Florida takes Game 1 in a CWS battle of familiar foes

Florida scores two runs on ground-rule double (0:35)

In the fourth inning, Jonathan India's double is too much for the LSU outfielder as the ball bounces over his head and over the wall, forcing a ground-rule double and a 3-0 Florida lead. (0:35)

OMAHA, Neb. -- There are no secrets in these College World Series finals.

Before LSU and Florida squared off at TD Ameritrade Park to settle the SEC championship -- they shared the regular-season title -- Paul Mainieri, 11th-year coach of the Tigers, said of Kevin O'Sullivan, the Gators' 10th-year coach, "He'll be the first to know as soon as I decide" on a starting pitcher for the opening game Monday of the CWS championship series.

LSU and Florida know each other so well, no point exists in trying to hide anything. After all, such a ploy -- as a few Tigers perceived it, anyway -- on Saturday by Oregon State in announcing one pitcher and starting another, served only to anger LSU players.

So let it all hang out. And both teams did just that Monday night in the Gators' 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three series for the national title.

Florida sits one victory from its first championship in 11 visits to Omaha -- and from denying LSU a crown for the first time in seven opportunities to play for it.

"It's not nearly over," O'Sullivan said.

Inside both dugouts, his words ring true. That the Tigers and Gators, permanent cross-divisional rivals in the SEC, are so keen on the strengths of their foes this week only adds to the intrigue, the strategy and the storylines.

In fact, it's right on script for an epic Wednesday finale -- if needed -- with LSU ace Alex Lange, the Cubs' recent first-round draft pick, on the mound against super-sophomore Jackson Kowar of Florida.

The Tigers first hand the ball to senior Jared Poche', the program's all-time leader in victories, on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) against Florida freshman Tyler Dyson, a standout reliever who has started once this season.

It's a complete reversal of roles from Monday, when the Gators got a CWS finals-record 12 strikeouts from sophomore Brady Singer.

Look for Singer in the first round of the draft next June. Mainieri described him as perhaps the best pitcher his Tigers have ever opposed in SEC play.

"He's got MLB stuff right now," LSU second baseman Cole Freeman said of Singer.

Freeman and the Tigers would know. They realized the magnitude of their task on Monday behind Russell Reynolds, who hadn't started a game since 2015 after battling back from shoulder surgery as a freshman.

For three innings, Reynolds matched Singer. But Reynolds' control deserted him in the fourth.

Florida struck for three runs, including a pair on Jonathan India's two-out double off reliever Nick Bush that skipped over the center-field wall.

LSU had chances late. The script here held firm, though.

"It was a tough matchup for us," Mainieri said, "and we knew that."

Michael Byrne did his job in relief of Singer over the final two innings, punching the clock for his 19th save to nail down the Gators' 19th one-run victory of the season.

That's their specialty, and it's no coincidence. O'Sullivan built this team to win in a spot like Monday's after the Gators had lost five straight games decided by one run in Omaha, dating to 2012.

"It kind of worked out the way we hoped it would," said the coach, whose Gators were swept by South Carolina in the 2011 CWS finals. "But we know we're going to have to play better tomorrow."

The thing is, of course, LSU knows, too.

Poche' and his 39 victories since 2014, including the Tigers' first two in Omaha this year, fill this team with confidence. As for Lange, well, he's 5-0 in his past seven starts, contributing to a pair of shutouts.

"It's kind of the same thing we faced with Oregon State -- backs are against the wall," Freeman said. "One game and it's over for us. But you know what you're going to get from [Poche' and Lange.] They're going to be consistent. They're not going to give up much."

Poche' struggled in his lone outing against Florida this year. He allowed four runs on six hits and six walks in four innings of an 8-1 loss in Gainesville on March 25.

In 14 years of this format, seven of the teams to win Game 1 of the finals have swept the series. Four others have lost in three games. The competitive nature of this rivalry calls for LSU to extend this series to Wednesday.

The Gators likely have other plans.

"They're obviously a good team," Poche' said Monday night in the LSU locker room, the stoic look on his face indicating that he had begun already to focus on his job in Game 2. "They wouldn't be here if they weren't.

"But we've had a great run so far. We're not done yet."

The script wouldn't call for it any other way.