OMAHA, Neb — The 2017 Florida Gators haven’t made anything easy this season and that didn’t change in Omaha.
Facing elimination the TCU Horned Frogs pounded out nine runs on nine hits and four Frog pitchers combined on a five-hitter to force the “if necessary” game in bracket two.
For a while it looked like the game was being brought to you by the strikeout. Sophomore Jackson Kowar drew the start, his first College World Series appearance, and stuck out the first five batters he faced. Kowar was spotting his fastball on both sides of the plate and commanding his changeup to the tune of 11 strikeouts over five innings.
TCU didn’t make a lot of contact when Kowar was on the mound but when they did the Horned Frogs made sure to make it count.
Ryan Merrill’s two out single in the top of the third, the first hit of the game for either team, started the two out rally. Austen Wade turned on a fastball, short-hopping the wall in left field for a RBI double. Kowar left another fastball up that Zach Humphreys sent for a ground rule double to left-center.
“I just think I didn’t locate a couple of fastballs with two outs,” Kowar said. “In those situations, you’ve got to get off the field. It was mostly not executing the fastball.”
Florida bounced right back to give Kowar run support. Mike Rivera hit a solo home run to left field. Two walks later and Dalton Guthrie stepped to the plate. Guthrie crushed a fastball that just missed being a home run, while also just barley sneaking inside the yellow lined padding in left field. It brought Nick Horvath home but Ryan Larson was given a late stop sign from third base coach Craig Bell. Larson tried to put the breaks on late but tripped and was thrown out trying to get back to the bag at third. A JJ Schwarz fly out ended the threat but the game was tied at two.
Kowar walked the leadoff batter, Cam Warner, to start the fourth. After a strikeout Elliott Barzilli lined a fastball off of Kowar’s foot for an infield single. Kowar shook it off and struck out Connor Wanhanen. That brought Josh Watson (hitting .235 with just 12 extra base hits on the season) to the plate. Kowar, again, left a two-strike fastball up and over the zone. Watson laced the offering to center field where, normally sound defensive outfielder, Nick Horvath broke the cardinal rule of playing outfield. Your first step as an outfielder is never in. Horvath’s first step was in and he couldn’t recover as Watson’s ball just went over the top of Horvath’s outstretched glove for a two RBI triple.
“All four of those runs were with two outs,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve gotta make quality pitches with two outs. It’s that simple.”
“At the end of the day it’s not about strikeouts, it’s just about outs. Doesn’t matter if I struck out 11. I gave up four,” Kowar said. “At the end of the day you need to get outs; doesn’t matter how they come.”
Garrett Milchin replaced Kowar in the sixth inning. Milchin hadn’t pitched since May 14 at Alabama. The freshman had been dealing with arm pain and O’Sullivan made sure the Gators went through every step they needed to before clearing Milchin to pitch.
“We’ve done everything we were supposed to do. This has been a long process,” O’Sullivan said. “He was going out there for one inning. He threw the other day to hitters, 20 pitches, he felt fine. This has not been rushed. He’s had MRIs, the whole thing. It’s unfortunate.”
Milchin declined to answer any questions about his arm after the game.
Frank Rubio took over the rest of the way. The senior threw 3.2 innings with, really, one mistake. A fastball up and out over the plate to Evan Skoug. The Horned Frogs’ best hitter made Rubio pay for that with a bases clearing double to make the game 8-2.
“Everyone has one loss now, all four teams left have lost,” Rivera pointed out. “We’re all even.”
TCU with two outs:
The Horned Frogs didn’t mind hitting with two outs on Friday night; they were 6-15 (.400) with two outs, scoring seven runs with two outs on Friday. 10 of their 13 runs in the CWS have come with two outs.
The Gators continued to struggle at the plate and are now hitting just .200 (19-95) at the College World Series. They’ve struck out 27 times and scored just 10 runs. The trio of Jonathan India, JJ Schwarz and Ryan Larson are a combined 2-35 (.057) with 12 strikeouts in Omaha.
“I think pitching has something to do with it, but I think the anticipation of getting out here, the first game you go 0-for-4, and the second game you’re 0-for- 3 for a loss, now you’re 0-for-7 and next thing you’re 0-for-10 with two walks. Guys start pressing a little bit,” Kevin O’Sullivan.
Nelson Maldonado — .300 (3-10), 1 run, 1 double, 1 RBI,
Deacon Liput — 3-11 (.273), 2 runs, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Dalton Guthrie — 3-11 (.273) 1 run, 1 double
Austin Langworthy — 2-8 (.250), 1 run, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Mike Rivera — 2-9 (.222), 2 runs, 1 double, 1 HR, 2 RBI
JJ Schwarz — 1-12 (.083), 1 RBI
Jonathan India — 1-12 (.083), 1 run
Ryan Larson — 0-11 (.000) (Larson is 0-20 since his walk off hit in the first Super Regional game against Wake Forest)
The Gators will be back on the field Saturday night facing TCU for a third time in the CWS. The pitching matchup will be a replay of the first game with Florida throwing Alex Faedo and TCU countering with Jared Janczak.
TCU will be the home team at 8 pm ET on ESPN.