Florida sophomore left fielder Austin Langworthy is developing a knack for coming up with big hits in big spots.
None was bigger than Monday night for Langworthy, a Williston native who grew up dreaming of playing for the Gators.
Langworthy will forever go down in Florida postseason lore with his walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning that lifted UF to a 3-2, series-clinching win over Auburn in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional. The line drive shot to right field, which caromed off the glove of Auburn right fielder Steven Williams and over the right field fence, was Langworthy’s fourth home run of the season and fourth career postseason home run. It sent the defending national champion Gators to their fourth straight College World Series appearance and 12th trip to Omaha in school history.
“Right when I hit it I knew it had a chance,” Langworthy said. “I wasn’t sure I quite hit it high enough, But once I saw it go over the fence I was just ecstatic for myself and my teammates to get back to Omaha.”
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he felt confident with Langworthy heading to the plate in the 11th inning with the game still in the balance.
“I’m not sure I’m expected him to hit a walk-off home run, but I thought he would give us a really good at-bat,” O’Sullivan said.
Replays showed the ball would have probably cleared the fence whether or not Williams had his glove on the ball. But Williams was in position to rob Langworthy of an extra-base hit for the third time in the game. Auburn center fielder Jay Estes made a diving catch in center field on a towering Langworthy fly ball to right center in the sixth inning, while left fielder Judd Ward caught a low line drive from Langworthy to end the eighth.
“In this game, everything comes back to you eventually,” Langworthy said. “A few bad at-bats and then you will have some good at-bats. That’s how this game works.”
Auburn players huddled around Williams in right field and consoled him following the game.
“He’s a really good ballplayer and he’s got a bright future ahead of him,” said Auburn reliever Davis Daniel, who pitched 5.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the Tigers. “One play doesn’t define him.”
Langworthy’s home run ended more than three hours of tense baseball. A standing-room only crowd of 5,958 at McKethan Stadium watched the Gators (47-19) outlast an Auburn (43-23) team that made spectacular defensive plays throughout the game to keep the score tied in the late innings.
Florida junior closer Michael Byrne (3-1) pitched four scoreless innings to earn the win. Freshman righty Cody Greenhill (6-3) took the loss for Auburn, serving up a home run to Langworthy for the second straight game. Langworthy said he was hunting for a fastball and got one that he turned on.
“He’s a fastball heavy guy,” Langworthy said.
Byrne allowed one hit and one walk and struck out five over his four-inning stint. He struck out the first four batters he faced and was able to work out of a first-and-second jam in the 10th inning by getting catcher Brett Wright to ground into a force out to third base.
“I thought Byrne was a huge difference in the ballgame,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “We just couldn’t get anything going against him.”
On his 21st birthday, Daniel matched zeroes with Byrne in the late innings before giving way to Greenfield, who worked out of a first-and-second jam in the 10th
Auburn tied the score at 2 in the seventh due to a pair of Gator miscues. Luke Jarvis led off the inning against UF freshman reliever Tommy Mace with a single and moved to second on an error when Wil Dalton failed to field the single cleanly in right field. Jarvis then moved to third with one out on a wild pitch by Mace. Dalton nearly atoned for his mistake, firing a strong throw home on a fly to right by Joel Anthony. But Jarvis barely beat the throw to tie the score at 2, with his left hand touching the corner of home plate before catcher Jonah Girand applied the tag.
The winner-take-all Super Regional matchup began with Auburn starting fifth-year senior lefty Andrew Mitchell against Florida freshman righty Jack Leftwich. But it came down to both bullpens.
Florida third baseman Jonathan India put Florida ahead quickly, launching an 0-1 fastball from Mitchell over the right-center field fence in the bottom of the first inning to put Florida up 1-0. It was India’s team-leading 20th home run of the season.
Auburn answered with a two-out rally off Leftwich to tie the score at 1 in the third. Auburn shortstop Will Holland reached on an infield single, stole second and scored on Williams’ RBI single.
Florida took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a sandlot play, with second baseman Blake Reese scoring the run on a nifty double-steal. Reese had hit a double in the left-center field gap with one out in the fourth and moved to third on an infield single by Nick Horvath. But after freshman first baseman Brady Smith struck out with runners on the corners and one out and catcher Jonah Girand fell behind in the count, O’Sullivan called for the crafty baserunning play. Horvath broke from first and stumbled on purpose, which temporary distracted Mitchell and the rest of the Tigers as Reese broke for home. Reese beat the throw home from Mitchell with a head-first slide, putting the Gators up 2-1.
“It’s just something that we work on and it very seldom happens,” Reese said. “But when you get the chance to do something like that, the timing has got to be perfect and credit Nick too on the other end of that, for selling it the way he did. It doesn’t work without him.”
Florida will face Texas Tech in its first College World Series game Sunday night in Omaha, Neb. Following the game Monday, O’Sullivan hinted that senior catcher JJ Schwarz could be back for the game. Schwarz has been out the last three-plus weeks since suffering a broken hand May 18 at Mississippi State.
O’Sullivan has led Florida to seven of its 12 College World Series appearances.
“I appreciate it more because I know how hard it is to get there,” O’Sullivan said. “The parity in college baseball is second to none. You have to have good players, you have to stay healthy, there’s a sense of luck involved. It’s not easy.”
What: College World Series
Who: Texas Tech (44-18) vs. Florida (47-19)
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Omaha, Neb.