Gators Baseball Win National Title

It was a celebration as low-key and understated as Kevin O’Sullivan’s personality. Around 2,000 of the Gator faithful showed up at McKethan Stadium to welcome Florida’s 2017 NCAA baseball champions.

“We haven’t gotten any sleep at all,” Deacon Liput said as he walked on the field. Liput went 2-5 with 3 RBI in the title game, which happened to fall on his 21st birthday. “It’s a night I’ll never forget,” he added as he was serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ by the fans.

“I’m happy for the players and the staff,” the Gator head coach said after receiving a standing ovation. “The players work hard and it paid off. No coach throws a pitch or swings a bat. You just hope you can prepare the players the best you can and send them out there.”

Hosted by former Gator baseball player and current color commentator on the radio broadcasts Jeff Cardozo, the stars of the team were interviewed near home plate while their teammates sat behind them.

“You were asked to be a starter, a reliever, come out of the bullpen, just about everything for this club,” Cardozo asked Pitcher Brady Singer who set a CWS record with 12 strikeouts in the first game against LSU.

“I didn’t mind,” Singer deadpanned. “It seemed to work out,” he added to laughter from the crowd.

Playing in big games was nothing new for the 2017 Gator squad. From their SEC schedule to the conference tournament, through the NCAA Regional and the Super Regional, Florida played in numerous elimination games and got clutch hitting all along the way. In the College World Series for the sixth time in the last eight years, they were familiar with the trip to Omaha but admitted nothing prepares you for the championship round.

“Nothing prepares you for 25,000 screaming LSU fans,” shortstop Dalton Guthrie said with a smile. “But we played in big games all year. Elimination games, all of it. We just tried to stay with it and not get too ahead of ourselves.”

With an intentional walk, Jacksonville’s Christian Hicks from The Bolles School made an appearance in the deciding game. He had a feeling they’d put him on as he walked to the plate but was happy to get a chance to be in the game.

“I figured they’d pinch-run for me but I was glad to be out there,” the second-year player said. Hicks echoed his teammates saying they were prepared for whatever came their way in the final matchup.

“All those one run games we played this year I felt like we were totally relaxed out there,” Hicks said. “Playing in the SEC and those stadiums that are really hard to play in kept us from getting rattled as much as other teams.”

Along with the sixth time in O’Sullivan’s tenure that the Gators have advanced to the College World Series, it was their third in a row and the first time they’ve won the title. It puts them in elite company with a handful of other schools that have won a football, basketball and baseball national championship. But Florida is the only school to accomplish that feat in the last 50 years and their titles in those three sports have all happened in the last decade.

It’s the 39th NCAA title for the University of Florida, the first coming in 1968 in Men’s golf. In the last three weeks besides the baseball title, the Gators have won NCAA Championships in women’s tennis and men’s outdoor track and field.

And with the pitching staff O’Sullivan has coming back for 2018, it’s possible we could see a repeat of this celebration a year from now.

Gators Baseball National Champs

While college baseball’s reputation is for high-scoring games and lots of long balls, the Florida Gators won their first national championship with solid fundamentals. Pitching, defense and base-running all played pivotal parts of Florida’s season, none more important than in the two wins over LSU in the national title round in Omaha.

A combination of Alex Faedo and Brady Singer as back-to-back starters proved too much for LSU, previously undefeated in the CWS championship round.

“I’m so happy for our players,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the 6-1 win and a two-game sweep of LSU. “It’s all about them for all of their hard work. We always knew there’d be one first team (to win it) and I’m glad it was this one. This is a gritty group.”

It was pretty routine to start for Florida, bottom of the first with runners on first and 3rd, JJ Schwarz singled to left to score Deacon Liput to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Nick Horvath scored from second on a Liput single up the middle to give them a 2-0 lead.

Holding a 2-1 lead in the top of the 7th, LSU put runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. Michael Papierski hit a grounder to second and Florida turns the double play with the tying run apparently scoring from 3rd. But LSU’s Jake Slaughter was called for interference at second base, sending the runner back to third. Slaughter didn’t slide directly into the base and the second base umpire called interference immediately. Call it a bad rule or a bad call but the rule was enforced and Florida got out of the inning with a one-run lead.

Again in the 8th, LSU had runners on the corners but first baseman JJ Schwarz fielded a ground ball flawlessly and threw out Kramer Robertson at the plate who was going on contact to maintain the 2-1 lead.

Adding four insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, the Gators took a 6-1 lead to the ninth inning. Jackson Kowar got the final out and Florida won their first national baseball championship, joining just a handful of schools who have won national titles in football, basketball and baseball.

And the Gators are loaded for the future with Freshman pitcher Tyler Dyson and starter Brady Singer coming back next year. Dyson went six innings in the deciding game giving up three hits and just one run in only his second start as a collegian. Singer is considered the best player in college baseball returning for 2018 and could easily be the top pick int eh MLB draft next year.

“We always thought we had a shot with our class,” said the CWS Outstanding player, pitcher Alex Faedo. “(Pitching) has been the bread and butter this year and the hitters showed up here (In Omaha) to get us enough runs.”