A controversial call, a throw home, a sliding catch, a 21st birthday, an unexpected star, and a championship.
It was quite a Tuesday night for the Florida Gators who earned their first baseball national title with a 6-1 win against Louisiana State. The Gators (52-19) swept the College World Series final and become the sixth Division I school to hoist the ultimate trophy in baseball, football, and men’s basketball.
Tyler Dyson’s second start of the season was sterling, giving up one run in six innings.
“He was overpowering us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Seems like every pitcher Florida has throws mid-90s with a good breaking ball.”
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The freshman allowed one run in 14 1/3 innings in the NCAA Tournament, but most of the action took place after he left Tuesday’s game.
Zach Watson’s dribbler turned into a lead-off infield single for LSU (52-20) in the seventh, and he was the last hitter Dyson would face. Watson stole second, then scored on Josh Smith’s double, cutting Florida’s lead to 2-1. Jake Slaughter singled, and moments later was part of one of the more controversial plays in CWS history. Michael Papierski grounded into a double play, allowing Smith to score from third with what would have been the tying run. Instead, Slaughter’s high slide – his foot struck shortstop Dalton Guthrie’s knee – was ruled interference by second base umpire Steve Mattingly, nullifying the run. While Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri argued with Mattingly, numerous LSU fans sitting in the outfield of TD Ameritrade Park tossed cups and other debris on the field. They did so again after Papierski’s line drive was caught by a sliding Nick Horvath to end the inning.
Mainieri said Mattingly’s explanation was that Slaughter did not slide directly into the base, hence the interference.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know what the video showed; I haven’t looked at it…my base runner said he did slide into the base and the umpire said he didn’t, so somebody’s not telling the truth.”
Two singles – a bloop and a bunt – put runners on the corners with no outs in the eighth. After a strikeout, first baseman JJ Schwarz threw home on a ground ball to get Kramer Robertson for the second out. Robertson remained face down, agonizing about coming up inches short of tying the game.
“Thank God he threw a dart,” catcher Mike Rivera said.
Schwarz said he never wavered in the decision to come home.
“Knowing Kramer, I knew he was going to be aggressive,” Schwarz said. “I made a good throw and Mike made an unbelievable tag.”
Again, Horvath caught a line drive to center to end the threat.
Florida’s offense, which hit .204 in their first five CWS games, broke open the game with a four-run bottom of the eighth. Horvath’s hit-by-pitch forced in the first run, then Deacon Liput, who was 2-for-5 with 3 RBI on his 21st birthday, plated two with a line drive to center. Schwarz added a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game.
The Gators led, 2-0, after three, but the lead could have been much bigger. Florida didn’t score in a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the third, and left seven runners on base in the first three innings. Those wasted opportunities were of no matter when at 11:24 Florida time, Liput threw to Schwarz for the final out of the season.
“Once I saw JJ catch the ball, I freaked out and started crying,” Rivera said.
Fireworks exploded while blue-and-orange streamers flew into the screen behind home plate, twisting and tangling like an impressionistic painting.
“They earned it,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Kevin (O’Sullivan) does a phenomenal job, he recruits great athletes. He finally got his championship and I’m happy for him.”
The Gators dog pile was raucous as one would expect. Rivera was at the bottom, (“I thought I blew my knee out for a second; someone smoked me from behind,” Rivera said) while Schwarz was initially pushed out but quickly got back in.
Alex Faedo was named the Most Outstanding Player after two strong starts against TCU. He allowed five hits and no runs and struck out 22 in 14 1/3 innings against TCU.