Tuesday, June 13, 2017

UF Baseball: Thrice is Nice, Florida is Going Back to Omaha!!!

The No. 3 seeded Florida Gators (47-18) are going back to the College World Series for the third straight year and 11th overall time in program history! In a super regional plagued with rain on every single day, the Gators needed three games to defeat the offensive juggernaut in the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (43-20). Here is recap of each game!

Game 1 (June 10th)
In the super regional opener, the No. 3 Florida Gators (46-17) notched their first walk-off win of the season as they defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (42-19) by a score of 2-1 in 11 innings.

Taking the mound for his last ever start at the Mac was ace junior right-hander Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.55 ERA). He was able to make it four innings before a weather delay abruptly ended his outing. Throwing 72 pitches, Faedo allowed no runs on four hits, struck out nine Demon Deacons, and walked just one batter.

When play resumed a few hours later, it was sophomore right-hander Brady Singer who took the mound in the fifth to protect a 1-0. He was sensational in relief to say the least. Throwing four innings like Faedo, Singer struck out eight while holding Wake scoreless on just two hits.

When it was time for sophomore closer Michael Byrne to shut it down in the ninth, the score remained 1-0 Florida. Having been stellar all season, Byrne finally showed he was human as he gave up a leadoff homer off the bat of senior All-American catcher Ben Breazeale.

With the wind now taken out of their sails, Florida had to find a way to generate some sort of offense. They could not afford to lose this game. In the 10th inning, Wake had runners on second and third with one out. Byrne was still in game and in need of the two biggest outs of the season up to this point.

He got junior All-American center fielder Stuart Fairchild to strike out before walking junior All-American first baseman Gavin Sheets to load the bases with two down. With Breazdale back up, it was Byrne who won the battle this time as he struck out the Wake catcher to strand the runners.

In the 11th, Wake again put a runner in scoring position with a man on second and one out. Byrne remained poised though, as he struck out the next two batters to keep the game tied. Florida would proceed to walk it off in the bottom of the frame to give Byrne his fourth win of the season.

In his three innings of relief that totaled 53 pitches, Byrne rung up six Demon Deacons, walked two, and gave up the one earned run on the ninth inning dinger.

Florida's offensive performance had many fans concerned as they scored just two runs on four total hits. Those runs came on a groundout in the third inning and a single in the 11th. Here's how that memorable 11th inning went down:

11th Inning
Jonathan India drew a walk and advanced to second based on a passed ball. Dalton Guthrie struck out trying to get the bunt down, giving Wake their first out of the inning. JJ Schwarz and Nelson Maldonaldo then got hit in back-to-back at-bats to load the bases with one out.

Mark Kolozsvary came in to pinch-hit and struck out on three pitches for the second out. The game now rested in the hands of senior outfielder Ryan Larson. It was his first game back from an injury he had sustained in the SEC Tournament, and he had already doubled in the second inning of this game nearly six hours ago.

With the bases still juiced and the count 0-1, Larson singled up the middle to plate India and give Florida their first walk-off win of 2017! The entire Gator team came swarming from the dugout as they mobbed Larson and ran him all the way out to center field!

Offensive Performers
Ryan Larson was Florida's offensive hero as he went 2-5 with a double and the game-winning RBI singe in the 11th inning. Outside of Larson's performance, Mike Rivera (1-3 with a run scored and a walk) and Deacon Liput (1-3 with a walk) were the only other Gators with base knocks.

Final Takeaway
Despite the offensive woes and the weather delay, Florida still managed to dig deep and snatch the Game 1 victory from Wake Forest. Before recapping Game 2, here are my final tidbits on the opener:

  • Florida is now 6-3 in super regional openers.
  • This is Florida's third extra-inning victory this year, evening up their record in extra frames to 3-3.
  • Though not his fault at all, this is Alex Faedo's eighth no-decision of the year.
  • Ryan Larson's double was his ninth of the season. His multi-hit game tonight was also his 13th of the year.
  • Jonathan India got down his fourth sacrifice bunt of the year in the third inning of this game.
  • Wake Forest's top offensive performers were: senior left fielder Jonathan Pryor (2-4 with a double and a walk), Stuart Fairchild (2-5 with a stolen base), and Ben Breazeale (1-5 with a home run).
  • Nelson Maldonaldo drew a team-high two walks for Florida. Gavin Sheets drew a pair of walks as well for Wake.
  • 3,910 people were at the Mac for the opener, though I doubt that many were still there when Larson walked it off.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Game 2 (June 11th/12th)
The second game of this super regional was a two-day affair as it was suspended with Wake Forest leading 5-4 in the fifth inning. When play resumed on Monday, June 12th, the Demon Deacons (43-19) emerged with the 8-6 walk-off victory over the No. 3 Florida Gators (46-18).

Florida trotted out sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (12-0, 4.00 ERA) with a spot in Omaha on the line. He had his roughest outing of the season as he gave up four runs in the first inning thanks to two Wake Forest home runs.

When the rain hit and ceased play for the day, Kowar finished with a stat line of five earned runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings. He struck out five and walked three while throwing 106 pitches in the outing.

When the game resumed the next day, freshman left-hander Austin Langworthy entered with the Gators down 5-4. He would allow three hits in his 1.1 innings of relief. When he departed, the score was tied at 5-5 with fellow freshman Kirby McMullen taking the mound in the seventh inning.

The right-hander would serve up a home run to Wake third baseman Johnny Aiello, making it 6-5 Wake. After surrendering the lead and walking the next batter on five pitchers, McMullen would promptly get the hook from head coach Kevin O'Sullivan.

Out of the bullpen now would be another freshman in Tyler Dyson. The 6'2 right-hander was untouchable, as he struck out two and retired all six batters he faced in two innings. As Dyson kept dealing, Florida would tie it up at 6-6 in the top of the eighth.

In the ninth, Sully again went to his best reliever as Michael Byrne was called upon to throw in back-to-back games. He worked past a runner reaching in both the ninth and 10th, but his luck ran out in the 11th.

After giving up a leadoff single to Gavin Sheets, Byrne was again antagonized by none other than Ben Breazeale. With the count 3-2, Brezeale hit an absolute moonshot to right field to walk this one off 8-6.

It would be Byrne's fourth loss of the season, as he finished with stat line of two earned runs allowed on two hits, four strikeouts, and one walk. He threw 46 pitches in this game, almost ensuring he would not see the field in Game 3.

The Gators showed some more offensive vigor in the second game as they banged out eight hits and scored six runs. However, it was still not enough to keep pace with Wake Forest's 17 hits and their effortless ability to launch the ball out of the Mac.

Falling into an early 4-0 hole, the Gators plated a pair in the third and fifth, one in the sixth, and one in the eighth as they played catchup all day.

Florida had two multi-hitters in the game. In the five-hole, Jonathan India went 2-5 with his 11th stolen base of the season. At the very bottom of the lineup in the nine-hole, Deacon Liput had himself a game.

In the third inning, he belted a two-run blast to right field that cut the lead to 4-2. Then in the fifth he singled down the line to plate one. He finished 2-5 with his second home run of the season, a team-high three RBI's, and a run scored.

Deacon was not the only Gator to go yard, as JJ Schwarz put one off the O-Dome in the eighth inning to knot the score up at 6-6. It was JJ's 11th long ball of the year and his first hit of the super regional.

The remaining Gators with hits were junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie (1-3 with a sacrifice fly), Austin Langworthy (1-4 with a run scored and a sacrifice fly), and junior first baseman Christian Hicks (1-4 with a double, two runs scored, and a walk).

Florida had two errors in this game, one which cost them dearly. In the bottom of the first inning, Deacon Liput made a poor throw to Christian Hicks on a potential double play turn. With just one out instead of two, Wake rallied and put up four runs in the first. From there on it was an upward climb for Florida.

The second error was a throwing gaffe from JJ Schwarz that put a Wake runner on third base with two outs. He would not score.

On the flip side, Florida had some superb fielding in the fifth inning. On a two-out single up the middle, Ryan Larson threw out the lead runner at the plate to keep the scor at 6-5 Wake. The play would be reviewed and upheld as an out as the runner did not appear to even touch home plate to begin with.

Wake Forest Batting
When seven guys in your lineup get multiple hits, you have rightfully earned an actual subheading in the article. Knowing this would create a cluster down in the tidbits, here are Wake Forest's leading offensive performers from the Game 2 victory.

Leadoff man Jonathan Pryer went 3-4 with a walk. Three-hole Stuart Fairchild went 2-4 with a double, a run scored, and two walks. Clean-up man Gavin Sheets went 2-6 a home run, two runs scored, and three RBI's. Five-hole Ben Breazeale essentially replicated Sheets's stat line except both of his hits were home runs (one being the walk-off).

In the six-hole, Johnny Aiello went 3-5 with a pair of homers, two runs scored, and two RBI's. Skipping down to the final two batters, both Keegan Maronpot and Logan Harvey went 2-5.

Final Takeaway
With the momentum clearly in Wake's favor and their pitching nearly decimated, Florida needed somebody to step up if they were to make a third straight trip to the College World Series. Before recapping an exciting finale, here are my final tidbits on the Game 2 loss:

  • This is just Florida's seventh loss in super regionals.
  • Florida's record in extra inning games now falls to 3-4.
  • This is India's 14th and Liput's 12th multi-hit game of the season.
  • Hicks's double was his 10th of the season.
  • The five home runs that Florida allowed in this loss is now the most they have surrendered in one game this year.
  • This is just the second time all year that Jackson Kowar has reached triple digits in his pitch count. It was his fifth no-decision of the season.
  • Dalton Guthrie's sac fly in the fifth inning gives him a team-leading six on the year. Austin Langworthy's sac fly in the sixth inning was just his third of the season.
  • Both pitching staffs were dealing. Florida struck out 12 Demon Deacons and Wake struck out 10 Gators.
  • 3,381 fans showed out for Game 2, but again I cannot trust these figures due to the rain delay and postponement.

Game 3 (June 12th)
In this winner-take-all super regional finale, the No. 3 Florida Gators (47-18) punched their ticket to a third consecutive College World Series with a 3-0 shutout victory over Wake Forest (43-20).

With the finale commencing an hour after Game 2, Florida called upon Brady Singer (7-5, 3.29 ERA) to stymie Wake Forest. He did just that. In only two innings of work, Brady allowed one hit and no runs before rain came pouring down for the third consecutive day.

Brady was furious, as he was only at 22 pitches and throwing the ball very well. He knew that with this inevitable, lengthy rain delay that his day would be over.

When the game continued a few hours later, Florida sported a 1-0 lead as the third inning was set to begin. Entering from the bullpen just hours after throwing in Game 2 was again freshman Tyler Dyson. He put on an absolute clinic in the biggest game of his young collegiate career.

Giving Florida five incredible innings out of the bullpen, Dyson allowed no runs on just two hits while fanning seven and walking none. After throwing a season/career-high 58 pitches, Dyson was removed at the start of the eighth inning.

In his place came the guy that every Gator fan in the Mac was expecting: Alex Faedo. Just hours after being drafted 18th overall by the Detroit Tigers, Faedo was on for his first relief appearance since his freshman season.

The inning started off slow as Faedo walked his first batter on five pitchers. After a fly out and a pop out in a span of four pitches, Wake dropped down a bunt on Faedo to bring Jake Mueller to plate as the tying run. With the count full and runners on first and second, Faedo struck Mueller out swinging to preserve the 3-0 lead.

In the ninth, it was Faedo against the heart of Wake's lineup. He didn't miss a beat. He struck out Stuart Fairchild for the first out and induced a fly out from clean-up man Gavin Sheets. All that stood in Florida's way from Omaha was Ben Breazeale, who had been giving the Gators headaches all weekend.

Breazeale was no match for Faedo, as the first rounder struck him out swinging to send the Gators back to the College World Series. It was Faedo's first career save and a very fitting way for him to end his playing days at the Mac. For Dyson, his efforts were rewarded as he notched his third victory of the season.

Runs were at a premium in this game and the Gators were able to muster up three on a super regional-high 10 hits. Florida struck early as they scored once in the second and twice in the third. With Dyson and Faedo doing their thing, three runs would be plenty.

Florida's first run of the game came on an RBI single from Mike Rivera that scored Jonathan India. The next pair came with Dalton Guthrie on second and JJ Schwarz up to bat. Down in the count 1-2, JJ unloaded and put a ball into orbit out in left field. This would be his 12th home run of the season and give Florida much needed breathing room.

Really coming alive when it mattered most, Florida had four guys register multiple base hits in this one. In the two-hole, Dalton Guthrie went 3-4 with a run scored. Behind him, JJ Schwarz went 2-4 with his two-run blast and a run scored.

Back at it again from the five-hole, Jonathan India went 2-4 with a double and a run scored. Right after him with another multi-hit game, Deacon Liput went 2-4 as well. Rounding out the Gator offense as a whole, Mike Rivera went 1-3 with the RBI single and a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning.

Umpire Controversy
This is worth mentioning because it would have been at the forefront of every Gator fan's complaints had Florida lost. In the bottom of the second inning with Deacon Liput on second and Mike Rivera on first with no outs, Austin Langworthy hit a fly ball to center field.

When center fielder Stuart Fairchild caught the ball, he lost control of it as he wound back to throw it in. Simultaneously, Deacon Liput tagged up from second and took third base to make it first and third with one out.

Apparently though, the umpires ruled it a dropped ball even though Fairchild clearly caught it. Seeing this, Wake Forest threw the ball to second to get Rivera out while Langworthy remained on first right next to Rivera.

So either way the result should have been the same regardless if the call was right or not. Well, not exactly. Upon review, the umpires reversed the call and said it was a catch. As a result, Deacon Liput was forced to go back to second base and it was now first and second with one out.

Sully was not happy as he gave the umpiring crew a piece of his mind. Meanwhile, boos from the Gator Faithful rained down on the umpires. It was a terrible call and fortunately did not hurt Florida as they did ultimately win the game.

Final Takeaway
Yet again, this Florida Gator baseball team defied their critics and stepped up with their backs against the wall. They somehow shut down one of the best offenses in America with a depleted pitching staff and an offense that comes and goes as it pleases.

If this is not a testament to how good of a coach Kevin O'Sullivan is, I do not know what is. This team was written off by so many after the 16-0 Arkansas debacle and the Bethune-Cookman loss in regionals. I can guarantee that same doubt arose in the short intercession between Games 2 and 3 of super regionals.

This Florida team may lack the talent of other Gator Omaha teams from years past, but their resiliency and unpredictability makes them a fun club to watch! Before previewing their highly anticipated College World Series matchup with TCU (47-16), here are my final tidbits on the super regional clincher:

  • This is just the third time ever that Florida has had to play a Game 3 in super regionals. They are a perfect 3-0 in those contests.
  • Florida is now 14-7 in super regional play.
  • This is the sixth time the Gators have advanced to the College World Series at the expense of an ACC team.
  • This is also Florida's sixth CWS appearance in Kevin O'Sullivan's tenure and their sixth trip to Omaha in the last eight years!
  • Florida improves to 7-3 all-time against Wake Forest.
  • This is Florida's seventh shutout of the season.
  • This is Guthrie's 21st, Schwarz's 16th, India's 15th, and Liput's 13th multi-hit game of the season.
  • India's double was his team-leading 13th of the year.
  • Rivera's sac bunt was his second of the year.
  • Austin Langworthy nabbed his seventh stolen base in the fourth inning of this game after drawing a walk.
  • Gavin Sheets was the only Demon Deacon to record an extra-base hit with a double in the seventh inning.
  • Apparently, 3,381 fans were in attendance yet again for this one. I can promise you after the rain delay that this figure may be a tad inflated.

Looking Ahead
Finally, the matchup that both these fanbases have been waiting for has finally arrived. In the opening round of the College World Series, No. 3 Florida and No. 6 TCU will meet on the baseball diamond for the FIRST time ever.

Twice in the College World Series (2010 & 2016) did these two have a chance to face each other, but it never came to fruition. Now, there are no more obstacles. On June 18th at 7 p.m., America will be treated to an incredible matchup between two of the most elite programs in the country.

Florida and TCU share many similarities. They bring in high-caliber talent year-in and year-out, their seasons usually end in Omaha, and their success has been slightly marred by the fact that they have no national championship.

I would like to assume that Florida will be throwing Jackson Kowar, as he has not thrown since Saturday. For TCU, it is safe to assume that they will be throwing sophomore All-American right-hander Jared Janczak (9-0, 1.97 ERA). The game can be seen on ESPN2 and heard on the GatorIMGSportsNetwork.

As for Wake Forest (43-20), they conclude the season with their best record since the 2002 campaign. They will finish ranked in the Top 25 polls and should take pride in a hard fought season. Not to mention also that both Stuart Fairchild (57th overall to the Cincinnati Reds) and Gavin Sheets (60th overall to the Chicago White Sox) were selected in the first two rounds of this year's MLB Draft.



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