This isn’t the position the Florida baseball team wanted to be in after opening the College World Series with two wins. Backs against the wall suddenly, season on the brink yet again.
But as far as Plan Bs go, the No. 3-seeded Gators have quite a safety net to call upon Saturday night as they take on No. 6 TCU for the third time in Omaha, Neb., in a winner-take-all rematch to determine who advances to the College World Series finals.
Ace right-hander Alex Faedo will return to the mound looking to continue his dominant postseason as the Gators (49-19) and TCU (50-17) clash again at 8 p.m. ET at TD Ameritrade Park following the Horned Frogs’ 9-2 win Friday night over Florida to stave off elimination.
“I think our backs have been against the wall the whole year to be honest with you,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the loss Friday night. “It’s been well documented. We’ve had 18 one-run wins. Nothing’s come easy to this team this year. We’ve just had to battle and scratch and claw and fight for everything we had. And if you told me we had one game to win and you got Faedo on the mound and (Tyler) Dyson, who has emerged, and (Michael) Byrne fresh, I’ll take my chances.”
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Round three between the teams features the same pitching matchup as their College World Series opener last Sunday night, when Faedo (8-2, 2.40 ERA, 146 strikeouts and 38 walks in 116 1/3 innings) got the best of TCU and redshirt sophomore righty Jared Janczak (9-1, 2.19 ERA, 95 strikeouts and 24 walks in 86 1/3 innings) in a 3-0 win.
Faedo, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers, has been sublime so far in the NCAA tournament. He’s allowed 1 run over 20 innings with 33 strikeouts in four appearances, including giving up just 2 hits and 2 walks with 11 Ks over seven scoreless innings in that first start against the Horned Frogs.
He and mound mate Brady Singer had staked the Gators to a 2-0 start in Omaha while TCU has had to scrap its way back through the losers bracket with wins over Texas A&M (4-1), No. 7 Louisville (4-3) and then the Gators on Friday night.
Like O’Sullivan mentioned, Florida has been in this position before this postseason. The Gators were pushed to a winner-take-all finale in both the NCAA Regionals against Bethune-Cookman and the Super Regionals against Wake Forest, prevailing both times.
And as he also mentioned, in addition to Faedo, Florida has a fresh bullpen with closer Michael Byrne (1.78 ERA, 17 saves, 88 strikeouts and 15 walks in 70 2/3 innings) and emerging postseason star Tyler Dyson (3-0, 3.55 ERA), who has allowed just 2 hits in 8 1/3 scoreless innings this NCAA tournament, both available.
The other half of the bracket is also still undecided as No. 4 LSU and No. 1 Oregon State will play at 3 p.m. Saturday to determine who moves on to the championship series against the winner of Florida and TCU.
“We’ve got four teams left with one loss. (Saturday) should be very interesting,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously we’ve got our number one going. Michael Byrne is fresh and Tyler Dyson is fresh, and it should be an interesting couple games. Looking forward to it.”
It’s not just about the pitching, though.
Florida is batting a meager .200 (19 for 95) with 10 total runs through its three College World Series games, falling prone to the same offensive slumps that have sprung up all season.
“I don’t know what causes it or anything. But tomorrow is just another day. I don’t really care what happened in the past somewhere. Doesn’t really matter. Everyone has one loss now,” catcher Mike Rivera said Friday night. “We just need to play better tomorrow. And get another chance. We’re still breathing, so that’s good.”
As for TCU, Janczak has been the team’s stalwart on the mound all season. He only last four innings in the CWS opener Sunday night, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 5 walks to Florida, but his track record is impressive nonetheless.
“I have full confidence in our pitching staff. We just need to do it for another day,” Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “(Janczak) says he feels great. … He’s pitched on one less day’s rest this year before. If he’s going to ever play pro ball, he’ll have to get used to it every five days. I think he’ll be fine. He’ll give us a chance. If he just fills up the strike zone, he’ll give us a great chance.