OMAHA, Neb. — For the first time since 2011, the Florida baseball team will play for a national championship.
Behind 7.1 more shutout innings from ace Alex Faedo, Florida defeated TCU 3-0 Saturday night to advance to an all-SEC College World Series finals versus LSU. This is the third time in Florida history that the Gators have advanced to the College World Series finals, after losses in 2005 and 2011.
Faedo shut down TCU twice in the College World Series, throwing a combined 14.1 shutout innings with 22 strikeouts and six walks across two starts. With his seven shutout innings and 11 strikeouts Saturday, Faedo improved his 2017 postseason numbers (counting the SEC Tournament) to 33.1 innings pitched with two earned runs allowed (0.55 ERA) and 51 strikeouts.
“I’ve known him for a long time, since we were like eight years old,” catcher Mike Rivera said. “He’s on another level now, but he’s always been like that. He’s fiery, always wants to compete.”
Only two TCU runners reached second base against Faedo, who retired the Horned Frogs three-up, three-down four times and struck out the side once. Faedo faced two jams in the game, once in the second and the other in the seventh. The junior right-hander worked out of both situations with two-out strikeouts.
“I just tried to stay focused,” Faedo said. “We’ve been in this situation [before] and I tried to bear down with every pitch I threw.”
Faedo exited three at-bats into the eighth inning. Relief pitcher Michael Byrne replaced him and, after allowing a single to the first batter he saw, Byrne recorded a strikeout and induced a flyout to strand the runner he inherited.
“All I was trying to do was get a ground ball,” Byrne said. “Just happened to be a strikeout, so that was big.”
Byrne came back out for the ninth and opened the frame by striking out TCU’s Ryan Merrill. Byrne forced the next batter he faced, Elliott Barzilli, to ground out to second base before putting out Connor Wanhanen on strikes to end the game.
What about the offense?
Batting from the eighth hole, designated hitter Christian Hicks led the Florida baseball team offensively, going 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, a run scored and an RBI. Hicks’ double scored catcher Mike Rivera from first base to give the Gators a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, and he came around to score after his seventh-inning triple when Deacon Liput singled him home.
The Gators’ first run came in the second inning when Rivera drove in left fielder Austin Langworthy, who reached on a one-out double two batters prior and advanced to third on a Jonathan India single.
Florida experienced a bit of an injury scare early in the game, when shortstop Dalton Guthrie came out of the game limping after a strikeout to end the third inning. Guthrie was replaced at shortstop by Liput, who bumped over from second base. Blake Reese came off the bench at filled in for Liput at second base, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
After the game, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan characterized Guthrie’s ailment as “back spasms.” O’Sullivan said early indications are that Guthrie will be ready to play by Monday, but he’ll have to be cleared by the medical staff before any decisions are made official.
What’s next for the Florida baseball team?
Florida advances to the College World Series finals versus SEC rival LSU. The Gators and Tigers met three times in 2017, with Florida taking two of the three contests.
The College World Series final is a best-of-three competition where the first team to two wins earns the national title. Action will begin Monday night at 7 p.m. ET. Florida will likely start sophomore Brady Singer, who will be on his normal six-days rest by then.