WATCH: Gators can’t find the magic in 11-inning battle vs LSU in Game 1 of #MCWS Championship series

The Gators’ string of white-knuckle, gut-wrenching one-run games at the College World Series continued on Saturday night. This one lasted 11 innings. What ended was their ability to find a way to win. LSU pitchers Ty Floyd and Riley Cooper had a lot to do with that, as did a 10th-inning snag by Tigers left fielder Josh Pearson.

LSU departed Charles Schwab Field with a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series after designated hitter Cade Beloso homered in the top of the 11th, and Cooper finished off the Gators in the bottom of the inning. The loss snapped Florida’s eight-game winning streak in the NCAA Tournament and a three-game streak of one-run wins at the CWS.

Tigers starter Floyd struck out 17 over eight innings — a single-game record for the CWS Championship Finals — and lefty reliever Cooper fanned three over three innings as the Gators struck out 20 times. Floyd’s outing was the story of the game until Beloso’s game-winning homer off Gators closer Brandon Neely revved up the sold-out crowd of 25,258 dominated by LSU fans.

Floyd struck out the side three times and had only one in which he didn’t strike out at least two Gators. The Game 1 matchup between two of the Southeastern Conference’s most successful programs proved one of extremes. The Gators struck out 16 LSU batters, and the combined 36 strikeouts set a single-game CWS record.

Meanwhile, the Tigers set a CWS Championship Finals record by leaving 17 runners on base, including 10 in the first four innings. Despite all the empty at-bats, the Gators overcame a shaky outing from starter Brandon Sproat (4 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts) and an early 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the fifth.

The Gators scored a run in the third on a groundout by Jac Caglianone and another in the fifth on Cade Kurland’s ground-ball out. They went ahead on one swing by catcher BT Riopelle in the sixth. Riopelle stepped to the plate with two outs and crushed Floyd’s 1-0 fastball into the right-field seats. The Gators held onto the lead until the eighth when LSU third baseman Tommy White, the walk-off hero in the Tigers’ win over Wake Forest on Thursday, drilled a 0-2 pitch from reliever Cade Fisher for a game-tying home run.

The Gators had runners in scoring position in both the ninth and 10th innings but could not score. With Colby Halter at second and Kurland at first with one out in the 10th, Wyatt Langford blasted a pitch from Cooper to left field. However, Pearson jumped to snag the line drive for the second out, and Caglianone popped out to shortstop to end the inning, setting the stage for Beloso’s game-winning homer in the 11th.

The Gators immediately focused on Game 2 on Sunday afternoon (3 PM ET). Florida must win to keep its season alive and force a Game 3 on Monday night. Right-hander Hurston Waldrep will start for the Gators, and sophomore left-hander Nate Ackenhausen, who pitched six shutout innings against Tennessee on Tuesday, is LSU’s probable starter.

The most urgent task for the Gators is for the top of the order to start producing more than it has in Omaha. Kurland (3-for-19), Langford (3-for-16) and Caglianone (2-for-17) are hitting a collective .154 in the CWS. As O’Sullivan referenced Florida’s eight walks to LSU’s two in Game 1 and his team’s 20 strikeouts in the postgame press conference, Riopelle shook his head in disgust. Riopelle is 3-for-14 with two home runs in the CWS and knows the lineup must do more to help out a pitching staff that has faced high-leverage situations throughout the CWS.

“Your best players have to play the best when it matters most to win games like this,” Riopelle said. “It’s one pitch that completely changes the game. Tonight was a perfect example of that.

“Can’t dwell on tonight. It’s in the past. We’ve been in this position before where our back’s up against the wall, and we’re taking some punches, and we have to throw back.”

When the Gators defeated LSU for the 2017 national title, they swept the series in two games. The Tigers will try to do the same Sunday. Waldrep has been sensational in the NCAA Tournament, going 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 21 innings. With Fisher (50 pitches) and Neely (54) extended Saturday, right-hander Ryan Slater is the top arm available in the bullpen Sunday.

The Gators lost Game 1 and their Omaha magic Saturday, but O’Sullivan is confident they can rebound and force Game 3.

“This team has shown fight the entire year,” he said. “We got outplayed tonight. Our job is to ensure these guys are ready to go [Sunday].”

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, along with players BT Riopelle and Wyatt Langford, all spoke about the loss after the game. Video is courtesy of the NCAA.