Call it Florida’s first College World Series title.
The Gators used a tried and true formula — pitching and defense — to secure their first championship in 11 CWS visits with a 6-1 win over LSU. The victory came in front of a sellout crowd of 26,607 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I’m still kind of numb,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m overcome with emotion and so happy for our players.”
Florida brought a strong team to the Series last year but went 0-2. That disappointment seemed to fuel this year’s team, which swept the best-of-three series and denied the Tigers a seventh title.
At the top of the Gator hero list Tuesday night was freshman Tyler Dyson, making his second start of the season. He went six strong innings and picked up the victory by outdueling LSU starter Jared Poche, the school’s career win leader.
“I tried to get ahead of them early and let them get themselves out,” Dyson said. “And I relied on my defense.”
Michael Byrne and Jackson Kowar finished up for Florida. Byrne, the national saves leader, went 1 1⁄3 innings, while Kowar worked out of trouble in the eighth and nailed down the victory in the ninth.
The Gators were the better team in the final, but the Tigers did their part to help. They committed three errors in the first two innings, leading to two unearned runs and comfort for a team seeking its first title.
A controversial call in the seventh inning, which certainly will be talked about for years by the LSU faithful, also cost the Tigers the tying run. LSU had just scored to close to 2-1 and had runners at first and third with no outs.
Michael Papierski hit a grounder to second baseman Deacon Liput, who started a 4-6-3 double play. Josh Smith crossed the plate to tie the game but was sent back to third when an umpire ruled interference on Jake Slaughter, who was sliding into second.
“He (the umpire) said that our base runner didn’t slide directly into the base,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I haven’t looked at the video yet.”
The play proved to be huge when Beau Jordan lined to center field for the final out, stranding Smith at third.
LSU had another chance to tie the game in the eighth, putting runners at first and third with no outs. But Antoine Duplantis struck out and first baseman JJ Schwarz made a strong defensive play, backhanding a grounder and firing home to nail a sliding Kramer Robertson.
“That was a heads-up play,” O’Sullivan said. “He made a perfect throw and that play probably saved us the game.”
Zach Watson then flew out to center for the third out.
The Gators broke the game open by scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth. Nick Horvath was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Liput chipped in a two-run single and Schwarz added a sacrifice fly.
Florida fans, seriously outnumbered by the LSU throng for the championship series, could be heard loud and clear in the ninth. Kowar finished off the win by getting Jordan to ground out to second, triggering a Gator dogpile near the mound.
“I want to congratulate Florida on its first championship,” Mainieri said. “They’re a very deserving national champion.”
Liput, who was celebrating his birthday, said teamwork was a huge key this season for the Gators.
“It seemed like someone new stepped up each game,” he said. “It was a long season, but we kept level heads and played with a lot of heart.”
Florida had grabbed the lead in the first inning, when Liput reached on an infield error and scored two batters later on an RBI single by Schwarz. The Gators had runners on first and second with no outs but couldn’t add to the lead.
Florida made it 2-0 in the second, taking advantage of two more errors. First baseman Nick Coomes’ second error led to a run when Liput’s RBI single brought home Horvath.
“The whole game was kind of bizarre,” Mainieri said. “We gave them two runs early, and it cost us.”
Florida held the lead and pulled away late to secure that elusive first championship. The Gators finished the season 52-19 while the Tigers were 52-20.
“It’s indescribable,” O’Sullivan said. “We have a terrific group of people all pulling in the same direction, and that’s how we got this done.”
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