0 and advance Maldonado and Schwarz to second and third.
Third baseman Jonathan India then laced a line drive, ground-rule double over the head of LSU center field Zach Watson, scoring Schwarz and Maldonado to put the Gators up 3-0.
Singer breezed through five scoreless innings before allowing a pair of runs in the sixth. Antoine Duplantis belted a solo home run to right to cut Florida’s lead to 3-1. Then, after hitting Watson and walking Smith, Singer surrendered an RBI single to Jordan to cut UF’s lead to 3-2. But Singer was able to work out of the jam by getting catcher Michael Papierski to fly out to left field.
The Gators then tacked on a big insurance run in the seventh. Langworthy doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a well-executed India sacrifice bunt. Then, with the infield drawn in, Florida catcher Mike Rivera lined an RBI single to center, putting Florida up 4-2.
Rivera made a big defensive play in the bottom of the seventh, throwing out LSU leadoff runner Kramer Robertson with one out as he attempted to take second on a pitch in the dirt. Cole Freeman then singled and Duplantis came up as the tying runner at the plate. But Singer got him on a comebacker to get out of the inning.
“I knew before the game started, we’d have obviously some rough patches,” Rivera said. “They’re a very competitive team.”
Lefty Jared Poche (12-3, 3.33 ERA) will start Tuesday night for LSU (52-19).
“We’ve got one our best guys going for us tomorrow,” Mainieri said. “Jared Poche has been a warrior for us for four years.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.