College World Series | Florida Gators Sink Teeth Into 1st National Title
by Joe Drake Scores & Statson
By Joe Drake
As a baseball fan, these are the games you live for. Even more so when they’re played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, the site of the College World Series. Florida and LSU gave all of us our money’s worth even though the series only went 2 games (out of a possible 3) as they both were filled with excitement, and came down to the wire. That 6-1 scoreline in Tuesday night’s game doesn’t tell the whole story -- it was a 1-run game until Florida’s final at-bats in the bottom of the 8th. Ultimately, the Gators were able to topple the Tigers and taste sweet victory at the top of the college baseball world.
Historically, this was a David vs. Goliath matchup. Despite all the baseball talent that has come and gone in Gainesville over the years, the Gators had never won a College World Series title, as hard to believe as that may be. On the other hand, LSU could have their own trophy case full of these titles with 6 -- the 3rd-most in history.
Before this year’s series began, the LSU Tigers had won 3 times as many titles as the Gators had appearances in the College World Series Finals. No matter who you are, that’s going to be somewhere in the back of your mind as a Florida player, but this time around, it didn’t matter.
The one thing Florida had going for them coming into the matchup was the fact that they owned the season series between these two teams. With each side having top tier talent (each team had 8 players selected in the 2017 MLB Draft), having already beaten the Tigers during the regular season had to have been the difference maker for Florida.
After a tight, 4-3 victory in Game 1, Tuesday night’s game was equally as stellar, despite the wider margin of victory. Early on, the Gators were able to take advantage of a couple of LSU miscues in the field and managed to put 2 unearned runs on the board against LSU starter Jared Poche. Those were the only runs Poche would allow over his 5⅔ innings. On the other side, Florida starter Tyler Dyson was making his 2nd start of the season and pitched a gem, giving up 1 run over 6+ innings on just 3 hits. Talk about coming through in the clutch.
That 1 earned run allowed by Dyson came in the 7th inning when things really started to heat up on the field. The Tigers’ leadoff man, Zach Watson, singled, stole second, and scored on a double by the next hitter. That double was aided by a poor dive attempt by the Florida right fielder. Then, Jake Slaughter hit a single to give LSU runners at 1st and 3rd with nobody out. LSU had a complete stranglehold the game’s momentum and things were looking grim for the Florida Gators who would have to face 1st-round pick Alex Lange in Game 3, if they lost.
That’s when the craziness of the College World Series took over.
The next batter hit a routine grounder to second that would surely result in a double play, but that was okay because the runner on third would score. At least, he would have. Everything was going smoothly until Jake Slaughter, LSU’s runner on first, lost his mind and tried to take out the shortstop turning the double play. Slaughter slid directly into the Gator infielder and never made an attempt at the base. The 2nd base umpire, who was 5 feet away and staring at the whole thing, called runner’s interference. It was the correct call.
The issue is not that the double play was kept in tact, it’s that all other runners had to return to their original base at the start of the play. That meant that not only would 2 outs be recorded on the play, but LSU’s runner didn’t score and Gators maintained their 1-run lead. The LSU fans were in uproar, but they only had Slaughter to blame for making a horrific decision on the basepaths.
With the momentum sucked out of the stadium (the majority of the crowd were LSU fans), the Tigers made one more legitimate comeback attempt in the 8th when they once again had runners at 1st and 3rd with no outs. Once again, bad base running cost them when Kramer Robertson was thrown out at home, effectively ending the comeback attempt and the CWS.
The Gators went all in for the victory by putting potential Game 3 starter Jackson Kowar on the mound in the 8th inning and it proved to be worth it when Kowar shut down LSU’s comeback effort. The gamble paid off, the Gators scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th and the College World Series was over, minus the formality of playing the top of the 9th.
It was another College World Series for the ages and one that the Gators won’t soon forget.