Florida’s Michael Robertson catches a fly ball in center field hit by TCU’s Brayden Taylor to close out the bottom of the ninth inning of a baseball game at the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Florida beat TCU 3-2. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The Florida Gators beat the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs 3-2 to advance to the College World Series final for the fourth time, and will seek their second national title since 2017 under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Florida has not been 3-0 entering the College World Series final since they appeared in 2011.
The Gators improved to 3-1 all-time against TCU, with all of their matchups happening at the College World Series under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. The Florida bullpen went 4.2 innings allowing three hits, walking one and striking out four while facing 19 batters in the 3-2 win to knock out TCU.
“It really does take a collective group. And we knew the pitching was a work in progress when we started things, especially the bullpen side of things. That shows you kind of where we are at with our bullpen,” O’Sullivan said following the game.
The Gators struck early, when junior shortstop Josh Rivera launched a 417-foot, two-run home run in the top of the first inning to put Florida up 2-0.
“I wasn’t really looking for anything specific. But I was just trying downtown for the heater and he came first-pitch slider,” Rivera said. “And I didn’t let that take me away from my approach. I stayed on the fastball and luckily I saw it pop out of his hand and got a hanging slider that I could put a good swing on.”
The Gators have the most home runs in this year’s College World Series with seven.
In the bottom of the first, the Horned Frogs’ Brayden Taylor ripped an RBI single to center field, scoring freshman catcher Karson Bowen to cut the lead to 2-1.
TCU starting pitcher Cole Klecker battled and threw five innings, allowing six hits, two earned runs, walking one batter, and striking out two.
Gators starting pitcher Jac Caglianone went 4.1 innings, allowing three hits, one earned run, walking three batters, and striking out four.
During the bottom of the eighth inning, the Horned Frogs tied the game up at two when shortstop Anthony Silva hit a ground-rule double to the left-center field gap, scoring second baseman Tre Richardson to make it 2-2.
The Gators took the lead in the top of the ninth inning when junior left fielder Tyler Shelnut ripped a double to left field to lead off the inning. A few batters later, second baseman Cade Kurkland hit an infield single in between the shortstop and third base, scoring Michael Robertson and the Gators took a 3-2 lead.
“It’s not easy to get to this point. It’s just not. I know I overstate it and say it over and over, but we just played three one-run games and they’re all nail biters down to the end. There’s a lot of things that have to go right,” said O’Sullivan. “This team is different than the ’17 team in a lot of ways, but in the most important ways for me, very similar.”
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Gators relief pitcher Brandon Neeley was aiming to close out the game and send Florida to the College World Series final, and he got Taylor to hit a deep fly to center, where Michael Robertson made a spectacular catch at the wall for the final out of the game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our program and our players. Obviously ran up against a great Florida team and just came up one run short. But like I told them, just the story and the journey that they took us on this year will never be forgotten. I think it completely changes our program in terms of what they did from the middle part of the season until now,” said TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos.
Gators head coach O’Sullivan has directed the Gators to eight College World Series and three final series through his 15 seasons with the program.
The Gators will play in the best-of-three College World Series final starting on Saturday against No. 1 Wake Forest University or No. 5 LSU at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN.