OMAHA, Neb. — For the third time this NCAA Tournament the Florida Gators were forced into the “if necessary” game and for the third time they prevailed.
The formula on Saturday night against TCU is the same imperfect formula Florida has relied upon all season long — great starting pitching and timely hits.
Three runs was enough to send the Gators back to the College World Series Final for the third time in school history (2005, 2011, 2017), where they will meet a familiar foe in LSU.
Alex Faedo started getting ready for his Saturday start in the dugout on Friday night. As the TCU Horned Frogs built an insurmountable lead the Gators’ ace was fuming in the dugout.
“I don’t like losing,” Faedo said after the game Saturday. “I started getting angry Friday during the game and kind of stayed in that frame of mind starting in the fifth or sixth inning in Friday’s game.”
Faedo had faced this same TCU lineup six days prior, throwing seven shutout innings on his way to a victory. TCU hoped the second time around would yield greater returns, but Faedo had other plans.
He gave up one hit through the first trip around the TCU lineup, while striking out four. it would be the only hit he would surrender over the next 5.2 innings.
“I think every team does their homework. So we looked back at the tape from that game and I figured they did the same thing so we had to make a few adjustments from what we saw and just executed the pitches that are called and just make timely pitches.”
Faedo is really a two-pitch guy (fastball, slider) but can throw a changeup, a pitch he’s throwing more and developing this season. He hadn’t thrown a lot in games; so TCU wasn’t ready when for him to throw them at will in the first game. The second time around, it was all about the heater — a solid scouting job and gameplan from Kevin O’Sullivan.
After a quiet first inning freshman Austin Langworthy gave Florida its first hit of the game with a double down the left field line to start the top of the second. Jonathan India’s single gave Florida runners on the corners and Langworthy was able to score on a Mike Rivera fielder’s choice.
The Gators added another run in the fifth inning. Mike Rivera was plunked to start the frame and scored all the way from first when Christian Hicks doubled to left center.
A 2-0 lead was more than enough for Alex Faedo but Florida added another insurance run in the seventh for good measure. Hicks hit a one-out triple and scored when Deacon Liput, who was moved up into the leadoff spot Saturday, grounded a ball that ricocheted off of the first base bag, allowing him to leg out an infield single.
Faedo worked went back out to the mound in the bottom of the seventh for what appeared to be his last inning. Faedo walks Cam Warner to start but got two quick outs to follow. A single up the middle, however, brought the tying run, Josh Watson, to the plate. Faedo started cramping throwing to Watson. He pulled up after a foul ball made the count 0-2 and grabbed his calf. The next pitch sailed high for a ball and Faedo paced around the mound, taking a minute to compose himself. The next pitch was a 94-MPH heater. Swing and miss. Out of the jam.
The conversation in the dugout was quick.
“Sully asked me if I felt good. I said yeah,” Faedo said recounting his conversation in the dugout in the top of the eighth. “He asked if I wanted to go back out there and I said yeah. He wanted me to finish the inning.”
Ultimately Faedo couldn’t. He gave up a leadoff single and went 2-0 on Zach Humphreys. That was all she wrote but Faedo received a deserved standing ovation coming off the mound, for what Kevin O’Sullivan said would “probably” be his last time pitching for Florida.
Michael Byrne came in, and made things interesting.
Byrne inherited a 2-0 count, came back to 2-2 but Humphreys roped a single to left field. That brought up Evan Skoug and his 20 home runs to the plate as the tying run.
“I have to go out and make the pitches. Doesn’t matter who the hitter is. Have to go out and throw strikes,” Byrne said. “All I was trying to do was get a ground ball, just happened to be a strikeout, so that was big.”
Byrne did just that. He got the final five outs to earn his 18th save of the season.
The Gators will play, their fellow SEC Co-Champion, on Monday to start a best of three championship series.
“We’re just playing our brand of baseball right now,” said Faedo. “We’re good right now. We’re not trying to think too much, stay loose and win ball games.”
They only need to win two more.