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J.J. Schwarz's Return Boosts Florida At College World Series

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J.J. Schwarz (Photo by Danny Parker)

OMAHA, Neb.—J.J. Schwarz spent the three weeks leading up to the start of the College World Series sidelined, unable to play due to a broken finger on his right hand. He missed the Southeastern Conference Tournament and both the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional.

The injury cost Schwarz, the Gators’ senior captain, a final chance to play at McKethan Stadium, but he was determined that it wouldn’t keep him out of the College World Series.

“I mean, I wouldn't miss this for the world,” Schwarz said. “So, playing through injury, I don't have to think twice about it. It's a huge game. And obviously for that reason I'm going to be out there and impact the game with my teammates on the field. I did whatever it took to get back on the field.”

Schwarz on Sunday returned to action as Florida opened play in the CWS. He started slowly as he worked to get his rhythm back at the plate, going 1-for-9 over the Gators’ first two games. But, by Thursday’s elimination game against Texas Tech, Schwarz was back to feeling like himself at the plate.

Schwarz hit a key two-run home run in the sixth inning of Florida’s 9-6 victory against Texas Tech. With the victory, the Gators advanced to Friday’s bracket final against Arkansas, which they will need to beat twice to return to the CWS finals for the second straight year.

Getting Schwarz back in the lineup has been a boost for Florida. Before he was injured, the Gators were averaging 7.07 runs per game. During the 11 games he missed, they averaged 4.55 runs per game.

Third baseman Jonathan India said Schwarz’s return gives the lineup a different feel.

“It felt like the team was complete again,” India said. “He’s our captain. He’s our middle-of-the-lineup guy. To have him back is big for us. He’s doing well for us. We need him there.”

Schwarz this season has been one of Florida’s best hitters and is batting .313/.390/.585 with 13 home runs. His presence has been felt in the Gators’ lineup for four years and he has become one of the most productive hitters in program history. He on Thursday became just the fourth Gator ever to hit 50 career home runs, joining Matt LaPorta, Preston Tucker and Brad Wilkerson, all of whom went on to play in the big leagues.

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why opposing teams are pitching Schwarz carefully, despite his lengthy layoff.

“(He’s) seeing a lot of breaking balls and a lot of spin,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He just demands a lot of respect and they pitch him differently.”

Schwarz returned to action about four weeks after breaking his finger. O’Sullivan said the timetable for recovery from an injury like that is typically four to six weeks, with most players requiring close to a full six weeks.

Schwarz may not be 100 percent yet—he isn’t catching for Florida in Omaha, instead limited to first base—but he’s starting to get back into a groove at the plate.

“I think today was a good step in the right direction,” Schwarz said. “Obviously, you guys could tell I wasn't very comfortable the first couple of games. Took a lot of time off. A little rusty, but I think I'm definitely getting the hang of things again.”

Schwarz is down to the last few games of what has been an outstanding career at Florida. He earlier this month was drafted in the eighth round by the Athletics and will soon move on to pro ball. He has been an everyday player for the Gators since he arrived on campus, earned All-America honors and helped lead the Gators to the 2017 national championship. When he takes the field Friday against Arkansas, it will be his 266th career game for Florida, breaking Tucker’s program record.

But all Schwarz and the rest of the Gators want to do now is to keep extending their season. Florida has fought through the losers’ bracket to get to the semifinals for the third time in four years, but now it will have to beat red-hot Arkansas on back-to-back days.

Schwarz said the Gators will be ready for the challenge.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Schwarz said. “I think we've shown it all year that we respond really well to when our backs are against the wall. I think tomorrow is going to be no different.”

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