You could be forgiven for believing that the Florida Gators were about to let another slim lead slip away, and let a scintillating season end with a dispiriting defeat, on Tuesday at the College World Series.
Florida’s slim 1-0 lead, earned in the top of the first inning, could’ve been a 4-0 lead or a 6-0 lead by the second or third inning, but the Gators failed to turn baserunners into plate-touchers. And Florida’s Jackson Kowar was pitching beautifully, but allowing just enough trouble to fear a lead-evaporating homer.
But Kowar just didn’t allow Texas to gain any traction. And Florida finally got a truly massive hit in this trip to TD Ameritrade Park — a mammoth three-run homer by Jonathan India in the sixth inning — to extend its lead.
And so the Gators ended up winning, 6-1, and staying alive for another day.
Kowar was the star of the show, striking out 13 hitters in his 6.2 innings of work to break Florida’s school record for strikeouts at the College World Series. His fastball was a ball of flame, touching 101 miles per hour at times per Twitter reports, and his changeup was a devastating counterpoint to it, getting several Longhorns swinging.
But India, Florida’s best and most consistent hitter all year, was the person who made Kowar’s standout start stand up, with an RBI single to left in the first and the three-run shot in the sixth. Nelson Maldonado broke the seal in the sixth inning with an RBI single, and the light-hitting Nick Horvath lifted an improbable homer to left an inning after India’s blast, but it was India — of course — who powered Florida on this day.
And Florida relievers Jordan Butler and Michael Byrne combined to clean up the Longhorns late — Byrne allowing an inherited runner to score in the eighth, but also getting out of jams with two runners on without further damage — and prevent the Gators from going two-and-’cue in their first defense of a national title in Omaha.
Florida is still a long way from making this defense an ultimately successful one, as the Gators will still need to score three more wins by Saturday just to secure a berth in next week’s championship series. And with great starts by Brady Singer and Kowar in the rear view, the Gators will turn to less proven hurlers on the mound for the rest of their firmly uphill trek.
But this was a start. And this wasn’t the end.