OMAHA, Neb. — One by one the Florida Gators walked up a long tunnel from the third base dugout past the batting cages and made a right towards their clubhouse. Other than metal spike clanging on concrete it was silent.
Nothing was said but heads weren’t hanging. This Florida team isn’t for the faint of heart. They’ve already played in an elimination game in a Regional and then again in the Super Regional. After a 9-2 loss on Friday night they’ll need to make it 3-0 in elimination games — after losing to the same team in the previous game — this NCAA Tournament if they want to extend their season.
“I think our backs have been against the wall the whole year to be honest with you,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “It’s been well documented. We’ve had 18 one-run wins. Nothing’s come easy to this team this year.”
As blunt as that statement is, it may be an understatement. This is a team that was swept the first weekend of SEC play. They fell to 9-8 in conference play, all but left for dead, before an incredible winning streak that saw them clinch a share of the SEC crown. “Hamate bone” has become a dirty word around McKethan Stadium, and Florida’s battled through injuries the entire year.
Despite injuries and a lack of depth compared to recent years the Gators earned a National Seed. Even then things wouldn’t come easy.
They won the first two games of the Gainesville Regional but became the first team in school history to lose to Bethune-Cookman. They overcame that elimination scenario to beat the Wildcats and move to the Super Regional where they would host Wake Forest.
The Gators used a walk off single in the 11th inning from Ryan Larson to take the opening game of the Super Regional but Wake paid the Gators back in full with a walk off home run in the second game to force another “if necessary” contest.
Brady Singer, Tyler Dyson and Alex Faedo capped off a 3-0 win to send Florida to Omaha, the last team to punch its ticket.
If the Gators want to live to play another day, they’ll need another gem from their ace.
“We’ve just had to battle and scratch and claw and fight for everything we had,” O’Sullivan said. “And if you told me we had one game to win and you got Faedo on the mound and Dyson, who has emerged, and Byrne fresh, I’ll take my chances.”
O’Sullivan turned to Faedo to get to this point. The junior hadn’t come out of the bullpen since his freshman season but was asked to do just that to close out a potent Wake Forest offense in the final Super Regional game.
He did it.
Sully went back to his guy to start the World Series and Faedo was brilliant. He threw seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts to just two hits allowed against the same Horned Frog lineup he’ll see on Saturday.
“The main thing for us is to stay focused and relaxed. We can’t get all tight and worry about, ‘Oh my God, we can go home’ or anything like that. We just have to play our game and let it all out.”
Still, Florida blew a huge opportunity Friday night. LSU handed Oregon State just its fifth loss of the season to force the “if necessary” game in bracket one. LSU’s pitching staff has been through the ringer coming out of the loser’s bracket and Oregon State came to Omaha without their ace. Both pitching staffs will be taxed. With a win on Friday the Gators would have had its pitching staff ready to go with Faedo throwing game one of the championship series and Brady Singer ready for game two. Now, when Faedo takes the mound Friday night it will be, in all likelihood, the last time he pitches for the Gators. If they win, O’Sullivan and the Gators will have to figure out who and how to throw the championship series.
But their back is against the wall. They’ll worry about who’s throwing the championship series if they get there.
If you’re a college baseball coach in America you’d be hard pressed to pick a guy better suited for this game than Alex Faedo. The junior — and 18th overall pick by the Detroit Tigers — has thrown 20 innings this postseason. He’s allowed just 11 hits, one earned run, walked six and struck out 33. He hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings and has a 0.45 ERA since the NCAA Tournament started. O’Sullivan knows that losing Friday was a setback, but he slept easy knowing he and his team would have a good shot on Saturday because Alex Faedo was getting on the mound.
“If I’m going to go to battle with one more game on the line for the season, Alex Faedo is my guy.”