With its season still on the line, Florida will get a second chance to knock off Texas Tech at the College World Series.
The Gators (48-20) are hoping for a different result when they face the Red Raiders (45-19) on Thursday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU). Texas Tech knocked UF into the loser’s bracket with a 6-3 win Sunday night, but fell into the elimination game Thursday following a 7-4 loss to Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon.
Florida kept its season alive with a 6-1 win over Texas on Tuesday. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan will turn to one of two freshman right-handers — Jack Leftwich or Tommy Mace — to start against the Red Raiders. Texas Tech, which will be the home team, will counter with sophomore righty Caleb Killian (9-2, 3.04 ERA).
“Jack’s certainly capable,” O’Sullivan said following Tuesday’s win over Texas. “He has a live arm. Him and Tommy are next in line.”
If Florida wins, it would need to beat Arkansas twice in a row on Friday and Saturday to return to the CWS championship for the second straight year.
“It would be nice to save Tommy for a potential fourth game, but we can’t do that, we’re not able to do that at this point,” O’Sullivan said. “So we’ll see.”
O’Sullivan said junior closer Michael Byrne would be unable to appear in all three remaining games if the Gators were to advance, meaning other pitchers would need to step up out of the bullpen.
“The reality of it is we put ourselves behind the eight-ball a bit by losing Sunday night,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to lean on our freshmen on Thursday to pitch really well for us. And there’s going to have to be somebody that steps up, whether it be Tyler Dyson, whether it be Hunter McMullen, Jordan Butler — one of these, a couple of these freshmen will have to pitch an important game for us if we’re going to get back into it, because obviously we just — when you have to win four in a row, you put yourself in a position where some other guys have to step up.”
Offensively, Florida showed signs of life against Texas after struggling against Texas Tech. After leaving eight runners on base through the first five innings against Texas, Florida’s bats finally came alive in the sixth. Designated hitter Nelson Maldonado came up with a big two-out RBI single to put Florida up 2-0 and third baseman Jonathan India followed with a three-run homer to put the game away.
“We needed that,” India said. “Nelson, the whole year, he’s a clutch hitter for us. He battles at the plate. He rarely strikes out. He competes at the plate. That’s what we needed. And he came through clutch for us. And as they say, hitting is contagious. Just pass it on to me and I’ll pass it on to the next.”
The Gators are 6-0 in NCAA Tournament elimination games since 2017. But Florida will need to be sharp in all phases to keep that streak alive. Several defensive breakdowns proved costly in the Texas Tech loss, including a Deacon Liput throwing error, passed ball by catcher Jonah Girand and misplay at first base by senior captain JJ Schwarz.
O’Sullivan said Florida’s pitchers need to be wary of facing Texas Tech’s deep lineup again. Offensively, the 11-year UF coach would like to see the Gators do a better job hitting with runners on base.
“We’ll talk about some things, maybe shorten up some swings with runners in scoring position,” O’Sullivan said. “I think our swings are getting a little bit too big. And if the wind is blowing in like it did Sunday night, it’s not a very forgiving field.”
What: College World Series elimination game
Who: Florida (48-20) vs. Texas Tech (45-19)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (Neb.)
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM