For one inning on Saturday, Florida State got the better of Florida.
Then the Gators' beating resumed, and morale improved. When it was over, Florida had an 11-4 win — and its first College World Series berth since 2012.
Florida freshman JJ Schwarz, as has become customary during a postseason of legendary proportions, led the Gators offense. He went 3-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI, with his blasts both giving him the Florida record for home runs by a freshman (18) and swiftly answering FSU's offense: After the 'Noles capitalized on two Florida errors to put up two runs in the bottom of the first, Schwarz crushed a shot to left to tie the game in the top of the second, and after FSU's DJ Stewart grazed a tree with a homer in the bottom of the fifth, cutting Florida's lead to 9-4, Schwarz responded by thumping another ball to the net in left.
Schwarz even scored from first on a Peter Alonso triple — really — after a walk, and slapped a hit down the line in right late in the game, finishing one of the finer shows a Gator has ever put on in McKethan Stadium. He is hitting .600 in the NCAA Tournament, and slugging almost 1.000.
But the freshman phenom was far from alone in playing well on this day. Harrison Bader and Richie Martin each deposited balls over the wall in left, and Bader finished with three RBI. Florida scored runs in every inning from the second to the sixth after going 1-2-3 in the top of the first, and strafed all three Seminoles pitchers who threw more than one inning for at least two earned runs.
Florida was dominant from the second inning onward, and the game turned for good in the frame. After Schwarz's homer, Florida put runners on second and third with one out after two singles — and two errors on one of them — and a fielder's choice, then got a sacrifice fly to retake the lead for good. And after starter A.J. Puk struggled with a tight strike zone in the first, he set down the 'Noles in order in the second, two of them on strikes. What seemed like a befuddling collapse in the making was once again the Gators' game to control.
Their control was nearly absolute: By ripping FSU pitching with shots to all fields, Florida built a 9-2 lead by the end of fifth. The Gators never led by fewer than four runs after the third.
This was yet another annihilation of the Seminoles by the Gators in McKethan Stadium during Super Regional play — Florida is 4-0 all-time against FSU in Super Regional home games, has won them by a combined score of 40-15, and has taken all four games between the two teams. And it swung the season series between the two teams, part of FSU's ballyhooed sweep of Florida in football, men's basketball, and baseball for the first time in 35 years, to Florida. The Gators entered the weekend with a 1-2 record against FSU this year, and left it with a 3-2 mark — and a 51-36 advantage in runs scored.
Now, the Gators will face another hated rival, Miami, in the College World Series, and attempt to improve on their last showing in Omaha, a dispiriting 0-2 performance in 2012.
But that team was not this one, which has pulverized its NCAA Tournament foes by a combined 53-12 count, and took two of three from Miami at home in February: That team was chockablock with veterans who knew they were on a final ride to Omaha, and melted down in part due to the pressure of being the favorite to win it all.
This one is young, precocious, and terrifying — good enough to win it all, but not nearly wizened enough to feel pressure. These Gators will head to Omaha with the wind at their backs, and minds clear of the weight of a potential legacy.
And they may return to Gainesville with a trophy.