Gators gather to celebrate College World Series title

GAINESVILLE | Appropriately, the pitchers led the Florida Gators baseball team onto the field at McKethan Stadium on Wednesday for the celebration of the program’s first College World Series title.

 

And the owner of the strong right arm that threw 22 consecutive shut-out innings in the post-season to close out his college career, junior Alex Faedo, carried the precious hardware: the NCAA national championship trophy, the 39th in school history (for 14 sports), the third this spring and possibly one of the most unexpected.

“We gave our best, not just for us for for all of you guys,” Faedo told an estimated crowd of about 2,000 Gator fans who braved the late afternoon heat to celebrate the title won less than 24 hours before in Omaha, Neb., when UF beat LSU 6-1 to win the best two-of-three championship series, two games to none.

Faedo presumably will sign any day with the Detroit Tigers, who selected him in the first round of the Major League draft two weeks ago, the same night that he closed out Wake Forest with two innings of relief in the NCAA super regional series that got the Gators to Omaha. But two of the players who flanked him entering the field for the celebration, No. 2 starter Brady Singer and relief ace Michael Byrne, will be two of the key members of another strong pitching staff next year as the Gators come back as defending national champions.

“We’ll be good enough next year, talented enough,” said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan, whose team won on their 11th trip to Omaha, and his sixth in the last eight years. “We’ll try to enjoy this one for now.”

Florida also became the fourth team in history and the first in the SEC to win national championships in baseball and basketball, and a major wire-service national title in football. Two football titles, two in basketball and the CWS title have come in the last 11 years.

Florida relied on one of the strongest starting pitching staffs in the nation behind Faedo (9-2), Singer (9-5) and Jackson Kowar (12-1). Along with Byrne (a team record 19 saves, two in the College World Series) and rising star Tyler Dyson (one earned run allowed in 14.1 post-season innings) the Gators’ staff had an ERA of 2.33 in the CWS and had the second-most strikeouts in the history of the event with 68.

UF also did not commit an error in the final five games in Omaha. The combination more than off-set a meager offense that still found a way to deliver just enough clutch hits and heads-up baserunning to make the difference.

“Pitching and defense will always be a trademark of the University of Florida,” O’Sullivan told the crowd. “It’s a gritty group. Their togetherness is incredible.”

Florida’s poise could be measured in a nation-best 19 one-run victories (with a .731 winning percentage) and the fact that at every step of the NCAA tournament and World Series, they faced an elimination game.

With the prospect of going home with a loss, the Gators outscored their opponents 12-1 in those games, with shutouts over Wake Forest, which led the nation in home runs, and TCU, which was second in the Big 12 in homers.

“We’ve been though elimination games and we were tested,” Guthrie said.

Florida’s College World Series team batting average of .222 was the fourth-lowest for a CWS champion in history, with USC holding the top three spots with .208 averages in 1970 and 1972, and a .221 average in 1968.

But the Trojans under Rod Dedeaux, who won six consecutive NCAA titles during that era, had staff ERAs of 2.00 in 1968, 1.61 in 1970 and 1.93 in 1972.

The Gators followed a similar path to the championship.

Faedo, the CWS MVP, was spotless in Omaha, not allowing a run in two seven-inning outings that Florida won 3-0 both times, against TCU. He gave up only five hits and struck out 22 batters.

Singer shut down Louisville on one earned run and six hits and nine strikeouts in seven innings, then battled hard in the first game against LSU, giving up eight hits in seven innings but striking out 12 batters.

Byrne struggled in the championship game, giving up four hits. Still, he still allowed no runs, issued no walks and struck out nine in the CWS.

And freshman Tyler Dyson provided the most promising look to the future for Gator pitching, with an 0.63 ERA in the NCAA tournament and CWS, allowing only three hits (two were infield singles).

The enduring image of Florida’s defense in the CWS may always be Guthrie eating a mouthful of red dirt as he face-planted himself on the foul territory warning track to catch a drifting pop-up in the first game against LSU. The outfield, especially Nick Horvath in center, had the huge expanse of TD Ameritrade Park covered.

Florida also had to battle LSU’s home-field advantage as so many Tigers fans made the trip to Omaha (where their teams have won six national championships) that the TV announcers were referring to it as “Baton Rouge North.”

But UF players compete every year on the road in the SEC, including the real Baton Rouge, and had no trouble keeping their composure.

“With our schedule, and all those one-run games, we were totally relaxed,” said Christian Hicks of St. Augustine, who had a double and a triple in an elimination game victory over the Horned Frogs. “We’re used to those crowds, playing in the SEC, and it didn’t rattle us as much as it could have. Those LSU fans were so loud it was fun to see them go home with a loss.”

“The LSU fans were incredible,” Byrne said. “I never heard a stadium that loud. It was tough. But we kept our composure and kept calm.”

Florida at the CWS

June 18: Florida 3, TCU 0

Jun 20: Florida 5, Louisville 1

June 23: TCU 9, Florida 2

June 24: Florida 3, TCU 0

Finals

Monday: Florida 4, LSU 3

Tuesday: Florida 6, LSU 1

Final record: 52-19

 

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