Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sports

Led by Alex Faedo, pitching is UF's strength in College World Series

OMAHA, Neb. — Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan stared at the stats in front of him and picked out the only number he wanted to talk about.

"The theme I keep hearing is about things we can't do," he said. "I'm sitting here and looking at our record, and we're 48-17. We do a lot of things well."

Hitting isn't high on the list.

The Gators are batting .262 as a team, ranking 205th in the country and the lowest average of any team O'Sullivan has fielded in his decade in Gainesville. Florida has two starters over .300 — Ryan Larson and former Jefferson High standout Nelson Maldonado are at .304 — and have less than half as many home runs (50) as NCAA leader Wake Forest (106). Maybe even more telling: The Gators have scored two or fewer runs 20 times.

On the plus side, UF has improved. It was hitting .235 in March.

Yet the Gators got to the College World Series for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last eight seasons. How did they do it?

Pitching.

The Gators have three quality starters, a dominant closer and enough situational relievers to make it through the grueling tournament. That mound mastery has helped offset struggles at the plate.

"When you run our three starters out there and you've got a guy at the end and you've got a couple of other guys out there in the middle, then you just figure out ways to win," O'Sullivan said.

Florida begins its quest for the baseball program's first national championship tonight against TCU. The Gators' chances start and end on the hill with starters Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, reliever Tyler Dyson and closer Michael Byrne.

A look at the team's top arms:

• Faedo: The hard-throwing right-hander from Alonso High has been Florida's No. 1 starter all year and one of the best in the SEC. He is scheduled to start tonight. Faedo went 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA and led the SEC with 135 strikeouts in 1091/3 innings. The CWS will be his final stint with the Gators.

• Singer: The sophomore right-hander is expected to be UF's ace and a first-rounder in 2018. He is 7-5 with a 3.29 ERA and led the SEC with 112 innings pitched.

• Kowar: The No. 3 starter led the league in wins, going 12-0 with a 4.00 ERA in 17 starts. He doesn't have the velocity or control of Faedo or Singer, but got good run support (seven a game).

• Dyson: Inconsistent much of the year, the freshman emerged as a viable option in the Super Region against Wake Forest. He likely will be one of the first out of the bullpen in Omaha.

• Byrne: The sophomore set a school record with 16 saves and was a big reason the Gators led the nation with 18 one-run victories. He has 84 strikeouts in 682/3 innings and a 1.83 ERA.

Throw in relievers Nick Horvath and Frank Rubio, and Florida has the depth to make a run — and maybe make up for lack of offense.

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