OMAHA, Neb. – Florida has had more talented teams. And the Gators have had more pitching depth.
But, until Tuesday night, none of the 10 previous teams – including the past three and five others since 2010 – have been able to mix the moxie and mojo to claim the program’s first national title.
“I think something that made this team so special…was in each and every game we won, seemed like someone new stepped up,” sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput said. “I think what made our team so special was you never knew who that person was going to be.
“Our team did a really good job of maintaining a level head and truly believing in ourselves, whether or not other people did. We have a lot of heart. We’re really close. We’re like a family. And I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything.”
Take Liput for instance. A .224 hitter entering Tuesday’s 6-1 clincher over LSU, Liput had two hits and three RBI, two breaking the game open in the bottom of the eighth inning. His three-run homer against Louisville led Florida to a 5-1 in the all-important second game of the College World Series, enabling the Gators set up their pitching to make a final run. Just a week before, he was batting in the 9-hole, but Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan moved him to the leadoff spot for the College World Series.
Michael Byrne had saved 19 games for the Gators, including the first game of the Championship Series against the Tigers for their 19th one-run win of the season. On Tuesday night, for once, Byrne needed saving, at least in the eyes of his coaches, who called for presumed Wednesday starter Jackson Kowar in a 2-1 game with one out and two men on in the eighth.
“The biggest factor is I didn’t want to see Alex Lange tomorrow, to be honest with you,” O’Sullivan said of the LSU ace. “That was the situation that was not going to probably work in our favor to be honest with you.”
Celebrating on the field, Byrne said he didn’t know what went into the decision.
“It worked out, so who cares,” he said, smiling.
When asked about what made this team special, Byrne said: “Resilience. We never gave up. We trusted each other.”
These Gators hit .259 as a group and only .222 in Omaha, stirring memories of UCLA’s run to a title in 2013 when the Bruins hit .250 for the season and .227 in Omaha.
And like those Bruins, the Gators flashed the leather, closing their time in Omaha with 50 innings without an error. JJ Schwarz, who started 18 games as a catcher, made a tough backhand play and difficult throw to the plate look easy in the eighth, nailing the speedy Kramer Robertson at the dish to preserve a 2-1 lead.
Finally, after all those near misses, this Florida team was the one.
“First in school history, we’ll be remembered for that,” Byrne said.