The formula still works.
Great pitching and just enough offense Monday led Florida to a 4-3 win against Louisiana State in Game 1 of the College World Series Final. If the Gators (51-19) win tonight’s Game 2, they’ll claim their first national championship.
Sophomore Brady Singer set a personal and CWS Finals record with 12 strikeouts, and allowed three earned runs in seven innings. He’s given up four runs in 16 innings against the Tigers this season.
“We went up against who I believe to be the best pitcher in the SEC since I’ve been the coach at LSU,” Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think the guy will be the first pick in the draft next year.”
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Singer was stellar through five innings Monday. He gave up consecutive singles to start the fourth, but then struck out the next three hitters, all on off-speed pitches. But he couldn’t get out of the sixth un-hit. Antoine Duplantis’ solo home run to right started the scoring, and later, Beau Jordan drove-in a run with a two-out single, cutting the Florida lead to 3-2.
The Tigers (52-19) made it exciting in the eighth. Greg Deichmann doubled and later scored, but the latter was an equally critical play for Florida. Josh Smith’s RBI-single turned into an out at second base as center fielder Nick Horvath, who entered the game that inning, threw out Smith on a tight play.
“I was aggressive to the ball so I knew I had a shot. I got it out of my glove quick, and it was on the money,” Horvath said.
Smith pounded his helmet into the ground and lingered in disbelief before heading to the dugout. By rule, that play is not reviewable by instant replay.
“The ball beat him, but I don’t know if Josh got in there with his swim move or not,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Michael Byrne did not allow another base runner in adding to his school-record 19 saves.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan used the same lineup he did in Saturday’s 3-0 win against Texas Christian. That included Dalton Guthrie batting second and hitting second despite suffering back spasms that forced in out of Saturday’s game. Guthrie appeared pain free when he lined a single to right-center field in the first inning. Then he made one of the best defensive plays of the tournament, a diving catch on a pop-up that resulted in a face-plant into the warning track near where the TD Ameritrade Park tarp is stored.
“I like to dive for everything,” Guthrie said. “It seemed to be just the right distance away. Fortunately I was able to get it.”
Russell Reynolds, a senior, made his first start since 2015 for LSU. He’d pitched once since May 16, and prior to Monday had put up an earned-run average of 8.59 in 14 2/3 relief innings. He was scoreless through three innings, but ran into trouble in the fourth, walking three straight hitters before being pulled.
“I got a little greedy,” Mainieri said. “Just tried to stick with him a little too long and it backfired.”
Austin Langworthy, who was 2-for-3, drove-in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly, then Jonathan India, who was stuck in a 2-for-17 slump, ripped a fly ball that hopped over the center field fence, driving in two.
Florida, which is 19-7 in one-run games, rebounded in the seventh inning as Mike Rivera singled home Langworthy who started the inning with a double. Rivera has reached base in 30 straight games and has driven-in a run in his last four.
O’Sullivan, though, was in anything but a celebratory mood following the win. Florida must now face Jared Poche, LSU’s all-time wins leader, who has allowed three runs in 10 2/3 innings at the CWS. Florida will counter with freshman Tyler Dyson, a reliever who has started one game this season.
“We got six hits tonight, and Brady had to pitch his tail off,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to half to play better.”
Rally Cup was a mid-game addition to the Gators’ roster, and one that made an impact on social media, if not actually on the game. Pitcher Garrett Milchin was drinking out of a paper cup when assistant coach Lars Davis knocked it out of his hand.
“We told him we’d pick up,” Alex Faedo said.
But then the Gators scored three runs, and the cup, encircled by a line Faedo drew in the dirt in front of Florida’s dugout, remained on its side and untouched the rest of the night. Faedo acted as Rally Cup’s body guard.
“Rally Cup’s coming alive!” Michael Byrne said.
Rally Cup’s status for tonight’s game, though, is uncertain.
“We haven’t decided what to do,” Faedo said. “Whatever he tells us when we’re sleeping tonight.”
Guthrie is certain he’ll play tonight in Game 2. His single, walk, and diving catch Monday were as much relief as revelation after recovering from back spasms. He was nervous before his first at-bat, but not thereafter.
“Taking a couple swings where everything felt all right put my mind at ease,” he said.