OMAHA, Neb. — Friday wasn’t the Florida baseball team’s day. Now Saturday has to be.
Despite a hot start from starting pitcher Jackson Kowar, the Florida baseball team couldn’t keep up with TCU Friday night, losing 9-2 to the Horned Frogs. The loss forces a win-or-go-home rematch versus TCU Saturday night, where the winner will advance to the College World Series final, and the loser’s season will come to an end.
Florida versus TCU will be the nightcap Saturday, beginning at approximately 8 p.m. ET or 55 minutes after the conclusion of the preceding LSU versus Oregon State game.
What went wrong?
Kowar was quite literally hit-or-miss Friday night. He tied Alex Faedo’s school College World Series record with 11 strikeouts, eight of which in the first three innings. But he also allowed six hits, three of which for extra bases, which plated four earned runs.
The third inning was the most direct indicator of Kowar’s performance. The sophomore right-hander opened the inning by striking out the first two men he faced. But he followed that with a single, a double, a wild pitch and another double, allowing two runs to score. Then, as the final slice of bread in that inning’s Kowar sandwich, Koward struck out TCU catcher Evan Skoug to end the frame.
Things went similarly in the fourth. Two strikeouts represented the good. A walk, a single and a triple represented the not-so-good. TCU pushed two more across on that triple from first baseman Connor Wanhannen.
“I just think they put some good swings on [Kowar] with two outs,” Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “If I’m not mistaken, all four runs he gave up were with two outs. You’ve got to make quality pitches to close out innings, simple as that.”
Kowar exited after five innings. He threw 94 pitches, 62 for strikes, and walked two batters.
The Gators went to the bullpen for the sixth inning, bringing in Garrett Milchin. Milchin retired the first batter he faced before surrendering a single and two walks to load the bases. Milchin departed with the bases loaded in favor of Frank Rubio, who induced an RBI groundout before walking the bases back loaded.
The two-out walk came back to bite Rubio, who gave up a bases-clearing double to Skoug one batter later, pushing the TCU lead to 8-2. Rubio stranded Skoug at second, but by that point Florida had already worked itself into quite a hole.
“I just caught a little too much plate,” Rubio said of the Skoug at-bat. “He’s a good hitter. You can’t get behind. You’ve got to get ahead.”
Rubio allowed two runs on three hits in 3.2 innings pitched, closing out the game for the Gators.
“It was definitely good to get in there, try to keep the game close and get a little momentum for tomorrow,” Rubio said. “That’s all I was trying to do.”
What about the offense?
Almost all of Florida’s offensive production came in the third inning. the Gators reached base four times in the inning on two hits and two walks, scoring two runs. The first run came on a solo home run from catcher Mike Rivera, who launched a pitch into left field thanks in some part to some strong gusts of wind blowing out that direction.
The Gators added another run that inning when shortstop Dalton Guthrie doubled in centerfielder Nick Horvath who had walked two batters prior.
Unfortunately for Florida, as TCU’s bats stayed hot in the middle innings, the Gators’ cooled. Florida went hitless in the fourth and fifth innings and stranded a leadoff single in the sixth. The fourth inning was perhaps the most disconcerting, as Florida stranded the bases loaded after juicing the bags with an error and two walks.
After that point, Florida didn’t put another runner into scoring position until the ninth inning.
Statistically, it’s not surprising the Gators couldn’t sustain a rally. Florida batters were 1-for-10 with two outs and 2-for-11 with runners on base. The Gators only came to the plate with runners in scoring position five times, going 2-for-5.
What’s next for the Florida baseball team?
The Gators will return to action in an elimination game versus TCU Saturday night. The game will begin at approximately 8 p.m. ET and be broadcast on ESPN and available for stream on WatchESPN.
No starting pitchers have been announced, but it is anticipated that Florida will use its ace, Alex Faedo, in a rematch of a game from last Sunday when TCU started its ace, Jared Janczak. Florida won that game behind seven shutout innings from Faedo.
Stay posted to SEC Country for more updates about the Florida baseball team and the College World Series live from Omaha.