Top-seeded Florida beats rival FSU 7-0, returns to CWS
GAINESVILLE — Widely regarded as the best team in the country all season, Florida will get a chance to prove it on college baseball's biggest stage.
JJ Schwarz broke out of a two-week hitting slump by driving in five runs — most of them on a grand slam — and the Gators beat rival Florida State 7-0 on Monday night to secure the last spot in the College World Series.
Florida (52-14) won the final two games in the best-of-three super regional to earn its fifth trip to Omaha, Nebraska, in the past seven years. The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, will play Coastal Carolina on Sunday night.
And they will be looking for redemption after losing two one-run games to eventual national champion Virginia in Omaha last season.
"We've got a lot of unfinished business we've got to take care of," centerfielder Buddy Reed said.
The Gators can only hope Schwarz keeps swinging as he did against the Seminoles (41-22). With the bases loaded, the sophomore hammered Jim Voyles' hanging slider over the left-field bleachers to put the Gators up 6-0 in the fifth inning. He added an RBI double in the sixth.
Those hits snapped a 4-for-27 (.148) stretch over the past eight games for Schwarz and provided his latest highlight against Florida State. Schwarz improved to 19-for-44 (.432), with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 11 career games against FSU.
Schwarz provided plenty of cushion for right-hander Dane Dunning (6-3), the 29th overall pick in the baseball draft. Dunning replaced fellow first-rounder A.J. Puk in the fourth inning and tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
Puk's next start should come in Omaha, where Florida endured two gut-wrenching loses in 2015.
"We wanted to go back so bad," Schwarz said. "We were so close to playing in the championship series. We wanted to get back and see what we could do."
The Gators believe they have a decent shot at winning the program's first national championship this time around. They have the deepest pitching staff in the country and have started swinging the bats better since Peter Alonso returned to the lineup. Alonso missed nearly a month with a broken bone in his left hand.
He returned for the tournament and has been on a tear since.
He homered for the fourth time in six games in the third inning, driving starter Cole Sands' belt-high fastball to left. That got the Gators going and Schwarz opened the game up, propelling Florida to its 11th win in its past 14 games against FSU.
"I don't know if I've seen as strong a pitching staff," longtime FSU coach Mike Martin said. "Florida is very deserving of a No. 1 seed. Anything happens in baseball. I don't want to say something to jinx anybody."
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who announced his retirement earlier in the day, opted not to attend the series finale. The school said Foley wanted to avoid being a distraction and keep the spotlight on the baseball team. Foley decided last week to retire and announced it publicly Monday, the same day he told University Athletic Association board members.
Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan lauded his team for what it already has accomplished this season, from handling preseason expectations to the No. 1 seed. The Gators also had six players drafted in the top 108 picks in the MLB draft.
"It's very, very difficult to juggle those things," O'Sullivan said. "I couldn't be more proud with how they handle the expectations from a team standpoint and how selfless they were individually. I'm just proud that we've got an opportunity to go back out to Omaha and have these guys experience that again."
Florida State's bat went cold in the final two-plus games in the series. The 'Noles failed to score in their 22 innings of the super regional. They scored three runs in the first five innings of Game 1 and didn't really get close after that.
"We hope and pray that we never come back down here for a super regional." — Martin, whose program ended the past two seasons in Gainesville.