By Kevin Brockway
Florida is headed to the Super Regionals for the third consecutive year and seventh time in the last nine seasons.
But the Gators may not have gotten there if not for a freshman stepping up and a sophomore closer willing to take the ball no matter what the situation.
Freshman Austin Langworthy pitched four strong innings of relief to earn the win and hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning, lifting the Gators to a 6-1 win over Bethune-Cookman on Monday before 2,166 at McKethan Stadium.
After a 6-2 loss to Bethune-Cookman on Sunday night, Florida bounced back in the deciding game to win the Gainesville Regional. The No. 3 national seed Gators (45-17) will host Wake Forest (42-18) in Super Regional play this weekend (games and times to be determined).
“It was not an easy regional for us, but we figured it out,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Sophomore closer Michael Byrne recorded the final seven outs for his program-record 16th save of the season. Byrne picked up a win and two saves in UF’s three regional wins, throwing 138 pitches over 10 innings in a four-day stretch.
“It’s been a remarkable season for Michael,” O’Sullivan said.
Langworthy broke a scoreless tie by drilling a 3-1 breaking ball from Bethune-Cookman lefty reliever Joseph Calamita over the wall in right field with runners on second and third to put the Gators up 3-0. To that point, Florida had been 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and had gone 12.1 innings without scoring a run.
“It was a breaking ball that backed up and he threw me a couple earlier in the at-bat so I figured that one was going to back up as well,” Langworthy said. “So it just sat there and I happened to be there and put a good barrel on it.”
The big hit helped lighten the mood in UF’s dugout.
“We needed that, because we were playing a little tense,” Florida third baseman Jonathan India said.
The Gators extended their lead to 4-0 on a Dalton Guthrie RBI single. Then, after Bethune-Cookman cut Florida’s lead to 4-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, O’Sullivan lifted Langworthy for Byrne, who recorded the last seven outs. O’Sullivan said he was reluctant to pitch Byrne based on his high pitch count in his appearances Friday and Saturday, but the sophomore lobbied to pitch after taking Sunday’s game off.
“He will not pick up a ball this week,” O’Sullivan said.
Said Byrne: “I was good. I was not sore or anything. I was comfortable out there.”
O’Sullivan said players and coaches were frustrated after the loss Sunday night, but had to quickly figure out a pitching plan for Monday. One potential starter, freshman righty Garrett Milchin, was ruled out because he was being rested over the weekend due to arm fatigue. O’Sullivan decided to start freshman righty Kirby McMullen because of his numbers against right-handed hitters and then go to the soft-tossing lefty Langworthy, who hadn’t pitched since April 11 against FSU. Freshman righty Tyler Dyson and junior lefty Nick Horvath were also considered for relief roles.
“They proved last night (against Brady Singer) they could hit velocity and that’s why when we looked with the pitching we wanted to stagger it, show them different looks,” O’Sullivan said.
McMullen pitched the first 2.2 scoreless innings but left with runners on first and second in the bottom of the third. Langworthy then came in from left field to pitch, with freshman Blake Reese going to left field. In a lefty-on-lefty matchup, Langworthy struck out Bethune-Cookman left fielder Adonis Lao with three straight sliders to keep the game scoreless.
“Pound the strike zone, that was my mindset,” said Langworthy, a former Williston High standout. “Simple as that.”
Langworthy (1-1) pitched a career-high four innings, allowing a run on two hits with one walk and three strikeouts to pick up his first career win.
“I’ve seen him play since he was a freshman (in high school),” O’Sullivan said. “There was talk about starting him (Sunday) night. He’s just a gamer. It’s simple as that. He does a lot of things. It does not surprise me he pitched four innings today, I was hoping for two.
“He’s a special player. He’s got a knack for rising to the occasion. And he’s going to have a great career here.”
Up 4-1, Florida tacked on runs in the eighth and ninth innings on a Horvath sacrifice fly and a Nelson Maldonado RBI single. That allowed O’Sullivan to exhale. O’Sullivan had received a text from UF softball coach Tim Walton earlier Monday morning, reminding him that the Gators had lost a regional softball game and their first super regional game before rallying to win two games to reach the Women’s College World Series.
“A lot of things have not come easy for us, but I do think, in the long run, it will make us a tougher team,” O’Sullivan said.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.