— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 27, 2017
OMAHA—Built around its starting pitching, Florida has leaned on its strength throughout the spring and into the postseason. Over the last two weeks in the College World Series, the Gators’ top starters have overpowered opponents.
Florida stuck to the game plan Monday in Game 1 of the CWS championship series against Louisiana State. Righthander Brady Singer, the Gators’ No. 2 starter, delivered his second gem of the CWS to lead the Gators to a 4-3 victory. Florida is now one win away from clinching the best-of-three series and winning the first national championship in program history.
Singer struck out 12 batters in seven innings, while holding LSU to three runs on eight hits and two walks. He and Alex Faedo, the Gators’ ace, are a combined 4-0, 1.27 with 43 strikeouts and nine walks in 28.1 innings at the CWS.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Singer’s latest start was reminiscent of Faedo’s last outing, which sent the Gators to the finals.
“Brady was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said. “I think it was probably similar to Alex Faedo’s start the other day where there were some tense moments where he had to make some big pitches, and he battled and gave it all he had.”
Singer worked around traffic on the bases most of the night, throwing two clean innings. LSU was unable to break through until the sixth inning when Antoine Duplantis hit a solo home run, just his second of the season. The Tigers were able to scratch out two more runs, but never had Singer truly figured out. Closer Michael Byrne followed Singer with two scoreless innings to finish the game and pick up his 19th save of the game.
Singer throws from a low arm slot, which gives his low- to mid-90s fastball plenty of running life. He locates the pitch well, and adds in a sharp slider that he was able to throw for strikes Monday.
Singer (9-5, 3.21) has been tough on hitters all season long and is an early favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. In two starts against LSU this season, the sophomore went 2-0, 2.25 with 16 strikeouts in 16 innings.
Coach Paul Mainieri said Singer reminds him of former LSU ace Aaron Nola, who throws from a similarly low slot.
“(Singer’s) just got that whipping arm,” Mainieri said. “He’s got great command. Can control his fastball, both sides of the plate. He’s got great movement. He throws that slider off the same arm slot and it’s hard to pick up.”
On Monday, Singer said he came out of his pregame bullpen session feeling good and was able to carry that feeling over into the game. His slider was especially sharp.
“I felt like I was landing it a lot more for strikes than I usually do, and two strikes (throwing it) just off the plate,” Singer said. “I found fastball to both sides of the plate.”
While Florida was able to call on one of its aces Monday, LSU was forced into a bullpen game because it had to fight out of the losers’ bracket last week and lost righthander Eric Walker, its No. 3 starter all season, to injury last Monday.
Redshirt senior Russell Reynolds got the start for LSU and threw three scoreless innings, but he lost his command in the fourth inning and walked the bases loaded with one out. Mainieri went to lefthander Nick Bush, but the freshman was unable to work out of the jam. Austin Langworthy brought home a run on a shallow foul ball that turned into a sacrifice fly and Jonathan India followed with a two-run double.
Mainieri said in hindsight he should have brought Bush in to start the fourth inning, but “got a little too greedy.” The Gators tacked on a vital insurance run in the seventh against Bush, again doing just enough to win. Florida has 19 one-run victories this season, the most in the nation.
But with its pitching staff, Florida doesn’t need to score much. The Gators have had a string of outstanding starting pitchers during O’Sullivan’s 10 years as head coach. Pitchers such as Jonathon Crawford, Brian Johnson, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore helped lead the program to new heights during their careers.
Faedo and Singer are doing that now on college baseball’s biggest stage. While O’Sullivan wasn’t sure if he has seen any of his pitchers do this before, he is certainly enjoying his aces’ postseason performance.
“We’ve had quite a few good ones,” O’Sullivan said. “But these two guys, they’ve been really good the last few weeks. They’ve been great the whole year, but they’ve just elevated their game to another level.”
While Faedo and Singer have pitched Florida to the precipice, someone else will now have to finish the job. In Tuesday’s Game 2, Florida will call on freshman righthander Tyler Dyson (3-0, 3.55), who will make just his second career start. He has excelled out of the bullpen down the stretch, and was the Gators’ hero in super regionals, and will be asked for a repeat performance Tuesday.
LSU, meanwhile, will start senior lefthander Jared Poche’, the winningest pitcher in program history. And ace Alex Lange, the 30th overall pick in the draft, awaits in Game 3 if LSU can extend the series.
With the Tigers’ top arms lined up the next two days, the Gators know they are in for a fight to the finish.
“Is it exciting to have Game 1 under our belt, yeah, but tomorrow we’re going to have to play better,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re close, but we haven’t finished. We haven’t crossed the line yet.”