Zach Watson did everything he could to catch the ball, breaking into a deep sprint towards the warning track as he stared into the glaring sun.
His hair flopped up and down with each hurried step, bouncing against his neck as he glided across the center field grass.
But no matter how fast Watson ran, he had no chance at making the play.
The ball was smacked deep over his head by Florida third baseman Jonathan India, resulting in a two-RBI ground-rule double in the top of the fourth inning.
The hit ultimately was the difference maker for UF in a 4-3 win over the Tigers in Game 1 of the College World Series Finals on Monday night. The Gators have now won four of their five contests in Omaha this postseason and are one victory away from a national championship.
“We’re here to win this thing,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’re close, but we haven’t crossed the finish line yet.”
Florida starting pitcher Brady Singer threw a College World Series Finals record 12 strikeouts in his seven innings of work.
The sophomore gave up two runs in the sixth inning off a solo home run from left fielder Antoine Duplantis and an RBI single from designated hitter Beau Jordan.
O’Sullivan then went to closer Michael Byrne in the bottom of the eighth following a lead-off double from right fielder Greg Deichmann.
Byrne allowed Deichmann to score after giving up a hit to third baseman Josh Smith but was perfect from that point on, retiring his final four batters faced to clinch the win.
Offensively, the Gators got going in the top of the fourth when left fielder Austin Langworthy hit a sac fly in foul territory to score shortstop Dalton Guthrie.
India then hit his RBI double over the head of Watson one at-bat later to drive in right fielder Nelson Maldonado and first baseman JJ Schwarz.
Florida added one final insurance run in the top of the seventh off an RBI single from catcher Mike Rivera, sending Langworthy home from third and solidifying the 1-0 series lead.
“We’re just playing as a team together, we have each other’s backs,” India said about the offense. “We’re doing really well in those situations.”
Monday night’s result signifies the first ever win for UF in the College World Series Finals. The Gators were swept in their two previous appearances in the best-of-three slate, falling to Texas in 2005 and South Carolina in 2011.
10 of the last 14 teams to win Game 1 of the College World Series Finals have gone on to clinch the national championship, with seven of those series ending in sweeps.
Game 2 of the UF-LSU matchup takes place tonight at 8 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park. Freshman Tyler Dyson is expected to get the start.
A win would give Florida its first national championship in program history, while a loss would send the two teams a decisive third game on Wednesday.
“It’s been a long time since we played LSU,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s a really good lineup. I forgot how good it was… Obviously there’s a long way to go in this thing.”