The much-anticipated opening game of the Men's College World Series best-of-three championship series between SEC powers Florida and LSU did not disappoint.
From clutch home runs to fine fielding plays and phenomenal pitching, particularly by LSU starter Ty Floyd, who struck out 17, it had a bit of everything as the national 5-seed Tigers held off the 2-seed Gators, 4-3, in 11 innings before a sellout crowd at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.
No homer was more clutch than the game-winning blast to right field by the Tigers' designated hitter Cade Beloso in the top of the 11th, ensuring that Floyd's earlier pitching prowess was not wasted.
Floyd's 17 strikeouts were the most in the MCWS since Ed Bane of Oklahoma also struck out 17 in 1972. The most in a single game in MCWS is 20, set by Oklahoma State's Steve Arlin in 1965.
In addition to Beloso, Gavin Dugas and Tommy White also homered for LSU. BT Riopelle homered for Florida in the back-and-forth affair.
LSU got on board first, and quickly, too. Dylan Crews led off the game by getting hit by a pitch and two outs later, after advancing to second on a groundout, Dugas delivered the first of his big hits on the night with an RBI single to score Crews.
The Tigers went up 2-0 when Dugas launched his homer in his next at-bat, leading off the top of the third.
Floyd, meanwhile, made very few mistakes on the mound. But when he did, Florida usually was ready to make the most of it.
The Gators cut it to 2-1 in the bottom of the third, when Cade Kurland walked with one out and Wyatt Langford doubled, placing runners on second and third. Jac Caglianone then ripped a sharp grounder to first that LSU's Tre' Morgan had trouble handling -- and although the Tigers got the out at first base, Kurland scored.
Two innings later in the bottom of the fifth, Ty Evans doubled to lead off the inning for the Gators and advanced to third on a sacrifice. Kurland then grounded out, scoring Evans to tie the game at 2-2.
It stayed that way until Riopelle and White traded home runs two innings apart, with Riopelle's blast off the otherwise dominant Floyd giving the Gators a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth. But then White, the hero of LSU's semifinal win with a walk-off homer vs. Wake Forest in the 11th -- tied it with his own homer in the top of the eighth.
Floyd, meanwhile, was busy trying to make history. His 17 strikeouts were the most ever in an eight-inning stint in the MCWS. He struck out Caglianone -- the NCAA leader in home runs on the season with 31 -- on a high fastball to close out the eighth inning for his 17th strikeout.
That was it for Floyd, though, as he was taken out of the game at that point in favor of reliever Riley Cooper. Floyd gave up just five hits and walked only one over his eight innings, but was hurt by the three extra-base hits Florida managed against him -- the doubles by Langford and Evans, plus the homer by Riopelle.
In the bottom of the 10th, LSU's Josh Pearson made what likely was a game-saving catch in left field when he raced back and snagged a rocket clocked at 112 miles per hour off the bat of Langford that had appeared at first to be well over Pearson's head. Florida had runners on first and second with only one out at the time.
That set the stage for Beloso's heroic homer in the following half-inning.
Cooper was terrific in relief of Floyd, dancing in and out of trouble while shutting out the Gators over the final three innings to earn the win. He gave up just one hit and struck out three, ending the game by striking out Florida's Deric Fabian looking.
HOW IT HAPPENED
T1 | Crews led off the game by getting hit by a pitch. Two outs later, after Crews advanced to second on a Tre' Morgan groundout, Dugas laced an RBI single to left, scoring Crews. LSU 1, Florida 0.
T3 | Dugas led off the inning with a homer to left. LSU 2, Florida 0.
B3 | With one out for Florida, Kurland walked. Langford doubled to deep right center, with Kurland advancing to third. Caglianone grounded out to first, scoring Kurland. LSU 2, Florida 1.
B5 | Evans doubled to left to lead off the inning. Colby Halter sacrificed, advancing Evans to third. Kurland grounded out to second, scoring Evans. LSU 2, Florida 2.
B6 | With two outs, Riopelle homered to right. Florida 3, LSU 2.
T8 | With one out, White homered to left. Florida 3, LSU 3.
T11 | Beloso led off the inning with a homer to right. LSU 4, Florida 3.
The two teams, who now have identical 53-16 records this season, will square off again in Game 2 of the best-of-three series Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. It will be televised by ESPN and ESPN+.
LSU can secure its seventh national championship with a win. Florida needs to win to force a deciding Game 3 on Monday.