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Florida 6, FSU 3: Gators extend record series winning streak in Tallahassee

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It’s getting hard to put how good the Gators have been into context.

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

Over all the many sports the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles play against each other, there are very few in which the Gators have not had a decided advantage.

Florida leads almost every series it plays against FSU, from football to women’s basketball to soccer to volleyball to swimming. And the leads are generally substantial ones — Florida State’s current five-game winning streak on the gridiron, the longest the Seminoles have ever enjoyed over the Gators, has still only narrowed Florida’s edge to eight games over the span of the series.

But there is a notable exception to this orange and blue-hued dominance, and it exists on the baseball field.

Give Kevin O’Sullivan enough years, though, and that one might just vanish.

Florida beat FSU for the third time this year on Tuesday, rallying from an early deficit and escaping a few jams for a 6-3 win over the Seminoles and a second season sweep of Mike Martin’s club in as many years.

Freshman Tommy Mace picked up the win for the Gators, who got two RBI each from Austin Langworthy and JJ Schwarz and responded to each of FSU’s three half-innings with a run by scoring in the next half-inning. Florida never led by more than three runs, and squandered an opportunity to bury FSU after going up 5-2 in the fifth on a Langworthy double that put runners on second and third with no outs, but Schwarz hit his eighth career homer against the Seminoles to bring the margin back to three runs in the eighth inning, and Michael Byrne rebounded from a rare blown save over the weekend at Tennessee to shut the door in a four-out, three-K performance.

The win is Florida’s eighth straight over the Seminoles, a record for the Gators in the series, and is just the latest blow to FSU’s historical dominance on the diamond.

When O’Sullivan came to Gainesville prior to the 2008 season, Florida had won nine of its last 13 games against FSU, but had also begun the 2000s by winning just twice in 13 tries against the Seminoles. And the Gators didn’t immediately get off to a great start against FSU under O’Sullivan, going 5-11 against the Seminoles in his first four years.

Since 2012, though, the Gators have been almost entirely in control of the series. Florida is 21-5 against FSU in that span, and has swept the teams’ regular season series twice as often as it has lost it. Florida has also won 13 of its last 14 against FSU — and the lone loss, a 3-0 defeat in the first game of a Gainesville Super Regional in 2016, was swiftly avenged with back-to-back shutout victories over the Seminoles that sent the Gators to the College World Series.

When O’Sullivan arrived, Florida State had a massive 20-game edge on the Gators in their all-time rivalry.

Now? It’s half that.

And, frankly, things seem likely to only get narrower so long as Florida can retain O’Sullivan and FSU clings to Martin. The Gators’ skipper has built a program that routinely trounces Martin’s more time-honored one both because O’Sullivan recruits extraordinarily well and because he generally empowers his hitters and pitchers to play aggressively, something that the more conservative Martin does not do.

In the bottom of the fifth on Tuesday, Martin had a batter sacrifice bunt with two on and no outs, which led to FSU getting just one run out of the inning and only slicing Florida’s 3-1 lead in half.

In the top of the sixth, with two on and no outs, O’Sullivan allowed Schwarz to swing away, and he delivered an RBI single. One batter later, Langworthy was also permitted to swing away, and he delivered an RBI double.

Small differences like those have been present more often than not in the games between the two rivals of late — FSU made three errors last night; Florida did not make one in the three games between the teams this year — but it would be wrong not to note that Florida has simply been better in all facets and at all styles than FSU over the last few years.

Florida has won 1-0 games over FSU in each of the last two years — but while FSU mustered six runs in the first 2018 meeting and seven in a 2017 matchup, the Seminoles still lost both of those games by at least three runs. Over this 13-1 run by Florida, the Gators have outscored the Seminoles 87-33, racking up double-digit runs in four games and posting five shutouts.

And FSU is still really, really good at baseball. The Seminoles still have the second-best winning percentage in Division I history, still have a streak of consecutive 40-win seasons dating to Ronald Reagan’s time in the White House, and have managed to make Super Regional play in all but one year of this decade, with three College World Series berths.

It’s just that, of late, Florida has been that much better.

May this span of superiority stretch as far as it can.