Florida reached the mecca of college baseball on Saturday with an 11-4 win over Florida State, taking the Gators to their ninth College World Series appearance in program history and fourth in the last six years.
“We swung the bats really well today,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It was one of those days where we got the ball elevated.”
Florida (49-16) will face off with Miami on Saturday in Omaha at a time to be determined late Monday night.
The Gators took a punch early on Saturday. Florida State scored two runs in the first inning against A.J. Puk, who had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 33 innings. The large group of Florida State fans in attendance on Saturday was loud, and all of the momentum was in the Seminoles’ dugout as the first inning came to a close.
Then J.J. Schwarz answered.
After Josh Tobias walked to start the second inning, the freshman crushed a hanging slider, easily clearing the left field bleachers to tie the game. The long first inning that sent eight hitters to the plate and produced two runs for the Seminoles was erased by two hitters.
That was all the momentum the Gators would need. After going scoreless in the first inning, Florida scored in six of the next seven innings to run away with the game.
“That’s part of the game,” said Florida left fielder Harrison Bader, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. “We had a slightly shaky inning in the first. It drove the rest of the game and put us in a place moving forward the rest of the game to just continue to answer and put more runs on the board.”
Bader’s fourth-inning homer was one of four the Gators would hit. Shortstop Richie Martin hit his fifth of the year and his first in over a month when he lined one over the left field fence to open the third inning. Schwarz hit his second homer of the game, a solo blast in the sixth inning.
Puk went four innings on the mound, allowing four hits and three earned runs to go with three walks and six strikeouts. O’Sullivan gave the ball to senior left-hander Bobby Poyner, who tossed five shutout innings of relief out of the bullpen to end the game.
The last out came on a fly ball to left field. Bader got under it, making the grab before the warning track. After that, it was an all-out sprint to the middle of the field where the dog pile was beginning.
Center fielder Buddy Reed chipped in with his post-win backflip, but Bader had eyes for the pile. Schwarz, who was behind the plate for the last out, ended up at the bottom of it.
“Looking back, I think that was a bad idea,” Schwarz said through a grin.
Bader had one last mission before the celebration truly began. He set out to find O’Sullivan. After the teams and coaching staffs shook hands, Bader pulled the ball from the last out from his pocket and gave it to the Florida coach.
“He puts in so much to this team and how much he has helped everyone,” Bader said. “The ball has some sentimental value, and I thought he deserved to have the ball. I wanted to give it to the person who deserved it most.”
The Gators will take Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. The team will leave for Omaha on Wednesday.