Special to Gatorsports.com
OMAHA, Neb. — Florida survived another elimination game Thursday at the College World Series and at the same time got redemption against Texas Tech with a 9-6 win.
Florida (49-20) will need to beat Arkansas (46-19) twice to return to the CWS championship series next week. The first opportunity comes at 8 p.m. (ESPN) on Friday. UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Gators ace Brady Singer (12-2, 2.33 ERA), the national player of the year, will start Friday night.
Texas Tech, which knocked UF into the loser’s bracket with a 6-3 win Sunday, finishes its season at 45-20.
Freshman Jack Leftwich (5-5) turned in a strong mound performance for the Gators, allowing just two runs in 6.1 innings. He escaped trouble in the second and fourth innings before leaving with two runners on base in the seventh.
“I think the reason I struggled was that I was nibbling and not attacking the hitters,” Leftwich said. “I was pitching kind of scared. After we scored a couple runs, I started to attack the hitters and they were going to get themselves out.”
Florida then used Andrew Baker, Tommy Mace, Jordan Butler, Hunter McMullen and Michael Byrne out of the bullpen to close out the game. Byrne pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save.
“It would have been nice not to use him,” O’Sullivan said of his closer. “We’re going to need somebody else to step up and get us some outs if we want to advance here the next couple games.”
Florida, no-hit through three innings by Texas Tech starter Caleb Killian (9-3), scored the game’s first run in the fourth inning without the benefit of a hit. Jonathan Indian walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on another wild pitch.
The Gators made it 3-0 in the fifth. Blake Reese and Nick Horvath singled to put runners on the corners. Deacon Liput then doubled in Reese and Horvath scored on Nelson Maldonado’s groundout.
It became 5-0 Gators in a big way in the sixth. Wil Dalton singled before senior captain JJ Schwarz belted a two-run home run to left. It is Schwarz’s first homer at the College World Series (16 games) and 13th of the season. The Gators have hit 100 home runs this season.
Schwarz broke his right hand May 18 and returned to the lineup for Florida’s first CWS game. He was 1 for 11 in Omaha, and 1 for his last 20 overall, when he sent a 1-1 pitch from Ty Harpenau into the left-field bullpen.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Schwarz said about making it back from his injury. “I definitely felt a little better at the plate, more comfortable. Today was a good step in the right direction. I wasn’t very comfortable the first couple games. I was a little rusty. I’m getting the hang of things again.”
Texas Tech sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh to cut the Gators’ lead to 5-3. A double, single and a walk loaded the bases. Brian Klein and Josh Jung drove in runs with singles and the third scored on an error at short by Liput. Butler got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam with a strikeout and flyout.
UF got the three runs back in the eighth inning. Dalton doubled, Schwarz moved him to third with a groundout and Austin Langworthy’s sacrifice fly brought him home. Then, two-out RBIs made it an 8-3 game. Reese doubled and scored on a triple off the centerfield wall by catcher Brady Smith, who scored on Horvath’s single.
Texas Tech would not go away, scoring three in the eighth on a RBI single by Jung and a two-run single by Grant Little to make it 8-6.
“We knew they weren’t going away,” O’Sullivan said. “They hung in there with us, and we knew it would be a nine-inning ballgame.”
UF made it 9-6 in the ninth after India singled, stole second (his third steal of the night) and later scored on a throwing error on Langworthy’s grounder to short.
Bracket 2 finalists Florida and Arkansas haven’t met since they opened SEC play in late March. The Gators won two of three in Gainesville, with India, the SEC player of the year, going 6 for 9 with a homer and four RBIs in the series. The Razorbacks won their meeting in the SEC tournament last month.
Notes: Schwarz is only the fourth UF player in program history with 50 career home runs, joining Matt LaPorta (74), Preston Tucker (57) and Brad Wilkerson (55). … The Gators improve to 7-0 in elimination games in the NCAA Tournament since 2017. … Reese had three hits, including two doubles, and scored two runs for UF.
Leftwich, Baker (7), Mace (7), Butler (7), McMullen (8), Byrne (8) and Smith; Kilian, Harpenau (5), Freeman (7), Haveman (8), Queen (8), McMillon (9) and Fulford. W_Leftwich, 5-5. L_Kilian, 9-3. Sv_Byrne (16). HR_Florida, Schwarz (13). 2B: Liput 1 (15), Dalton 1 (18), Reese 2 (19). TT: Warren 1 (16). 3B-Florida, Smith 1 (1)