(Part 1 of a College World Series preview series)
Nothing has come easy for Florida this season, which is exactly why the Gators could be a factor in the College World Series. With an 18-7 record in one-run games, the Gators are well-prepared for the grind.
In a matchup of the only two holdovers from the 2016 CWS, the Gators (47-18) are paired against TCU (47-16) Sunday at 6 p.m. in Game 4 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
Florida won winner-take-all championship games in both the Regional and Super Regional to claim a ticket to Omaha for the third straight year and the 11th time in program history.
In the Gainesville Regional, the Gators defeated Marist 10-6 and South Florida 5-1 before being upset by Bethune-Cookman 6-2. Florida took the decisive game 6-1.
Hosting Wake Forest in the Super Regional, the Gators split a pair of 11-inning decisions (2-1, 6-8) before taking the finale 3-0.
Florida's .262 batting average is the lowest among CWS teams and its 5.49 runs per game ranks seventh in the field, only slightly ahead of Cal State Fullerton's 5.48.
Junior catcher/first baseman JJ Schwarz is batting .271 while leading the team with 111 total bases, 64 hits, 12 home runs, 53 RBI and 42 runs. Schwarz's home run total doubles that of his nearest teammate.
He has been on a tear over the past 25 games, batting .315 with seven homers.
Senior center fielder Ryan Larson (.304 batting average, 5 home runs, 24 RBI) and sophomore Nelson Maldonado (.304-6-31) are the only Gators hitting over .300. Maldonado's .456 on base percentage is tops on the team.
Rounding out the Gators' regulars are junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie (.272-4-22), sophomore third baseman Jonathan India (.280-6-32), sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput (.225-2-30), junior catcher Mike Rivera (.241-2-24), freshman left fielder Austin Langworthy (.234-3-24), junior designated hitter Mark Kolozsvary (.270-3-26) and senior first baseman Christian Hicks (.286-4-25).
Guthrie (Philadelphia Phillies) and Rivera (Cleveland Indians) were both chosen in the sixth round of Tuesday's Major League draft, while the Cincinnati Reds selected Kolozsvary in the seventh round.
Armed with a first-round draft pick and a first-team All-American closer, the Gators own a 3.55 team ERA.
The Detroit Tigers made junior right-hander Alex Faedo the 18th overall pick Monday, marking the third straight year the Gators have produced a first-round draft pick.
Faedo (7-2, 2.55) has struck out nearly 100 more batters than he has walked (135-36) while surrendering 90 hits over 109.1 innings. He has allowed one run or less in 17 starts. In his most recent outing, Faedo earned his first career save in Game 3 of the Super Regional.
Sophomore right-handers Brady Singer (7-5, 3.29) and Jackson Kowar (12-0, 4.00) follow Faedo in the rotation.
Tyler Dyson was the hero of Game 3 against Wake Forest. Answering the call from the bullpen, Dyson struck out seven in five innings of two-hit scoreless relief to notch the win. In all, the freshman right-hander logged seven scoreless innings in the Super.
Sophomore right-hander Michael Byrne (4-5, 1.83, 16 saves) has taken over the closer's role. Logging 68.2 innings in 34 appearances (3 starts), Byrne has delivered 84 punchouts.
Among the Gators' other relievers of note are freshman righty Garrett Milchin (4-0, 2.33) and junior lefty Nick Horvath (3-0, 3.77).