It was Larson’s first game back after being hit in the head in the second game of the SEC Tournament, Missing the entire Regional played in Gainesville last weekend, Larson hit a double his first time at-bat in the game tonight. He was the only Gator with more than one hit on the evening.
“I’m glad Larson got to hit, he’s been out for a while,” assistant Brad Weitzel said following the game. “First game back and is the hero. I hope they didn’t hurt him in center field when they mobbed him. Boy we have to take this momentum into tomorrow.
“That was a really good swing. He didn’t try and do anything, just tried to have a flat-level swing that was short. He hit a bullet up the middle to win the game. I’m glad Ryan came through, because we needed this really bad.
However, outside of the dramatic ending, the big story of the game was really about the pitching. Alex Faedo started for the Gators and was matched up against Wake Forest ace Parker Dunshee.
Both were throwing well to start the game when the Gators finally got one run in in the third inning. Junior Mike Rivera singled up the middle to lead off the inning. Sophomore Deacon Liput walked putting two on. Jonathan India would sacrifice both runners over with a bunt defended by the pitcher, moving both runners into scoring position. Junior Dalton Guthrie then grounded out to first, but Rivera would score giving the Gators a 1-0 lead.
Faedo would come back out in the fourth inning and strike out the side. He had nine strike outs at that point but had faced some adversity with one out and bases loaded in the third. As he stepped off the mound in the fourth, rain started to come down and a delay was called.
It would be almost four hours before play would resume and having thrown 72 pitches, Faedo’s day would be done. Dunshee would fare better at that point and would come back to itch having thrown 45 pitches before the break.
With Faedo out, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to his normal second day starter sophomore Brady Singer to start the fifth inning. Singer was phenomenal also, going four complete innings of shutout ball and striking out eight and walking none along the way.
Dunshee would throw eight innings, giving up just the one run in the third and striking out eight Florida batters while allowing just three hits.
With one inning left, and hoping to save some of Singer’s arm in case they might need him to throw a few innings on Monday, O’Sullivan brought in closer Michael Byrne. Byrne holds the Gator single season record for number of saves at 16 this season.
Byrne promptly gave up a run in the top of the ninth when Ben Breazeale barely got a low change up inside the left foul pole for a solo home run. Byrne got the next three out, but the damage was done. The game was then tied 1-1 and headed to extra innings when the Gators failed to score in the ninth.
Byrne found his rhythm and finished the game for the Gators throwing three complete innings and stretching out three hits to go with six strike outs. He really worked some magic in the 10th with the bases loaded and one out, without giving up a run.
Griffin Roberts would throw three solid innings for Wake Forest before coming unglued in the 11th.
In the bottom of the 11th, Florida was at the top of the batting order and sophomore Jonathan India led off with a walk. Guthrie then tried to bunt but fouled the third strike for a strikeout. Junior J.J. Schwarz and sophomore Nelson Maldonado were both hit-by-pitch loading up the bases. The Demon Deacons then called on hard throwing Colin Peluse to try and finish things off. Mark Kolozsvary pinch hit but struck out. That led to the dramatic two-out single up the middle by Larson that scored India for the final 2-1 score.
It was too close for comfort for Florida. Wake Forest left the bases loaded without scoring in the third and tenth. They left 11 stranded and out-hit the Gators 9-4.
The pitching was magnificent for both teams.
“That kid’s a senior and his last year,” Weitzel said of Dunshee who sat out almost four hours after pitching three innings and returned to pitch five more. “He had a really long rain delay and came back and did a really good job. I don’t know how we missed some of those balls. But sometimes that happens. He’s 9-1 and there is a reason he’s 9-1.
The Gator trio of pitchers were as dominant as they have been all year against maybe the best offense they have faced all season. They allowed just one earned run over 11 innings and set a Gator record with 23 combined strikeouts in the contest.
“He really dominated,” Weitzel said of Faedo. I think he was throwing extra hard. Probably 95, he had extra fastball and slider was really good. I thought Byrne pitched great. That guy hit the ball. He’s a left handed hitter and hit it inside the left field pole. The only way to get beat late is opposite field and that guy went the other way. You know what? Byrne got the next guy out after that and finished the inning. Once in a while that is going to happen, no matter who the closer is. That’s baseball and I’m really glad I got to watch it.”
Singer came back extremely strong after two outings that he struggled with leading up to this contest.
“The decision is always, what is important now and that is to win,” Weitzel said. “We thought that our best chance to win was to bring him in. I know he’s a fiery kid, but he had extra fire tonight. He was really on. He wanted that ball and didn’t want to come out of the game. That’s the competitor he is and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches more in this series.”
The Gators now have to win one of the next two games against Wake Forest to advance to Omaha and the College World Series.
With the win, the Gators move to 46-17 and are just the 12th team in Gator history to win at least 46 games. It was Florida’s 30th error free game of the season.
Jackson Kowar (12-0) is expected to start on the mound for Florida on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN or ESPN2) as they look to win the series. He will face the undefeated Connor Johnstone (8-0). The first team to win two will get the chance to head to Omaha and play in the College World Series.
“Kowar will go to the bump tomorrow,” Weitzel said. “Hopefully he’ll stymie these guys and we’ll get these bats going. If we could somehow get these bats going… I know it’s only one day, but hitting is contagious and not hitting is contagious. You never know when you get out of it. Maybe tomorrow… that’s what you look for in baseball. Everything is tomorrow, the next bat, the next game. I can’t wait until tomorrow.”