OMAHA, Neb. — You can exhale, Florida baseball fans.
After two years of disappointing early exits in the College World Series, Florida has made it back to championship round. With their 3-0 win over TCU Saturday night, the Gators set up a best-of-three championship series with in-conference rival LSU, the team with which it shared the SEC regular season crown.
Now the teams will square off for the ultimate crown. But before the bitter rivals face off in a rematch of their three-game series from late March, Florida’s players have a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come.
“It means a lot,” Florida catcher Mike Rivera said of the opportunity. “We understand how the season has gone and what we’ve been through. We just competed. We battled and never gave up. Always believed in each other. The guys on the bench did a great job as well. Everyone is just backing each other up. We’re really excited. I’m proud of my teammates. It’s been a joy.”
The last two postseasons have been tough for Florida, but this year hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. As designated hitter Christian Hicks put it, the Florida baseball team has “had to bounce back” all year. The Gators bounced back from a 0-3 SEC start to win a share of the SEC regular season title. They bounced back from a loss to Bethune Cookman to win the Gainesville Regional. They bounced back from a loss to Wake Forest to advance to the College World Series. And they bounced back from their loss to TCU Friday night to comeback and win Saturday.
That resiliency has been a hallmark of Florida’s College World Series run this week. That, and dominant starting pitching from Alex Faedo and Brady Singer. But since Faedo threw 113 pitches in 7.1 innings Saturday, he probably won’t be available to start versus LSU.
That leaves the Gators with Singer for Game 1. And there are worse fates than that, especially given Singer’s experience versus the Tigers. On March 25, Singer allowed one run in a complete game win over LSU, striking out four with zero walks in a 109 pitch effort.
Singer acknowledges that Florida and LSU aren’t the same teams they were back in March. But he said he plans to carry a similar attitude into Game 1 Monday.
“I need to attack and get ahead and just pitch to win,” Singer said. “They’re a really good team. They’re hot right now. But it’s the national championship on the line. So that’ll get me fired up. Obviously I’ll just pitch to win and bring it home.”
In addition to being Florida’s starter for Game 1, Singer played the role of history keeper in the Gators’ clubhouse Saturday night. As a sophomore, Singer has only been on one of the 10 Florida baseball teams that left Omaha empty-handed.
But he carries with him the responsibilities of the teams of the past, something he wasn’t shy about.
“It feels insane,” Singer said of advancing to the final round. “We’re back here. We were here in 2011 and didn’t get to finish it out. But I think this year we’re going to fight and try to win it all.”
The final round of the College World Series begins Monday at 7 p.m. ET. Stay posted to SEC Country throughout the week for updates about the Florida baseball team and the all SEC final round live from Omaha.