Gators knock off LSU, win first baseball national title – Orlando Sentinel (blog)
A controversial call, a throw home, a sliding catch, an unexpected star and a championship.
It was quite a Tuesday night for the Florida Gators, who earned their first baseball national title with a 6-1 win against Louisiana State. The Gators (52-19) swept the College World Series final and become the fifth Division I school to hoist the ultimate trophy in baseball, football and men’s basketball.
“I’m just so happy for our players,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan told ESPN. “It’s all about them. They’re the ones who put in all the hard work.”
Tyler Dyson’s second start of the season was sterling, giving up one run in six innings. The freshman allowed one run in 14 1/3 innings in the NCAA Tournament, but most of the action took place after he left Tuesday’s game.
“He was overpowering us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Seems like every pitcher Florida has throws mid-90s with a good breaking ball.”
Zach Watson’s dribbler turned into a lead-off infield single for LSU in the seventh, and he was the last hitter Dyson would face. Watson stole second, then scored on Josh Smith’s double, cutting Florida’s lead to 2-1. Jake Slaughter singled, and moments later was part of one of the more controversial plays in CWS history.
Michael Papierski grounded into a double play, allowing Smith to score from third with what would have been the tying run. Instead, Slaughter’s high slide — his foot struck shortstop Dalton Guthrie’s knee — was ruled interference by second base umpire Steve Mattingly, nullifying the run.
Mainieri argued with Mattingly, numerous LSU fans sitting in the outfield of TD Ameritrade Park tossed cups and other debris on the field. They did so again after Papierski’s line drive was caught by a sliding Nick Horvath to end the inning.
Mainieri said Mattingly’s explanation was that Slaughter did not slide directly into the base, hence the interference.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know what the video showed; I haven’t looked at it…my base runner said he did slide into the base and the umpire said he didn’t, so somebody’s not telling the truth.”
Two singles — a bloop and a bunt — put runners on the corners with no outs in the eighth. After a strikeout, first baseman JJ Schwarz threw home on a ground ball to get Kramer Robertson for the second out. Robertson remained face down, agonizing about coming up inches short of tying the game. Again, Horvath caught a line drive to center to end the threat.
“Thank God he threw a dart,” catcher Mike Rivera said.
Schwarz said he never wavered in the decision to come home.
“Knowing Kramer, I knew he was going to be aggressive,” Schwarz said. “I made a good throw and Mike made an unbelievable tag.”
Again, Horvath caught a line drive to center to end the threat.
Florida’s offense, which hit .204 in their first five CWS games, broke open the game with a four-run bottom of the eighth. Horvath’s hit-by-pitch forced in the first run, then Oviedo High alum Deacon Liput plated two with a line drive to center. Schwarz added a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game.
The Gators led 2-0 after three, but the lead could have been much bigger. Florida didn’t score in a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the third, and left seven runners on base in the first three innings. Those wasted opportunities were of no matter when at 11:24 p.m. Eastern time, Liput threw to Schwarz for the final out of the season.
“Once I saw JJ catch the ball, I freaked out and started crying,” Rivera said.
Fireworks exploded while blue-and-orange streamers flew into the screen behind home plate, twisting and tangling like an impressionistic painting.
“They earned it,” Mainieri said. “Kevin [O’Sullivan] does a phenomenal job, he recruits great athletes. He finally got his championship, and I’m happy for him.”
The Gators dog pile was raucous as one would expect. Rivera was at the bottom.
“I thought I blew my knee out for a second; someone smoked me from behind,” Rivera said.
Schwarz was initially pushed out but quickly got back in.
“I wasn’t about to be on the outside of that dog pile, so right when I got out I went right back in,” Schwarz said. “People were flying everywhere, heads were colliding. That was so much fun. I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life.”
O’Sullivan joined them, fighting back tears.
“No one believed in in us,” he said. “ … I don’t think anybody thought we’d get to this point. We had our struggles offensively. … I told them at the beginning of this season we had what it took to pull this thing off.”
Florida ace pitcher Alex Faedo, who was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player, joined the Gators celebrating a season that relied on elite pitching and a surprising surge of timely hits at the CWS to bring home the elusive title.
“It’s just an unreal feeling right now,” he said before adding the Gators never doubted they could hoist the title trophy.
Florida to host victory party
UF announced it would host a public celebration of the baseball team today from 4:30-6 p.m. at McKethan Stadium. Admission and parking for the event is free.
The gates at McKethan Stadium will open at 4 p.m. and the team is set to arrive at about 4:30 p.m. Fans can enter the park through the main gate or the right field entrance by the Lemerand Center. In addition, parking will be available in the main O’Connell Center lot.
There will be video highlights and interviews with O’Sullivan and several players about their experience at the College World Series.