The College World Series finals begin Monday night featuring two teams from the same conference, but two distinctly different histories in Omaha. The SEC regular season co-champion LSU Tigers, gunning for their 7th national crown, face the co-champion Florida Gators, who are looking for their first national title.
For the first 40 years of the college baseball championship round, the Tigers were a non-factor. The first champion was crowned in 1947, but LSU did not reach the CWS until 1986.
Since that time, they have been regular visitors to Omaha. This year is their 18th appearance and with 6 titles, only the Southern California Trojans (12) have won more. Texas also has 6.
The Gators are in Omaha for the 11th time. They have twice made the championship round, losing to Texas in 2005 and to South Carolina in 2011 in another all-SEC final. They have yet to win a finals game.
LSU has won the championship in all six appearances in either the championship game or championship series. The best-of-3 format began with the 2003 CWS.
Beginning Monday night, all of the past history is meaningless. Gators’ Coach Kevin O’Sullivan believes Florida’s two-of-three series win against the Tigers in March is also irrelevant.
“I’ve always said it’s not who you play in your league, it’s when you play them, because we all go through ups and downs” said O’Sullivan. “And that weekend has absolutely no bearing on what is going to happen over in the next few days.”
The way the starting pitching is lining up for this series, the Gators may be telling themselves they need to win on Monday. Brady Singer, who baffled Louisville to put Florida into the semi-finals, goes in Game 1.
Not the O’Sullivan is putting any stock in the regular season, but Singer also threw a complete game 6-hitter against LSU on March 25.
Senior Russell Reynolds will start Game 1 for the Tigers, but expect him to be on a very short leash. Reynolds did not start a single game during the season, but following the season-ending injury to third starter Eric Walker last week, Coach Paul Mainieri has few options.
If the Gators fail to win Monday’s game, they would need to defeat Jared Poche’, the winningest pitcher in LSU history, on Tuesday to stay alive. If there is a third game, the Chicago Cubs’ first-round draft pick, Alex Lange, awaits in a third and decisive game.
Florida ace Alex Faedo is not available to start in any finals game after pitching deep into Saturday night’s 3-0 win against TCU. Depending upon the situation, he could be available for some relief work either Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Tigers have to be happy about that. Faedo outdueled Lange 1-0 on March 24.
If it goes to a third game, the Gators will send out sophomore Jackson Kowar (12-1; 4.15 ERA) against Lange. O’Sullivan has yet to decide on the Game 2 starter.
A Gator win on Monday is highly recommended.