OMAHA, Neb. — The 2023 Men’s College World Series continued to make history during Sunday’s Game 2 contest between LSU and Florida. It just wasn’t the kind of history we’ve come to expect from this wildest of MCWS. After a walk-off thriller of a championship opener, won by an LSU homer in the top of the 11th to produce the record-tying eighth one-run game of this 15-game series, the 15th and latest of those games achieved a whole bucketful of records all on its own.
The difference is that these were the first 2023 statistical milestones directly related to a butt-kicking. Like, historically lopsided butt-kicking. Think Georgia vs. TCU, Dream Team vs. Angola, Hulk vs. Loki. That kind of butt-kicking.
Florida’s 24-4 victory that set up a Monday night winner-take-all title game (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) also set a record for the largest margin of victory ever posted in Men’s College World Series finals contest. That mark was a dozen runs. Now it is 20, tied for the second-largest margin of any MCWS game played. It could have been even larger if the Gators hadn’t gone for two after their third touchdown (insert rimshot here). In 76 years of the MCWS, no team scored more runs in a single game than the 2023 SEC regular-season co-champions, not even during the so-called “Gorilla Ball” era of unregulated aluminum bats in the 1990s.
“The bad news is that we can’t carry over any runs from today into the game tomorrow night,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The good news is that you struggle and you grind and you have four games and they are all one-run games, three wins and a tough loss, and now you’re reminded, ‘Hey, guys, we know how to play. We can play our type of game.’ Our best players were performing well today.”
The much-ballyhooed Florida bats had been criticized for being largely in absentia since the team arrived in Nebraska, especially after hitting a paltry .158 in Game 1, 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Heading into the championship series, its would-be Murderers’ Row of Cade Kurland, Wyatt Langford and Jac Caglianone had five hits between them. On Sunday afternoon, however, they had 10 hits. Langford alone had five, setting the mark for most hits in a finals game, tying the record for any MCWS game at all.
So, how do you handle that if you are LSU? It is a storied program playing for its seventh national title. A proud team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for largest chunk of the regular season. But it’s also a team that just surrendered the most runs it has ever given up in an NCAA tourney game, 24 of them, and also committed a finals-record-setting five errors.
What is it that American soccer coach always says on that popular streaming TV series? Be a goldfish.
“I feel like everybody in the locker room has already forgotten about it, really,” said centerfielder Dylan Crews, who had two hits and scored half of LSU’s four runs. That locker room was already being emptied and the team bus loaded in record time, head coach Jay Johnson electing to expedite the postgame routine to get back to the hotel and squeeze in “a rest day” before Monday night’s first pitch, nearly a full 24 hours away. “We’ve only lost back-to-back games twice this year. So, we flush it, we start preparing and we show back up tomorrow like we always have.”
You can also point to history. Recent history, as in the fact that the Colorado Rockies did just this weekend vs. the Angels.
Finding MCWS silver linings takes a bit more digging, but there is hope. That finals game errors record? The last team to have that bad of a day in the field was Fresno State in 2008, when it kicked the ball around four times … and won a national title. Since the title series went to three games in 2003, 12 of the 19 champs did what LSU did, win Game 1. And anyone who has ever worn purple and gold and shouted “Geaux Tigers!” never needs much of an excuse to bring up 1996, when second baseman Warren Morris, who’d barely played all season because of a broken hand, stepped to the plate and completed an LSU comeback from a four-run deficit as he barely flung a homer over the right-field wall to win the MCWS in what is still regarded as the greatest single moment in the history of this event.
On Sunday morning, as if they were going to college baseball church, LSU fans were lined up to take photos with the right-field foul pole from the since-demolished Rosenblatt Stadium, still standing in what is now a parking lot for the zoo.
“There’s been a lot of stories in the College World Series of guys who struggle, struggle, struggle, and then get a big hit for and make a big play for it,” Johnson said, speaking specifically about shortstop Jordan Thompson, who went 0-for-4 Sunday, is 1-for-30 in this series and committed two of those five errors. But really, the coach was speaking to his entire team. And yes, probably Morris, too.
On the flipside, how does Florida handle that lopsided result? As the Gators players repeated once, twice, eleventy times during their postgame comments, they will … everybody now!
“It’s one game, so we’ll treat it like one game like we always do,” said right fielder Ty Evans, who hit two foul-pole-bending homers, giving the sophomore a MCWS-record-equaling four, despite having only four during the 65 games played before arriving in Omaha.
“Yeah, it’s one game, so we’ll take it one game at a time,” repeated Caglianone.
“Yes, we’re going to take it one game at a time and now that’s down to one game,” Langford said.
The coach who has preached that mentality to them all season was a little more nuanced. O’Sullivan was asked about the visible roller coaster of emotions that a nation saw on ESPN as the record-smashing Game 2 went into the books and the specter of Game 3 came barreling over the horizon. A huge smile followed a moment of solemn solitude in a corner of the dugout.
“It’s really hard to unwind, to be honest,” the man seeking his second MCWS title explained. “You lose a game like last night [Game 1] and it’s just really, really hard to kind of let it go. But you have to. That was the message last night. And then, today, just to flip the switch and the whole story and that whole narrative changes. It’s just … it’s emotional to take it in.”
Then he recalled finally emerging from that dugout to greet the heavily outnumbered Florida fans in the stands, singing, as custom demands, Gainesville native Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
“We’re all fans, you know. You’re singing the song at the end. Really, really cool. Really cool deal.”
It was. It is. And it will happen, one way or another, again on Monday night with a championship on the line.