Making his first College World Series start, sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.15 ERA) came out of the gates firing. He struck out five consecutive TCU batters to start the game while tallying a total of 11 punch outs in only five innings of work. His 11 K's would tie Florida's single-game College World Series strikeout record that Alex Faedo had set on Sunday night at TCU's expense.
Despite all their swings and misses, TCU made it count when they made contact off of Kowar. They tagged him for six base knocks which resulted in four runs. Kowar also walked two batters and had a couple of wild pitches that the Horned Frogs would capitalize on.
At the start of the sixth inning, Kowar was removed with his pitch count at 94. Freshman right-hander Garrett Milchin would enter in his place with Florida down 4-2. Pitching for the first time since May 14th against Alabama, it was evident that the Windermere product had some rust to shake off.
After a groundout on the second pitch of the inning, Milchin began to lose his command. He walked the next batter on a full count, gave up a single on an 0-2 count, and then issued his second free pass of the inning on four pitches.
On his second pitch to junior leadoff man Austen Wade, Milchin tweaked something in his throwing hand and had to come out of the game. It was now up to senior right-hander Frank Rubio with the bases juiced. Trying to avoid the big inning, the side-armer induced a groundout to sophomore third baseman Jonathan India on his third pitch of the inning.
India fielded the ball cleanly and instead of coming home with the ball, he tried to turn a 5-4-3 double play. He got the out at second base, but Florida was unable to turn two and end the inning. It was now 5-2 TCU with the run being charged to Milchin.
After a stolen base and another walk on a full count, TCU broke this game wide open. With the count 2-2 and junior catcher Evan Skoug up to bat, the seventh round draft pick smacked a bases clearing double into right center field. Two of those runs were charged to Milchin and it was now 8-2 TCU. The nail was essentially in the coffin for Florida. A grounder would end the inning, but the damage had been done.
Frank would work a perfect seventh, but would again hit a wall in the eighth. After a leadoff walk followed by a pop up, Frank gave up a one-out single on a hit-and-run. With runners on the corners, TCU got another run on a fielder's choice to junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie. It was now 9-2 Horned Frogs. Frank would get a groundout to conclude the inning.
In the ninth, Frank had no problems. He allowed a two-out single, but a groundout three pitches later would end the inning. Frank would finish with a stat line of 62 pitches thrown in 3.2 innings of relief. He allowed two earned runs on three hits while striking out one batter and walking two. Jackson Kowar's unblemished record would come to an end, as this would be his first loss of the season.
The Gator offense reverted to their anemic ways with just two runs on five hits. Both of Florida's runs came in the fourth inning by means of a Mike Rivera home run and a Dalton Guthrie double.
No Gator had multiple hits in this game. Dalton Guthrie went 1-4 out of the two-hole and had to settle for his ninth double of the year after missing a three-run home run by six inches. In the cleanup spot, sophomore designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo went 1-4 with a bloop single in the sixth inning.
Skipping down to the eight-hole, junior catcher Mike Rivera went 1-2 with a walk and his third home run of the year. The rest of Florida' hits came from pinch hitters. Keenan Bell notched the 26th base knock of his freshman campaign with a single in the ninth inning. In the same frame, fellow freshman Andrew Baker obtained his fourth-career collegiate hit with a single that moved Baker to third base.
The Gators have been loose and easy-going throughout the entire College World Series, but this loss has to add some form of pressure. No Florida team has ever blown a 2-0 semifinal lead, and it looks like the bats may be trending downwards.
However, Florida does have the ideal situation going into their third elimination game of this postseason. I'll explain why after the tidbits from this loss:
- Florida is now 16-22 all-time in the College World Series.
- The Gators' all-time record against TCU is now 1-1.
- Deacon Liput's seven-game hitting streak is now over after an 0-4 night.
- Liput's team lead for steals is gone too, as Jonathan India nabbed his 13th stolen base in the fourth inning.
- TCU's top offensive performers (Part I) were: right fielder Austen Wade (2-5 a double, two runs scored, two RBI's, and a stolen base) and freshman designated hitter Zach Humphreys (1-3 with a double, a run scored, two RBI's, and two walks).
- TCU's top offensive performers (Part II) were: Evan Skoug (2-5 with a double and three RBIs). senior third baseman Elliott Barzilli (2-5 with a run scored) and sophomore left fielder Josh Watson (2-3 with a triple, two runs scored, two RBI's, and a walk).
- TCU freshman right-hander Charles King (1-3, 5.44 ERA) was sensational in relief. Throwing 3.1 innings, King allowed zero runs on just one hit while fanning five Gators.
- TCU senior shortstop Ryan Merrill made the only error of the game in the fourth inning, but it would not come back to hurt the Horned Frogs.
- I didn't say this the last two articles, but the strike zone was terrible for both teams. It has been like this the entire College World Series and it is a disgrace to baseball how inconsistent the home plate umpires have been.
- 25, 329 were in attendance for this semifinal matchup.
So here we are. The season and a trip to the title game is on the line for No. 3 Florida (49-19) as they take on No. 6 TCU (50-17) for the third and final time. Elaborating on what I said earlier, Florida has everything lined up as the pitching combination will be Alex Faedo, Tyler Dyson, and Michael Byrne.
The trio was untouchable against TCU on Sunday night, so hopefully they have a repeat performance on tap. Ideally, Faedo gets an early lead and eats up seven innings before Dyson and Byrne close it out in the eighth and ninth.
For TCU, they will trot out redshirt sophomore right-hander Jared Janczak (9-1, 2.19), who suffered his first loss of the season to Florida in their first meeting. Expect the TCU ace to be ready to go after not getting it done in the opening round against the Gators.
This will be a low-scoring game where runs will be at a premium. If either team can get to the other's ace early, then it may be game over. For Florida though, they do have the luxury of trotting out Dyson or Byrne in the event that Faedo gets into trouble with the game hanging in the balance.
Granted, Faedo himself can work out of high-leverage situations fairly well, but just having that safety net there has to make Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan breathe a sigh of relief.
First pitch is slated for 8 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network (which again is the best commentary to listen to if you feel that the ESPN announcers are coming off as biased). Regardless of who wins, the victor will be playing for the first national championship in school history next week!
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
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