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TCU 9, Florida 2: Gators lit up despite Jackson Kowar’s punchouts

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Florida will play in an elimination game on Saturday night.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida vs TCU Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators got to their spot in the driver’s seat in the College World Series, the one they occupied on Friday night, with powerful pitching and just enough hitting.

That didn’t work so well on this day.

Florida starter Jackson Kowar tied Alex Faedo’s program record for College World Series strikeouts with 11, but also allowed four runs in his five innings, and the Gators mustered just five hits in a 9-2 loss that will force both teams into a Saturday night elimination game.

Early on, it seemed likely that Kowar could match — or even exceed — the bravura performances put on by Faedo and Brady Singer in winning efforts earlier this week. He struck out his first five batters, and looked virtually unhittable until the end of the third inning, retiring seven of the first eight Horned Frogs he faced on strikes.

But then TCU got a single to right from its No. 9 hitter, Ryan Merrill, after a couple of borderline calls at the plate, and followed it with a pair of doubles that created a 2-0 lead — and Florida’s first deficit of the College World Series.

The Gators would answer in the bottom of the third on a Mike Rivera home run and a Dalton Guthrie RBI double. But Ryan Larson was tagged out at third on Guthrie’s double, caught between standing put and racing home, and a foulout would leave the score 2-2 at the end of the inning.

TCU responded with two more runs in the top of the fourth, hastened home by a wild pitch and Nick Horvath misplaying what would turn into the first triple of this College World Series, and never looked back.

Florida loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth, but Horned Frogs pitcher Charles King began what would be a brilliant 3.1 innings of scoreless relief with a strikeout of light-hitting Nick Horvath — and that would be the Gators’ last opportunity with multiple base-runners until the bottom of the ninth inning.

By then, TCU had opened the chasm between the teams, with power hitter Evan Skoug breaking out of a slump with a bases-clearing double in a four-run sixth inning and another run crossing in the eighth. King led a trio of TCU relievers who allowed just five Florida base-runners over the Gators’ last 16 outs; Florida answered with lesser arms of its bullpen — Garrett Milchin and Frank Rubio, who yielded three and two runs, respectively and who are both unlikely to reappear this season.

That season may now be just one game longer, as Florida’s margin for error evaporated on an unseasonably temperate night, any dreams of cruising to the championship series and setting up Faedo and Singer to be a killer pairing in it dashed by a night when TCU’s bats did damage.

But Florida will throw Faedo on Saturday, assuredly, and Florida has made good on his outings this postseason.

And the Gators may as well give it all they have against TCU tomorrow: They may not have any tomorrows beyond it, unless they do.