The Gators had to battle rain, a potent Wake Forest offense, and some questionable officiating. The Demon Deacons had to battle JJ Schwarz and Tyler Dyson.
And back to Omaha goes Florida, a place that’s become a glorified summer home for them.
Schwarz deposited a two run homer into the street in the third inning, Dyson threw five scoreless innings and Alex Faedo slammed the door shut with a six out save as Florida held off a pesky Wake Forest team to advance to the College World Series. It’s the Gators’ third consecutive trip to the CWS, their sixth in the last eight years, and eleventh in school’s history.
This one may have been the most hard earned of all of them.
A three hour rain delay was responsible for the series opener going deep into Saturday night. Florida won that one, 2-1, on a Ryan Larson 11th inning walkoff. But when Wake flipped the script with a two run walkoff homer by Ben Breazeale to end game two, the Gators suddenly found themselves on the brink of elimination with a decisive game three. Adding onto their woes was a third weather delay two innings into that game three that forced Gator ace Brady Singer off the mound right as he’d found his groove, and with a seriously depleted bullpen, Kevin O’Sullivan appeared to be out of options.
And yet all that doesn’t do the Gators’ perilous position this weekend justice. Wake Forest boasted the nation’s most explosive offense coming into this weekend, a sentence that translates to “no lead against them is ever safe.” Putting aside the fact that Florida’s pitching staff was collectively running on fumes after the game three delay, Wake had been teeing off on Florida’s better pitchers- like closer Michael Byrne and rubber match starter Jackson Kowar- prior to that point. Going to the untested depths of his bullpen with seven innings to navigate through to reach Omaha was a move O’Sullivan had to make, but one that undoubtedly made him a little nervous.
Luckily, O’Sullivan also has JJ Schwarz on his team, who picked his first at bat following the delay to crank his two run homer- his second of the day after blasting a solo shot in the resumption of game two. As it turned out, that homer and a Mike Rivera RBI single an inning and four hours earlier would stand alone as the sum of Florida’s offensive production. And it would be more than enough.
Freshman Tyler Dyson took over for Singer when the delay finally ended, and turned in the most impressive and clutch performance of the entire weekend by keeping Wake off the scoreboard for five innings. The Demon Deacons could muster one measly single and one double off of him and by the time Dyson’s day was done, he’d gotten Florida to the eighth with a 3-0 lead- Faedo territory.
A walk and a bunt single in the eighth were quickly rendered irrelevant as Faedo coaxed a pair of harmless popouts and then snuffed the threat with a strikeout. A few minutes later, Faedo trotted back onto the mound and mowed the final three Deacons down.
As a certain quarterback who went 0-4 against Florida once said, “Omaha.”
This is certainly not the best team O’Sullivan has ever taken to the College World Series. It’s not the most talented, team, it’s not the winningest team record-wise, and it’s not even the deepest. But it might be the most battle tested, the best at pulling out close games- and it may be the most resilient.
Who knows? With all the recent failures on the sport’s brightest stage already a distant memory, that may be the ingredient Florida has been missing the whole time.