Sunday, July 9, 2017

2017 Gator Baseball: A SPECIAL Year In Review

In their 103rd season, the Florida Gator baseball team made 2017 unforgettable as they won the first national championship in school history! Posting a record of 52-19 (21-9 SEC) on the season, the Gators conquered many obstacles on route to that elusive first title. Here's a look back on their road to the championship!

SEC Tournament
Entering the SEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed for the 10th time in school history, Florida narrowly defeated the No. 8 seeded Auburn Tigers (35-24) by a score of 5-4 in the second round. Their next opponent would be the No. 5 seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs (36-24) in the quarterfinals two days later.

Using a big eighth inning, the Gators smoked the Bulldogs by a lopsided score of 12-3 to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight year. Here they would face the No. 4 seeded Arkansas Razorbacks (42-17) and suffer the worst SEC Tournament loss in school history.

The Razorbacks run-ruled the Gators by a score of 16-0 and left many Florida fans baffled and concerned about how this team would do in the postseason. Some were bold enough to even say that Florida did not deserve to host a regional after losing this bad as the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

NCAA Regionals
When Selection Sunday came, Florida was given the No. 3 national seed. Their regional was paired with the winner of the Winston-Salem regional and would play host to Marist (33-23), South Florida (41-17), and Bethune-Cookman (36-25).

In their regional opener against Marist, the Gators did not look too sharp in a 10-6 victory. Next up was South Florida, who had beaten Florida at home by a score of 15-10 on May 9th. This game would need 12 innings, but due to the endurance of closer Michael Byrne and some 12th inning throwing errors from South Florida, the Gators would prevail 5-1.

In the regional final, Florida was matched up against Bethune-Cookman after the Wildcats downed South Florida in the elimination game. The Gators sported a 31-0 record against BCU, so losing never came across as a feasible option to Florida or their fans. However, the Wildcats did not get the memo as they stunned Florida by a score of 6-2.

Now facing elimination, Florida had to rely on a true freshman to pitch them to victory while figuring out how to get the bats working. Fortunately, Kirby McMullen and Austin Langworthy stepped up on the mound as they shut down the Wildcats' offense.

Langworthy hit a three-run home run to kickstart the offense in the sixth inning and the Gators never looked back. They won 6-1 to claim their third straight regional title and would play in a super regional for the ninth time in program history.

NCAA Super Regionals
In the Gainesville Super Regional, Florida would face one of the best offenses in the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (43-20). Before getting any further, I will mention that EVERY SINGLE ONE of these games was delayed by the weather in some fashion.

In a Game 1 that started at 3 p.m. and eventually ended shortly after 10 p.m., the Gators prevailed 2-1 in 11 innings. Senior outfielder Ryan Larson played the hero as he smacked a walk off single up the middle to plate the winning run with the bases loaded and two outs. It would be his biggest hit of the postseason for Florida.

Game 2 would begin on Sunday and end on Monday due to weather. It also ended in walk off fashion as Wake Forest hit a walk off two-run home run off of Michael Byrne to give Wake an 8-6 win in 11 innings. Game 3 began shortly thereafter (with rain interrupting of course), and Florida would punch their ticket to the College World Series with a 3-0 victory.

JJ Schwarz would hit a big home run in the third inning and freshman Tyler Dyson mowed down the Wake Forest lineup to set the stage for Alex Faedo. Having been selected 18th overall by the Detroit Tigers just hours before, Faedo entered in the eighth to get the final six outs of the game. He would do just that, and Florida was going back to Omaha for the 11th time in school history!

College World Series
Looking to finally leave Omaha with a title, the Gators would have to defeat all nationally seeded opponents to get to the promise land. In their opener, the Gators blanked the No. 6 seeded TCU Horned Frogs (50-18) by a score of 3-0 behind an incredible performance from Alex Faedo.

Against the No. 7 seeded Louisville Cardinals (53-12), Florida's offense showed up as they won 5-1. In a rematch against TCU in the semifinals, Florida was humbled as the Horned Frogs routed them 9-2.

In the winner-take-all game, Florida brought back Alex Faedo and again TCU had no answer. He threw a gem in his final college game as Florida again shut out TCU by a score of 3-0.

For the third time ever, Florida would be playing for a national championship in the College World Series Finals! Their opponent would be the No. 4 seeded LSU Tigers (52-20), who had won six titles and had never lost in the national championship.

No one needed to tell Florida how much a national championship victory over LSU would mean. The Tigers had been named "co-champions" of the SEC regular season with Florida despite the Gators having won the series in Gainesville. In addition, LSU had won the SEC Tournament and had been on 17-game winning streak before falling to Oregon State.

Yet, LSU had found a way to defeat one of the winningest teams in college baseball history as they beat Oregon State twice to advance to the College World Series Finals. With some serious momentum and most of the stadium supporting LSU, it was clear that the Gators had quite a challenge ahead of them.

Game 1 would be a nail-biter as Brady Singer's excellent pitching and Jonathan India's two-run double gave Florida a 4-3 win. It would be their first ever victory in the College World Series Finals and put them one game away from a national championship.

Game 2 saw Tyler Dyson take the mound and he gave the Gators six masterful innings. Some of the most iconic defensive plays in Gator baseball history occurred in this game. In the seventh inning, Nick Horvath made a sliding catch to conclude the frame. This came right after an LSU run had been taken off the board due to a dirty slide attempt at Gator shortstop Dalton Guthrie.

In the eighth inning, JJ Schwarz fielded a ground ball and threw out LSU's tying run at the plate to keep the score 2-1 Florida. In both of these innings, LSU had gotten the tying run to third base with no outs and could not capitalize.

After plating four runs in the bottom of the eighth, Florida upped their lead to 6-1. That would be all Jackson Kowar would need, as he induced the game-ending groundout to second baseman Deacon Liput for Florida's first ever national championship!

Season Accomplishments
Winning the first national championship in school history is obviously the biggest accomplishment for Florida this season, but their excellence doesn't stop there. Here are some other achievements from the Florida Gator baseball team in 2017:

  • SEC regular season champions for the 14th time in program history
  • Posted over 50 wins for the sixth time in school history and their 52 wins this year marks the third straight season they have reached this win total.
  • 10 shutout victories
  • Notched 23 victories over ten ranked opponents (Part I). They were (at the time): No. 17 Miami (thrice), No. 3/10/25 Florida State (thrice), No. 4/2 LSU (four times), No. 23 Missouri (thrice)
  • Notched 23 victories over ten ranked opponents (Part II). They were (at the time): No. 18 South Carolina (twice), No. 7 Kentucky (twice), No. 13 Mississippi State, No. 11 Wake Forest (twice), No. 4 TCU (twice), No. 5 Louisville
  • Eight series sweeps (William & Mary, Miami, Columbia, Missouri, Florida State, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama)
  • Won eight of their 10 SEC series while suffering losses to Auburn (three), Tennessee (two), LSU (once), Vanderbilt (once), South Carolina (one), and Kentucky (one).
  • Won their 12th regional title
  • Defended McKethan Stadium well with a 29-9 home record
  • Won over 20 SEC games for the ninth time in school history.
  • Made the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive season and it is their 33rd appearance overall.
  • Won a national championship despite not having a single player on the team hit .300!
  • Finished eighth in the NCAA with a fielding percentage of .981!
  • Won three elimination games in the NCAA Tournament!
  • Went 7-5 in midweek games (would have been 7-6 had they not cancelled the Stetson game due to rain)

Award Winners
After looking at what the team as a whole did, let's now look at some of the accolades that the players themselves earned:

  • ABCA/Diamond South Regional Coach of the Year
    • Kevin O'Sullivan
  • ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-Americans
    • P - Alex Faedo (Junior)
  • ABCA/Rawlings South All-Region First Team
    • P - Alex Faedo
    • RP - Michael Byrne (Sophomore)

  • Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-Americans
    • P - Alex Faedo

  • SEC Second Team All-Americans
    • DH/UT - JJ Schwarz (Junior)
    • P - Alex Faedo
    • P - Brady Singer (Sophomore)
    • RP - Michael Byrne
  • SEC All-Defensive Team
    • 2B - Deacon Liput (Sophomore)
    • SS- Dalton Guthrie (Junior)
  • SEC Academic Honor Roll
    • Alex Faedo - Family, Youth and Community Sciences
    • Dalton Guthrie - Political Science
    • Christian Hicks - Business Administration
    • Nick Horvath - Family, Youth and Community Sciences
    • Mark Kolozsvary - Health Education and Behavior
    • Jackson Kowar - Food and Resource Economics
    • Ryan Larson - Advertising
    • Nelson Maldonaldo - Anthropology
    • Blake Reese - Forestry
    • Frank Rubio - Criminology
    • JJ Schwarz - Sociology
    • Brady Singer - Social and Behavioral Sciences

  • College World Series Most Outstanding Player
    • P - Alex Faedo (14.1 scoreless innings pitched, 22 strikeouts, and two wins in two starts)
  • College World Series All-Tournament Team
    • OF - Austin Langworthy (Freshman)
    • P - Alex Faedo
    • P- Brady Singer

Single Season School Records
  • Michael Byrne - 19 saves (breaks school record of 13 held by Shaun Anderson, Josh Fogg, and Danny Wheeler)
  • Alex Faedo - 157 strikeouts (breaks school record of 148 held by Rob Bonanno).

MLB Draft Selections
Here's a look at the Gators who were selected in this year's MLB Draft:

  • Alex Faedo (Junior): 1st Round (18th overall) to the Detroit Tigers, pitcher
  • Dalton Guthrie (Junior): 6th Round (173rd overall) to the Philadelphia Phillies, shortstop
  • Mike Rivera (Junior): 6th Round (192nd overall) to the Cleveland Indians, catcher
  • Mark Kolozsvary (Junior): 7th Round (197th overall) to the Cincinnati Reds, catcher
  • David Lee (Junior): 27th Round (808th overall) to the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher
  • Frank Rubio (Senior): 29th Round (876th overall) to the San Francisco Giants, pitcher
  • Deacon Liput (Sophomore): 29th Round (880th overall) to the Los Angels Dodgers, second base
  • JJ Schwarz (Junior): 38th Round (1,129th overall) to the Tampa Bay Rays, catcher

Of these eight, Alex Faedo and Mark Kolozsvary have already signed and will be awaiting their starting assignments in the minor leagues. It is safe to say that Dalton Guthrie, Mike Rivera, David Lee, and Frank Rubio will agree to deals while Deacon Liput and JJ Schwarz will return to Florida for their junior and senior seasons, respectively.

Now that the award winners, record setters, and MLB draftees have been honored, it's time now to look at the stat leaders for the 2017 season:


Hits: Dalton Guthrie (69)

RBI's: JJ Schwarz (56)

Doubles: Jonathan India (15) (Sophomore)

Triples: Deacon Liput (2)

Home Runs: JJ Schwarz (12)

Batting Average: Nelson Maldonaldo (.299) (Sophomore)

Slugging Percentage: JJ Schwarz (.444)

On Base Percentage: Nelson Maldonaldo (.449)

Stolen Bases: Jonathan India (13)

Runs Scored: JJ Schwarz (43)

Total Bases: JJ Schwarz (115)

Strikeouts: Deacon Liput (67)

Walks: Nelson Maldonaldo (53) (7th in NCAA)

Hit By Pitch: Ryan Larson (8)

Sacrifice Bunts: Christian Hicks/Jonathan India (5) (Junior)

Sacrifice Flies: Dalton Guthrie/JJ Schwarz (6)


Assists: Deacon Liput (204)

Putouts: JJ Schwarz (534)

Errors: Christian Hicks/Dalton Guthrie (11)

Fielding Percentage: Austin Langworthy (1.000)


Wins: Jackson Kowar (12) (Sophomore) (2nd in NCAA)

Losses: Brady Singer/Michael Byrne (5)

Strikeouts*: Alex Faedo (157) (*Most in NCAA)

Walks: Jackson Kowar (44)

Starting Pitcher ERA: Alex Faedo (2.26)

Relieving Pitcher ERA: Michael Byrne (1.67)

Saves*: Michael Byrne (19) (*Most in NCAA)

Appearances: Michael Byrne (38)

Innings Pitched: Brady Singer (126)

Hit By Pitch: Jackson Kowar (13)

Balks: Brady Singer/Jackson Kowar (3)

Senior Sendoff
In their four years at Florida, graduating seniors Frank Rubio and Ryan Larson have seen both the good and bad. They are the last two remaining from their 15-man recruiting class in which eight were drafted and five transferred out. As freshmen in 2014, Frank and Ryan saw their Florida team lose their own regional in two games.

Since then, it has been nothing but success. The two were a part of three straight College World Series teams and capped it off by winning a national championship in their final year. Let's go now and take one final look at these two's careers for the Orange and Blue.

Frank Rubio
Photo Credits: Twitter

I met Frank personally my freshman year as he lived across the hall from me at Jennings dormitory on UF's campus. He was a great guy to talk to and really gave me some insight on how the team was doing and what it was like playing for coach Kevin O'Sullivan.

Playing all four years and converting to a submarine arm slot before his sophomore season, Frank posted a 3.81 ERA while going 4-3 in 60 appearances. He had 49 strikeouts, 18 walks, and three saves in a total of 85 innings pitched.

Frank's career accolades include:

  • 2017 National Champion
  • 2017 and 2014 SEC Regular Season Champion
  • 2015 SEC Tournament Champion
  • 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014 SEC Academic Honor Roll

Frank will graduate with a degree in criminology. He can either go to work in his field or give the minor leagues a crack as the San Francisco Giants did take him 876th overall in the 29th Round.

Thank you for these last four years, Frank!

Ryan Larson
Ryan is in the middle with his helmet in his hand.
Photo Credits: ESPN

The only interaction I ever had with Ryan Larson was a "good luck this season" that I said to him as I was out behind the Reitz Union on a cold January day in 2016. He did acknowledge it and went on his way if I recall correctly.

Ryan did not end his collegiate career in the best way despite have a good senior season. After sustaining a head injury in the SEC Tournament, he was just not the same when he returned. In his final nine games as a Gator, Ryan went 2-33 with one RBI, three walks, and 14 strikeouts. He was pinch hit for in his final at-bat in the eighth inning of the national championship.

His one RBI though was huge as it came on his walk off hit to defeat Wake Forest in Game 1 of super regionals! Regardless of what some may say about him, I personally will always remember Ryan as a hero because of that night. Winning that first game would be huge as Florida would need three games to advance to the College World Series.

In addition to cementing himself in some form of Gator lore, Ryan did play all four years at UF. He finishes his Gator career with a slash line of .279/.366/.354 with 137 hits, 79 runs scored, six home runs, 62 RBI's, 18 stolen bases, and a .983 fielding percentage.

Ryan's accolades include:

  • 2017 National Champion
  • 2017 and 2014 SEC Regular Season Champion
  • 2015 SEC Tournament Champion
  • 2017 and 2016 SEC Academic Honor Roll

Ryan will graduate with a degree in advertising and hopefully put it to use as he was not selected in this year's MLB Draft.

Thank you for these last four years, Ryan!

Final Takeaway
Before giving my final thoughts, here are my Top 10 Gator games of the 2017 season:

  1. Florida wins their first ever national championship - 6/27
  2. Brady Singer leads Florida to their first-ever CWS Finals win - 6/26
  3. Alex Faedo spins two gems against TCU - 6/18 and 6/24
  4. Deacon Liput hits a three-run home run as Florida beats Louisville in CWS - 6/20
  5. Ryan Larson hits a walk off against Wake Forest in Game 1 of super regionals - 6/10
  6. Florida defeats USF in 12 innings to advance to regional final - 6/3
  7. Florida beats Kentucky at home to clinch the SEC regular season title - 5/20
  8. JJ Schwarz hits a go-ahead grand slam against South Carolina in the eighth inning - 4/22
  9. Alex Faedo shuts out Miami, LSU, and South Carolina - 2/24, 3/24, and 4/20
  10. Florida Sweeps Florida State for the second straight season - 3/14, 3/28, and 4/11

Florida Gator baseball has meant so much to me these last four years up in Gainesville. In total, I went to 53 games between the 2014 and 2017 seasons! I think that number should be higher, but it's still a pretty great total considering all the things I had going on up there. If I included the games I have watched on TV or my computer, that number would easily be over 100.

To see the 2017 team break through and win a national championship is the best parting gift a super fan like me can ask for. I know my fair share of Gator baseball history, and for this team to be the one to win a title is truly remarkable.

They were doubted all year. When they got swept by Auburn in the opening week of SEC play, people said they had no shot of winning the conference. When they lost to teams like Jacksonville, UCF, FGCU, and USF in midweek games, people said the offense was nonexistent and the pitching depth was not there. When they got absolutely smoked against Arkansas, people said they should not even get a national seed!

Every single time Florida prevailed over the skepticism. They went 10-3 in the NCAA Tournament and defeated one of their most despised SEC rivals to take home the national title. Being that this may be my final ever article for for a long time, I just wanted to tell Florida Gator baseball thank you.

Thank you for taking me back to the days when I played and making me appreciate the game of baseball even more. Thank you for giving me incredible moments with my friends that I will never forget in this lifetime. Thank you for giving me an additional source of income as I was able to usher at the Mac during the national championship season.

Thank you for giving me a team that I could be passionate about and root for win or lose. Thank you for giving me three College World Series appearances, two SEC regular season titles, and an SEC Tournament championship during my time up here.

And of course, thank you for finally giving me and other diehard Gator baseball fans the championship we have been waiting to see for years. Though my days of writing about the team have more than likely reached an end, I will forever support Gator baseball.

I wish the best to Kevin O'Sullivan and company as they move forward with an even stronger team in 2018. Go Gators! 2017 National Champions!