It was certainly a fun year of college baseball, and an unforgettable one for the Florida Gators as they won their first ever Men’s College World Series championship.
Most would agree this wasn’t the best team head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has taken to Omaha, but they had the grit and determination to win it all.
It’s not like this team came out of nowhere as they started the season ranked second in the preseason poll by the NCBWA. And they entered the NCAA Tournament as the fourth overall seed.
We always knew they had the pitching to win, but many questioned the offense. It turns out they didn’t need much offense because the pitching was lights out in the College World Series allowing just five combined runs in their five wins.
Let’s take a look back at how the Gators won their first ever title.
They started the season 10-2 with a 3-game sweep of Miami mixed in there. Little did we know then that Miami would not be a great team this year, but it was still an impressive series for the Gators. They allowed just 2 runs the entire weekend to the Hurricanes. That’s when you knew this pitching staff was special.
But then they lost back-to-back games to Florida Gulf Coast, and dropped another game that weekend to Seton Hall. They only scored 7 runs in those losses, and that’s when we knew the offense was going to hold this team back.
A weekend later the Gators opened up SEC play on the road at Auburn. The Tigers swept Florida and sent the Gators into a tailspin.
At that point Florida was just 13-8 on the season and had dropped outside of the top 10 in most polls.
However, Florida bounced back at home the following weekend taking 2-of-3 from LSU – who they would eventually meet in the College World Series finals. And then they beat Florida State in a midweek game before sweeping Missouri.
The Gators had jumped back into the top 10, but then had another head scratching series loss to Tennessee that dropped them back to 12th – their lowest ranking on the year.
Florida took off from there though as they wouldn’t lose another series the rest of the year or lose back-to-back games again.
After their second loss to Tennessee they were 20-11 on the season with a 5-6 conference record. They were 20-4 the rest of the regular season and won 16 of their next 19 conference games.
They finished the regular season as co-champions with LSU in the SEC.
The Gators struggled a bit in the SEC Tournament, but they usually do to try and focus on the NCAA Tournament. They barely won their first game 5-4 over Auburn, and then rallied for 11 runs in the eighth inning to beat Mississippi State and advance to the semi-finals.
It was over from the get-go against Arkansas as the Razorbacks scored 8 runs on Brady Singer in the first inning.
Still, the Gators entered the NCAA Tournament as the fourth overall seed with a record of 42-16.
Florida’s pitching struggled against Marist in their first game of the Gainesville regional giving up six runs, but the offense bailed them out with 10.
Then they had an epic pitcher’s duel with South Florida that lasted 12 innings before Florida won 5-1. Alex Faedo and Michael Byrne combined to give up just 1 run on 7 hits and 4 walks in 12 innings with 18 strikeouts.
In maybe the biggest shock of the tournament, Florida and Brady Singer lost to Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats scored 5 runs (4 earned) on 10 hits and a walk over 7.1 innings against Singer.
That forced a decisive game seven that was close for five innings before Florida eventually won 6-1 to advance to the super regionals where they hosted Wake Forest.
This was such a great matchup on paper because it featured one of the best pitching staffs in the country against one of the most powerful lineups in the country.
Unfortunately, the weather had a huge impact on this series. O’Sullivan used Faedo, Singer and Byrne in game one to earn a 2-1 victory in 11 innings. The three combined to allow just 1 run on 9 hits and 3 walks with an incredible 23 strikeouts.
Kowar got the start in game two and allowed 5 runs in 4.2 innings. Still, the Gators fought back to tie it in the eighth and forced extra innings for the second straight game. But it was Wake Forest that got the walk-off hit this time off of Byrne.
It was pure Gator baseball in game three. Florida got three runs early and the pitching was lights out. Singer started but had to leave after yet another rain delay. Tyler Dyson came on in relief and maybe had the biggest pitching performance for the Gators in this tournament. He tossed 5 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits and no walks with 7 strikeouts against a powerful Wake Forest lineup. Faedo pitched the final two innings to earn his first save of the season.
Faedo then started the first game of the College World Series for Florida and shutdown another powerful lineup in TCU. He tossed 7 shutout innings giving up just 2 hits and 2 walks with 11 strikeouts.
Next up was the Louisville offense. Singer would get back to form allowing just 1 run on 6 hits and 1 walk over 7 innings with 9 strikeouts as Florida won 5-1 to move onto the semi-finals of their pool.
The Horned Frogs got some revenge in the next game exploding for four runs in the sixth to pull away and eventually win 9-2.
That would be the third loss for Florida in the NCAA Tournament. The most losses you can have and still win the College World Series is four, so this wasn’t exactly a smooth ride for the Gators.
Faedo saved the day for Florida once again in their next game with TCU as he shut them out over 7.1 innings on 3 hits and 4 walks with 10 strikeouts. Byrne kept the shutout alive over the final 1.2 innings as Florida won 3-0 to advance to the College World Series finals against a familiar foe in LSU.
In game one Florida finally got on the board in the fourth with three runs thanks to a big hit from Jonathan India that drove in a pair. However, it was Mike Rivera that would have the game-winning hit with an RBI single in the seventh as the Gators held on to win 4-3.
Singer worked in-and-out of trouble most of the game, but only allowed 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks over 7-plus innings with 10 strikeouts. Byrne once again shut the door pitching two shutout innings to earn his 19th save of the year.
Florida grabbed the momentum early in game two as they scored single runs in the first and second innings, but it could have been much worse.
Still, Tyler Dyson had kept the LSU offense at bay for 6 innings. But then it looked like LSU was going to rally and tie it in the seventh as they had a ton of momentum with 80 percent of the 26,000-plus in attendance being LSU fans.
An illegal break-up slide at second base prevented the tying run from scoring and preserved the Florida lead.
Dyson finished the game giving up just 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks.
Byrne came on in relief in the seventh and was able to escape the jam, but then he put Florida in trouble again the eighth as LSU had runners on first and third with no outs. He got a big strikeout before being removed for Kowar.
He induced a groundball to JJ Schwarz who then made the play of the tournament throwing the ball home to cut down Kramer Robertson at home plate to keep the Gators ahead 2-1. The next batter lined out to center and all of the air was taken out of the huge LSU crowd.
With all of the momentum back in the Florida dugout the Gators tacked on 4 runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach.
Florida finished their incredible run to their first ever Men’s College World Series title with an overall record of 52-19. Not many people picked them to make it to the finals, and certainly no one expected them to beat LSU in what was pretty much a home game for the Tigers.
But that’s baseball, and Florida did all the little things right to win the title. They’ll return next year with a very impressive pitching staff that includes Singer, Kowar and Dyson.
Congratulation to the Florida Gators on a great season and a fun ride through the NCAA Tournament on their way to the championship.