(photo by Craig Jackson, @leftfieldlounge)
OMAHA, Neb. – Amidst the nastiness of Brady Singer and his 12 strikeouts and the grittiness of LSU and its eight hits off the Florida right-hander, the lost art of baserunning was on display all night during Game 1 of the College World Series Championship Series.
Florida and LSU, both of which rank in the Top 45 in the country in stolen bases (Gators 27th, Tigers 43rd), were aggressive on the bases from the get-go. But two plays near the end stood out as the Tigers tried to get even down 4-2.
In the seventh, LSU leadoff man Kramer Robertson singled with one out. With Cole Freeman at bat, Robertson perfectly read a dirtball and took off for second. Unfortunately for Robertson, when Gators catcher Mike Rivera dropped and blocked, he gloved the ball clean and made a perfect throw to get Robertson at second. Freeman followed with a single before Singer got out of the inning.
And in the eighth, Josh Smith laced a ball to the right-center gap to score Greg Deichmann to make it 4-3. Smith was thinking double out of the box, but Nick Horvath had other ideas. Horvath, who entered as a pinch-runner for banged-up Nelson Maldonado in the top of the inning and remained in the game to play center, took a perfect angle to his left and unleashed a quick-release strike to second, where Smith was called out – Smith appeared to avoid Dalton Guthrie’s initial attempt at a tag and sneak his left hand to the bag.
“That changed the whole complexion of the ballgame,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Instead of one out, the tying run at second and a huge LSU fan base getting loud, Gators closer Michael Byrne needed four outs to post his 19th save.
“I’ve seen LSU enough to know that when things get going, they get going in a hurry,” O’Sullivan said.
Earlier, the Gators benefitted from some smarts on the bases.
Florida loaded the bases in the third on walks from Russell Reynolds. Reliever Nick Bush induced a fly ball into foul territory in left from Austin Langworthy. Robertson, the Tigers’ shortstop, ranged to catch the ball, planted and threw home. Guthrie, tagging on the play, easily scored as the ball was up the line, and JJ Schwarz, also tagging on the play, read the throw and immediately took third. Maldonado running at first, went back to tag and took second only when he noticed in the chaos of the play that no one was covering second.
Jonathan India then hit a two-run, ground-rule double for a 3-0 lead that would have plated only one run had Maldonado not moved up.
“I think we were a little bit unaware to not cover second base there and allow the other runner to tag and take second,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said.
The leather was on display, long before Horvath made his perfect throw in the eighth.
Guthrie, the Gators’ shortstop, chased down a foul fly, hauling it in as he was starting a dive that ended with him landing face-first on the warning track down the left-field line. His counterpart, Robertson, dove to his right to catch Maldonado’s laser in the sixth and made a do-or-die pick on a high chopper before gathering himself for an extra step to ensure a perfect throw to get Schwarz at first in the eighth.
Deichmann, the Tigers’ first baseman, dove to his right to knock down Deacon Liput’s hard grounder, corralled the ball and flipped to Reynolds covering first on a play that got lost in the Gators’ three-run inning. LSU center fielder Zach Watson made a nice running catch after getting a slow start on a shot hit by Christian Hicks in the third inning, and Smith made a couple of nice plays on tricky hops at third for the Tigers, including a 5-4 force on India’s grounder to strand two runners in the eighth.
At first glance, the pitching matchup looks like a mismatch for the second straight night, this time in favor of the Tigers. LSU will send Jared Poche’, the school’s all-time leader with 39 wins, against Florida freshman Tyler Dyson.
“It’s comforting to know that we still have Jared Poche’ going tomorrow night fully rested,” Mainieri said. “If we’re fortunate enough to win tomorrow night, we’ve got Alex Lange waiting. We don’t think this series is over by a long stretch.”
O’Sullivan countered: “Obviously there’s a long way to go in this thing. We’re facing the winningest pitcher in LSU’s history, which is saying a lot because there’s been so many good pitchers that have come through that program. So, our players will be prepared to know that this is a long way from being over. And we’re going to have to play better tomorrow.”
Remember the apparent mismatch with Reynolds going against Singer never materialized as the Tigers minimized damage and hung with the Gators. The same scenario could be on tap for Tuesday night.
The Gators have fared fairly well off Poche’ handing him two of his 12 career losses, including his first loss of the season this year after he started the year with five wins. In all, Poche’ is 0-2 with a no-decision (a Tigers win in 2016) with a 4.80 ERA, 17 hits, 10 walks, seven strikeouts in 15 innings.
As for Dyson, he’s only made one start but came up huge in relief by tossing five scoreless innings with two hits and seven strikeouts as the Gators eliminated Wake Forest in the Super Regionals. Opponents hit .225 off of him, and he’s struck out 45 and walked eight in 33 innings.
- Florida beat LSU at the College World Series for the first time after losing twice to the Tigers in both 1991 and 1996 – LSU won national titles both years.
- The Gators have won 19 one-run games, tops in the nation. They are 19-7 overall in one-runners, including winning eight straight, three coming in the NCAA Tournament. Their one-runners have come in bunches at times this season: Florida played seven one-run games in eight games in April and then played six straight one-run games against SEC foes Missouri and Tennessee to end April and open May.
- Florida’s win was its first in the CWS Championship Series – it previously had gone 0-4 against Texas (2005) and South Carolina (2011) in the final.
- The last time LSU dropped back-to-back games was April 22-23 when it lost to Kentucky and Tulane. The Tigers lost back-to-back games four times all season, but only one team beat them on back-to-back days: Florida.