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Florida is on the verge of history — and now comes the hard part

The Gators could see the best of LSU’s rotation over the next two days.

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

The Florida GatorsMonday night win over the LSU Tigers in the championship series of the College World Series was stirring and gutty and wonderful.

But it was also unprecedented — something that’s hard for a Gators team to do, given how much history Florida’s many successful athletic programs have written.

Florida had never before won a single game in a CWS championship series, having been swept by Texas in 2005 and South Carolina in 2011, much less won a Game 1 that grants its victor two chances at a title-clinching win and the season’s ultimate dogpile.

And given every belief held about this team — that it is widely and perhaps rightly seen as inferior not just to those previous championship finalists, but also to more talented outfits Kevin O’Sullivan has brought to Omaha only to be unceremoniously swept out of the College World Series altogether; that its offense seems sometimes to be equipped with bats made of balsa wood; that its frontline starters and leather-tough closer have covered for a pitching staff that is largely unproven behind them -- that’s an achievement worth noting, if not one worth celebrating.

But for Florida to win the national title, it now must take a win in a game started by at least one of LSU’s two aces — and do so without either of its own top two starters making a start, in all likelihood.

Those Tigers throwers, senior Jared Poché and junior Alex Lange, have been one of the best duos in college baseball since Lange arrived in Baton Rouge in 2015 to join his counterpart. Poché returning for his senior season after being taken in the 14th round of the 2016 MLB Draft guaranteed LSU a full three seasons of both pitchers in the weekend rotation, and it’s appropriate that they are set to finish their careers by going back-to-back in this series, albeit in reverse order of their usual Friday-Saturday orientation: Poché will pitch in Game 2, while Lange, who last threw on Friday, will be available on four days’ rest in Game 3.

And both aces have had success against Florida before. Lange has been excellent, in fact, making quality starts against the Gators in each of his three seasons and never allowing more than two runs to Florida in any of his four outings. Poché, meanwhile, has been merely good: He allowed one run in six innings in a 2016 game that LSU won, but has also been tagged with losses twice, in 2014 and 2017, getting outpitched in breakout outings from Logan Shore (8.2 innings in 2014) and Brady Singer (a complete game in 2017).

Amusingly, neither Lange nor Poché owns a win over Florida, despite a combined seven appearances in the last four years — their record against the Gators is 0-3, with Poché 0-2 and Lange 0-1 — but LSU’s gone 3-4 in those starts, and the most earned runs Poché has allowed is four, so it’s not as if either guy is likely to bury his own team or allow Florida to do the shoveling.

Put simply, beating one of Poché or Lange is not easy — though it’s a much easier ask than beating both, which would have been the path before Florida had it lost on Monday.

The Gators will also have to hope that their own pitching holds up against an LSU offense that has been potent all postseason. Freshman Tyler Dyson will start Tuesday, and has been excellent in postseason play, allowing just two hits while striking out 12 batters in 8.1 innings of work against Wake Forest and Louisville, but he’s certainly not as battle-ready as Singer or Alex Faedo.

And beyond Dyson, Florida has a lot of question marks.

Jackson Kowar’s stuff has been alternately electric and dangerously hittable; while he, like Lange, is in line for a Wednesday start on four days’ rest if necessary, could he be trusted to avoid a swift swing from the former to the latter, as we saw against TCU last Friday? Michael Byrne has been largely fantastic, but Florida probably can’t ask for more than three or four combined innings from him over the next two days, right? Is Faedo pitching more than very sparingly on Wednesday, when he just threw on Saturday, anything close to a good idea? Does O’Sullivan trust any relievers he’ll have available other than Byrne and Nick Horvath, given that he’s only entrusted leads to those two and Dyson in Omaha?

It is obviously in Florida’s best interests to win on Tuesday and avoid the sturm und drang of a decisive Game 3 at all costs, but history and availability also seem to make it clear that Florida’s chances of hitting Poché and duct-taping together a stellar outing on the mound on Tuesday night are far better than its chances of upsetting a Lange-led LSU on Wednesday — and the chances, in both cases, aren’t great.

But Florida has gotten here by facing long odds and beating them.

And the Gators getting one more roll of the dice to go their way would be a fitting, fantastic end to a phenomenal, historic campaign.