The Florida Gators made it to the College World Series based on potent pitching and timely hitting. They reached the brink of elimination in Omaha on Friday night by getting away from that formula for dominance.
On Saturday, they returned to it.
And on Monday, the Gators will return to the championship series of the College World Series for the first time since 2011.
Florida got 7.1 phenomenal innings of work from Alex Faedo, gutty relief from closer Michael Byrne, and three runs in three separate innings in a 3-0 victory over TCU on Saturday night in TD Ameritrade Park, earning the Gators a date with LSU in a winner-take-the-national championship series.
In this game, as in Florida’s Omaha opener against TCU last Sunday, Faedo’s wizardry was once again the story. Through seven innings, he matched that two-hit, 11-strikeout performance, baffling TCU with his heater and a malevolent slider.
Faedo ultimately got the final out of the bottom of the seventh after appearing to tweak something on a follow-through. After getting an out and allowing a single in the eighth — just the fifth hit he had permitted in Omaha — he was removed, and Byrne came in to stave off a Horned Frogs threat.
After allowing a single to bring the tying run to the plate, Byrne did so, striking out TCU slugger Evan Skoug and inducing a flyout to right to end the inning.
And with a clean inning before him in the ninth, Byrne breezed through TCU’s last ups, fanning two to get Florida its third CWS finals trip.
Of course, the Gators had to get runs to make Faedo and Byrne standing on their respective heads stand up. And just as they did last Sunday against TCU, they did so in fits and starts.
Once again, Florida scored single runs in three distinct frames, on an RBI fielder’s choice by Mike Rivera in the second, a double from Christian Hicks in the fifth, and a truly bizarre infield single from Deacon Liput — one that caromed off first base, rather than to the first baseman, allowing Hicks to score from third with two outs.
That gave Florida a second 3-0 scoreline in six days, and just its third shutout in College World Series play. After going 26 years without one, the Gators managed two in a week in this sojourn to Omaha.
And Faedo, Florida’s junior ace, started both, setting and matching his own school record for strikeouts in a College World Series game in those outings.
It’s likely that this outing was the last of Faedo’s Florida career, given that he topped 100 pitches and would seem likely to be available only on a limited basis in a possible Game 3 of the championship series, which would see him trotted out on three days’ rest — which would be an unorthodox move for Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who has earned rave reviews for his conservative, future-focused handling of hurlers, even ones of Faedo’s caliber.
But Florida is as close to an elusive national title in baseball as it has ever been.
And flags fly forever.