The Florida Gators have walked the tightrope of postseason baseball expertly in 2017, making maybe the greatest run in program history with too much pitching and just enough hitting.
Against the LSU Tigers on Monday night, that high-wire act was enough to get the Gators their biggest win ever — and halfway to their ultimate goal.
Brady Singer dazzled for just over seven innings, Florida got runs when it needed them, and Michael Byrne shut the door late for a 4-3 victory that allows the Gators to go to sleep dreaming of hoisting a trophy on Tuesday night.
Early on, both Singer and LSU spot starter Russell Reynolds appeared to have their opposing lineups’ numbers, with Singer overwhelming the Tigers with fantastic stuff and Reynolds nibbling the plate expertly in his only start of 2017.
Singer also got some help from Dalton Guthrie, back in the Florida lineup after injuring his back against TCU on Saturday, who made an amazing play on a diving catch in foul ground in the second inning.
The Gators, though, drew first blood in the fourth inning, cobbling together a three-run frame with their typical mix of patience and timely pop. Consecutive walks by Guthrie, JJ Schwarz, and Nelson Maldonado set the table for Austin Langworthy, who fouled out to shallow left field, but forced LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson to make a catch in a tricky position — and enable all runners to advance on the catch, with Guthrie dashing home.
Then, after Reynolds was lifted for reliever Nick Bush, Jonathan India emerged from a deep slump in Omaha by smacking a ground-rule double over the center fielder’s head, scoring Schwarz and Maldonado. Florida couldn’t get another run across in the inning, but had staked itself to its lead.
And Singer did everything in his power to keep it.
The Gators’ sophomore ace and Saturday starter followed a majestic Alex Faedo performance on Saturday with one nearly as good against a far hotter offense. With his mix of high and low heat — on four-seam and two-seam fastballs with ridiculous break — and timely deployment of his wipeout slider and decent change-up, Singer handcuffed LSU for much of the evening, striking out 12 batters and setting new standards for strikeouts in a College World Series championship series game and strikeouts by a Florida pitcher in a CWS contest.
But the resilient, potent Tigers would not go quietly. Antoine Duplantis dented the lead to begin the sixth inning, depositing a Singer heater into the right-field bullpen, and LSU pushed across another run in the frame after a hit batter, a walk, and a Beau Jordan single to left field.
Still, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan stuck with Singer into not just the seventh inning — in which he survived two singles, thanks in part to a Mike Rivera hosing of Robertson — but the eighth. That’s when and where he allowed a leadoff double to LSU’s Greg Deichmann after ESPN’s Laura Rutledge reported Singer told O’Sullivan “At least let me go get Deichmann” as part of his argument to keep throwing.
That double only brought the tying run to the plate, thanks to Florida manufacturing a run in the seventh inning with a leadoff double, a bunt, and a Rivera single. But it did get Singer off the bump after the fifth good-to-great start from the Gators’ vaunted rotation in this trip to Omaha.
When Florida absolutely needed outs most, though, it had another pair of reliable arms available — and while Michael Byrne delivered on the mound, Nick Horvath did so in the field.
Byrne allowed an RBI single to Jason Smith in the eighth, but Horvath lasered the ball in from center as Smith tried to stretch the hit to a double, and Florida got the benefit of a bang-bang call by the umpire at second.
That bit of luck was all Byrne would need: He set down LSU’s final four batters, one on strikes, and extended his school record with his 19th save of the year.
And with the door closed on that victory, Florida is now in position to win a national championship with its next victory, somewhere it has never been before.