OMAHA, Neb. – A freshman pitcher who’s only been pitching for two years working into the seventh inning. A first baseman who was recruited as a catcher making a game-saving play by throwing a perfect strike to nail the game-tying run at the plate in the eighth. And a sophomore pitcher relieving college baseball’s best closer to post his first save of the season.
The moment on college baseball’s grandest stage proved no match for Tyler Dyson, JJ Schwarz and Jackson Kowar, each of whom made an indelible mark Tuesday night as Florida captured its first national title by beating SEC rival LSU 6-1 before another packed house at TD Ameritrade Park. The Gators (52-19) won the best-of-three Championship Series in two games, taming the Tigers (52-20) to the tune of four runs over two days.
In the process, one of college baseball’s most dominant powers this decade finally got the chance to celebrate a national title after two near-misses and four other trips to Omaha since 2010.
“You never know how you’re going to feel when you get the last out in the College World Series, and I’m still kind of numb,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But just overwhelmed with emotions for our players.”
On the field during the Gators’ celebration, Kowar, who entered in the eighth and worked out of a jam in a 2-1 nail-biter and promptly was given four insurance runs to play with, said he couldn’t remember what he did after delivering the last pitch.
“I’m glad he swung at the first pitch, I was ready to celebrate,” Kowar said. “I’m so proud of all the guys.”
Florida got an incredible start from Dyson, whose only other start this season lasted all of 1.2 innings and 37 pitches against Florida State in March. An outstanding third baseman who became a starting pitcher his senior year in high school, the freshman worked ahead in the count all evening against an aggressive Tigers lineup. Dyson (4-0) allowed three hits, one earned run, walked two and struck out two in six-plus innings.
“I think this start went a little better than my first one,” said Dyson, who tossed five brilliant innings of relief to help the Gators eliminate Wake Forest in the Super Regionals. He later added, “I was prepared to go all nine if needed. But I had the mindset of going there until Sully [O’Sullivan] took me out. So just feeding off the confidence from that Wake Forest outing really helped me think I could go deep into the ballgame.”
The Gators led 2-0 after two innings, thanks in part to several LSU miscues.
Deacon Liput (2 for 5, 3 RBI), celebrating his 21st birthday, led off to the bottom of the first with a chopper to first that took a tricky hop as Nick Coomes tried to smother the ball. Dalton Guthrie’s single moved him up, and Schwarz followed with an RBI single off Jared Poche’, the Tigers’ all-time winningest pitcher.
Nick Horvath singled with two outs in the second, and Poche’ had him picked off, but Coomes lost control of the ball as he attempted to throw Horvath out at second. Liput singled him in for a 2-0 lead, but Poche’ minimized the damage for the second straight inning.
Poche’ (12-4) worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third and then settled in, matching Dyson pitch for pitch.
“You feel like Jared’s pitching really well, and yet you give them two runs,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “And their kid was really outstanding, and he was overpowering us for five or six innings here. He was good.”
LSU’s bats came to life in the latter innings, and the Tigers had two golden opportunities to tie or take the lead.
Zach Watson had an infield hit to lead off the bottom of the seventh and end Dyson’s night. Byrne, who saved Monday night’s game, was greeted with a line shot off the bat of Josh Smith that went for an RBI double after it got by a diving Ryan Larson in right. Jake Slaughter singled to left to set up a first-and-third for Michael Papierski, who earlier in the tournament became the first player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same College World Series game.
Papierski grounded into what looked like a 4-6-3 double play to score Smith and tie the game, but second base umpire Steve Mattingly immediately called interference on Slaughter, putting Smith back on third. Beau Jordan hit a sinking liner to center that Horvath raced in to catch and end the threat.
Replays appeared to show Slaughter failed to slide straight into the bag and made hard contact with Guthrie.
“He said that our baserunner did not slide directly into the base and made contact with the fielder and consequently he called interference,” Mainieri said. “That was the explanation. I don’t know, I haven’t seen the tape of it.
“From my vantage point, when the play happened, I didn’t think there was anything wrong. It was a slow-developing double play, and there was some contact there. Now if our guy didn’t slide directly into the base and he made contact and altered the play, then it was a correct call.”
The Tigers again put runners on the corners with no outs in the eighth. Kramer Robertson singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and took third when Cole Freeman bunted for a hit. Byrne got a huge strikeout against Antoine Duplantis before giving way to Kowar, who was the presumed starter if a Game 3 was to be played Wednesday.
“When it got to that point, Michael just wasn’t getting many swings and misses,” O’Sullivan said. “He was getting the two strikes a lot but couldn’t quite put anybody away.”
Kowar planted a seed that he would be able to face a few batters and still start Wednesday earlier in the day. On the field after the game, the sophomore right-hander said he had been getting more sink on his fastball. He threw a low fastball as Freeman broke for second, and Greg Deichmann grounded the first pitch to Schwarz, the former catcher, at first.
“I figured they were going to be up there aggressive,” Kowar said. “They’re such an athletic team…you can’t fault them for being aggressive.”
Schwarz fielded the bouncer to the backhand side and fired home to Rivera, who barely tagged Robertson, sliding head-first and missing being the tying run by mere inches.
“It was a heads-up play,” O’Sullivan said. “The thing is, he bounced off aggressively, and he threw the ball on the right side of the bag. The ball was thrown on the first-base side, he’s safe. Made a perfect throw, quick feet. Probably saved the game to be honest with you. That play probably saved us the game.”
Another hard shot, this one from Watson, settled into Horvath’s glove in center to end the inning and LSU’s dreams.
Florida rallied for four runs off LSU freshman phenom Zack Hess in its half of the eighth. Horvath (1 for 3, 2 R, RBI) was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded before Liput broke it open with a two-run single to make it 5-1.
For the first time, the Gators were the ones celebrating.
“It’s all about the players to my right and the players on the bus, and I’m just really happy for them; I really am,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m just really happy for these guys here because they deserve it, and they’re the ones who go out there and play. And we’ll let it sink in, and we’ll enjoy this for a little bit.”