— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 27, 2017
OMAHA—It was the right decision.
Florida third baseman Jonathan India at least takes solace in that. If he were put in the same predicament again, he’d make the same turn toward second base. He still thinks it was a double all the way. His head coach, Kevin O’Sullivan, thought so, too. He loved the aggressiveness. He didn’t fault India’s baserunning in the slightest. India made the final out in the final game of Florida’s season last year—in Omaha, down by one run in the ninth against Texas Tech, trying to stretch a single into a double. And yes, it was the right decision.
But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
The play replayed in India’s mind over and over for the couple of weeks following last year’s College World Series. The throw from left field. The bang-bang play at second. The call. The devastation. He’d visualize it, like a highlight reel, at times during the summer. And then when he finally thought he had expunged the memory entirely, the Gators made it back to Omaha this year, back to the scene of the crime.
“Of course it replays,” India said. “That was a tough moment for me, especially because it ended the game . . . And now that we’re here, I thought of it again because we’re at the field again.”
So what did India do about it?
In what’s been a redemptive Omaha trip for Florida following an 0-2 showing last year, India achieved his own measure of redemption in Monday night’s Game 1 of the CWS finals against Louisiana State—a 4-3 Florida win.
India stepped to the plate with two runners on, two outs and a 1-0 lead in the fourth. With electric Gators righthander Brady Singer dealing yet again, India had the chance to give his team a comfortable cushion.
Naturally, he doubled.
After spitting on a first-pitch curveball from lefty reliever Nick Bush, India powered a booming drive to center field. And he made sure this time that it truly was a double all the way. The ball flew over center fielder Zach Watson’s head and bounced into the stands. A ground-rule, two-run two-bagger.
“That was amazing,” said India, in much happier spirits than he was at this time a year ago. “I got really pumped up for my team. We have each other’s backs on our team. We’ve played so hard this season. We’ve been through so much adversity. So helping the team out in a big situation like that pumped a lot of emotions through me, so it felt good.”
It also proved to be a colossal hit in a tight, one-run game. Though Singer once again dominated and struck out 12 Tigers over seven innings, the relentless Tigers offense never let up, putting pressure on Singer and Florida closer Michael Byrne.
An early 3-0 lead, especially given the stage, was a huge shot of adrenaline. Singer felt some of the pressure come off—and couldn’t help but be thrilled for his fellow sophomore India.
“He definitely took (last year) hard; you never want to end the game as a player,” Singer said. “But he came back this year with revenge on his mind and he had a chip on his shoulder and he got a pitch he wanted to hit. He guessed right and he hit a really deep ball into center. Watson’s a great center fielder, and I guess he just couldn’t handle it.”
The double was also an encouraging sign for the Florida offense, which has struggled to find a consistent middle-of-the-order presence this season.
“It was awfully good to see him get going,” O’Sullivan said. “We need him to get going offensively because he does hit in the middle of the order, and we just need to get him going.
Riding its excellent starting pitching, including Singer, potentially the first overall pick next year; Alex Faedo, the No. 18 pick this year; and Jackson Kowar, another likely first-rounder, Florida hasn’t needed much juice from an offensive standpoint.
But India said the Florida lineup takes pride in its offensive production and tries to make up for its statistical decline with added heart and grit. Someone new seemingly steps up in every win Florida has put together in the postseason, and India said everyone hopes to be that guy when they get to the ballpark.
There are also the results of last year, not just the moment at the end of the final game, but the College World Series as a whole, that eat at these Gators. They’re well aware Florida hasn’t won a national championship, and now just one win away, they’re determined to get it.
“We still have (last year) in the back of our minds,” India said. “It’s kind of adding to our fire. We’re just coming out here and having fun and trying our best. That’s our motto right now, ‘Try your best.’ When we joke around in the dugout, we’re just saying ‘Try your best, man, try your best.’ That’s all you can do. We’re going to stick with that.”
Trying your best sometimes means getting thrown out with a game—and season—on the line.
It can also win you a national title.