Gutty decision to go to Kowar helped save CWS win for Gators

Jackson Kowar championship
Florida pitcher Jackson Kowar celebrates Tuesday after the Gators defeat LSU in Game 2 to win the College World Series finals in Omaha, Neb. [AP Photo/Nati Harnik]

OMAHA, Neb. — In the eighth inning Tuesday night against LSU in the College World Series, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan had to make a game-altering decision.
Ride trusted sophomore closer Michael Byrne, who was struggling to get batters out in his second straight appearance against the Tigers. Or turn to sophomore righty starter Jackson Kowar to make his first relief appearance of the season.
O’Sullivan went with Kowar, the expected starter for the possible Game 3 on Wednesday. The move worked. Kowar pitched 1.2 scoreless innings for his first career save in UF’s 6-1 national title clinching win over LSU at TD Ameritrade Park.
O’Sullivan said he made the move with Florida clinging to a 2-1 lead because he didn’t want to lose the lead and face the prospect of seeing LSU ace Alex Lange on Wednesday.
“That was the situation that was not going to probably work in our favor, to be honest with you,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s very competitive. He’s an older kid. I thought about starting Jackson in the eighth, and my gut told me to stay with Michael.”
Quickly, Byrne got into trouble. LSU leadoff batter Kramer Robertson started the inning with a soft single just past diving UF second baseman Deacon Liput. Robertson then moved to second on a wild pitch and got to third on a bunt single by Cole Freeman.
“Michael just wasn’t getting many swings and misses,” O’Sullivan said. “He was getting the two strikes a lot but couldn’t quite put anyone away.”
Byrne did put away Antoine Duplantis for a big strikeout before O’Sullivan turned to Kowar, who told him before the game he would be available to pitch a couple of innings. Kowar had thrown 94 pitches in five innings in UF’s 9-2 loss to TCU on Friday night.
“I knew there was a chance I could come in,” Kowar said. “I was feeling really fresh the past couple of weeks. I knew I could get a couple of outs and start (Wednesday) if necessary.”
Kowar got a big lift from his defense. Inheriting runners on first and third, Kowar got LSU right fielder Greg Deichmann to hit a sharp grounder to first. JJ Schwarz, playing even with the bag, fielded the grounder cleanly and fired a throw home to catcher Mike Rivera, getting Robertson at home plate.
“It was a heads-up play,” O’Sullivan said. “The thing is he bounced up aggressively, and he threw the ball on the right side of the bag. If he throws the ball on the first base side, he’s safe. Made a perfect throw. Quick feet. Probably saved the game.”
Kowar then got Zach Watson to fly out to center to end the inning. Florida rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth, creating a stress-free situation for Kowar to close the game out in the ninth.
“It worked out,” O’Sullivan said. “But sometimes you make these decisions and they don’t work out and you look like a fool. And sometimes you make them and the players make you look like you’re smart.”