Gators headed back to Omaha
Published: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 7:15 p.m.
If you were betting on which Florida player would be at the bottom of the dogpile Sunday, pitcher Keenan Kish probably wouldn't have been high on your list.
But it was the sophomore who came out of the bullpen to record the final two outs with the tying run at second as Florida beat N.C. State, 9-8, Sunday in 10 innings and advanced to the College World Series for the third straight year.
“It was awesome,” Kish said. “I honestly didn't have any nerves. I was kind of numb.”
Kish had only thrown 23⅔ innings all season, but the usually strong Florida bullpen struggled against the plucky Wolfpack. With runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the 10th, Kish replaced Karsten Whitson on the mound with Omaha there for the taking.
N.C. State's Trea Turner hit a sacrifice fly to center before Kish struck out Chris Diaz on three pitches to end the game. The third called strike, a slider on the outside corner, sent Diaz into a rage and he had to be restrained as he jawed at home plate umpire Steve Corvi.
“He knows slider's coming,” said N.C. State coach Elliott Avent. “He's not the kind of guy who is going to leave the bat on his shoulder if he's not 100 percent sure it's a ball.”
Top-seeded Florida (47-18) will face the winner of the Columbia Super Regional (South Carolina-Oklahoma) either Friday or Saturday in Omaha. The schedule won't be set until all of the super regionals are complete.
Daniel Pigott's opposite-field homer in the 10th inning gave Florida an 8-7 lead and Josh Tobias singled home what would prove to be the winning run in a heart-in-the-throat game that included another rain delay of more than two hours and some intense arguments between both coaches and the umpires.
“It is a game I will never forget,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan.
N.C. State (43-20) battled back from a 4-1 deficit to take the lead, tied it again after falling behind 6-5 in the eighth and again after falling behind 7-6 in the ninth.
“The game speaks for itself,” Avent said. “(Florida catcher) Mike Zunino was the first guy I saw (after the game) and he told me, ‘That's the best game we played in all year.' ”
After losing the 4-1 lead, Florida rallied from a 5-4 deficit in the top of the eighth when Brian Johnson hit his sixth homer of the season. Justin Shafer singled in the go-ahead run but Casey Turgeon was called out on a close play at the plate.
“I don't think my eyes were fooling me,” said Pigott, who scored ahead of Turgeon. “But I didn't see a tag.”
Center fielder Jake Finchen hit his first homer of the season with one out in the eighth to tie the game. And UF closer Austin Maddox was knocked out of the game by Danny Canela's single with one out in the ninth that again tied the game.
Tobias' double in the ninth had led to a Florida lead when Zunino brought him home with a sacrifice. It was his 10th of the year, a Florida record.
What started out as a pitcher's duel turned into a slugfest in part because of the rain and lightning delay. Neither N.C. State starter Carlos Rodon nor Florida starter Jonathon Crawford had allowed a hit when the game was delayed heading into the bottom of the third.
Crawford's streak of 14⅔ innings without allowing a hit ended on the first batter after the long delay when Brett Austin doubled. He later scored on a double by Matt Bergquist, who was batting .214 coming into the game.
The Wolfpack did not come back after the delay with Rodon, instead going with Sunday starter Anthony Tzamtzis. Preston Tucker drilled his first pitch over the right-field fence for his 11th homer in NCAA play, a Florida record.
Zunino and Johnson followed with doubles to knock Tzamtzis out of the game. RBI singles by Turgeon and Vickash Ramjit plus a sacrifice fly by Shafer gave Florida a 4-1 lead.
But it didn't last long.
While Crawford was hitting 96 mph with his fastball and had his slider going, he struggled with his command. He gave up two singles with two out and then a two-run double to Austin to make it 4-3 after four innings.
“His stuff was still good,” O'Sullivan said. “I knew I'd have a lot of people question the move, but we protect arms probably better than anybody.”
Greg Larson got the final out of the inning but gave up a solo home run to Diaz to tie the score at four. It was only Diaz's second homer of the year and the first allowed by Larson this season.
From that point on it was a back-and-forth game of intensity, sweat and grinding at-bats on both sides.
“That's the kind of game that I came back for,” said Tucker, a senior. “I'm drained mentally and physically. If I could have picked one game to go out with at home, that was it.”