Florida gives up five-run lead, rallies in 9th to eliminate Central Michigan in regional
Facing elimination in the NCAA tournament, Florida baseball needed ninth-inning heroics Sunday afternoon after squandering a five-run lead to Central Michigan in Game 6 of the Gainesville regional at Condron Ballpark.
UF (41-23), the regional top seed, opened the scoring in the second inning when Josh Rivera, who had hit a one-out triple to right-center field, came across on a groundout to the shortstop by Mac Guscette.
Wyatt Langford’s 24th home run of the season added a run to UF’s total in the third inning, and a throwing error Central Michigan’s Justin Simpson scored Sterlin Thompson to put Florida in front, 3-0.
Langford returned to the plate in the fourth inning and added his second home run of the afternoon to make it 4-0 for Florida, and it appeared as if the host Gators would coast into a Sunday night rematch with Oklahoma after Josh Rivera stole home in the fifth inning to give UF a five-run advantage.
First game vs. OU:Game recap: Florida baseball loses to Oklahoma Sooners in NCAA regional
Central Michigan stays in the fight
But the Chippewas (43-19), their season hanging in the balance, would come storming back.
A home run by seven-hole hitter Robby Morgan IV in the bottom of the fifth inning would get Central Michigan on the scoreboard, and CMU proceeded to even the score with four runs in the sixth inning.
The lead having evaporated, Florida now looked in danger of an early elimination to the upset-minded Chippewas, the region’s No. 4 seed.
But Ryan Slater pitched two scoreless innings to quell the Chippewas’ momentum at the plate, setting up a decisive ninth inning. Central Michigan walked Langford and Thompson, and a groundout by BT Riopelle advanced Langford to third, allowing freshman Ty Evans to step to the plate and send Langford home with a sacrifice fly.
Central Michigan had the winning run on first with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Chippewas managed to load the bases with two outs, but Aidan Shepardson flied out to third baseman Colby Halter to keep the Gators alive in the NCAA Tournament.
“Well, if you’re a fan, what a good college baseball game,” Central Michigan coach Jordan Bischel said. “Really proud of our guys and I’m sure Coach (Kevin) O’Sullivan is also proud of his. Shame someone’s got to go home, but we tip the cap to Florida, they did a great job and we certainly we’ll wish them the best of luck the rest of the way.”
With the victory, the Gators were to return Sunday night to Condron Ballpark for a 7 p.m. Game 6 against Oklahoma. If UF defeats the Sooners, the two teams meet again at 1 p.m. Monday to decide which team advances to Super Regionals.
On Saturday night, Oklahoma beat the Gators, 9-4. The Sooners (39-20) plated four runs in the third inning and added to their total in the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth innings to defeat the host Gators.
Here are takeaways from Sunday's contest.
Wyatt Langford gets back on track, hits two home runs
Wyatt Langford struck out five times between Friday and Saturday, a far cry from how the All-SEC Second Team outfielder had been hitting throughout Florida’s push in the postseason. With the Gators’ leadoff man struggling, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan didn’t waver Saturday night when it came to his confidence in Langford.
“It’s just the game of baseball, but, I think it’s shocking that he doesn’t get a hit every time up because there was a stretch it seemed like every time he came to the plate he did some damage,” O’Sullivan said Saturday. “But he’ll certainly be right there in the leadoff spot tomorrow. We’re not going to tinker much, and I believe in him, and it’s just unfortunate that he’s had a tough couple games, but we wouldn’t be in this position without Wyatt, there’s no question.”
Langford was back in the leadoff spot Sunday, and he bounced back in impressive fashion with solo home runs in the third and fourth innings against the Chippewas.
His pair of shots over the Condron Ballpark wall gives Langford 25 home runs on the season, putting him solely in second all-time in UF program history in home runs in a season.
The Gators are still alive in the NCAA Tournament, meaning Langford’s shot of tying t or breaking — Matt LaPorta’s program record of 27 home runs remains attainable for the Trenton native.
Nick Pogue pitches four scoreless
Following Saturday’s loss to the Sooners, O’Sullivan maintained the Gators, facing the prospect of elimination, had to throw Nick Pogue against Central Michigan. Pogue did take the mound for the Gators, and he pitched four scoreless innings before the Chippewas did their damage across the middle-inning stretch.
Pogue ultimately was tagged for three runs across five hits. He tossed 71 pitches before Blake Purnell took over on the mound, albeit briefly. UF turned to Phillip Abner, Tyler Nesbitt and Ryan Slater the rest of the way, with Slate ultimately securing his sixth win of the season.
Josh Rivera records first steal of home for Gators in nearly four years
UF shortstop Josh Rivera stole home in the fifth inning for UF’s fifth run of the afternoon, breaking a nearly four-year stretch without having stolen home.
The last Gator to steal home was Blake Reese back on June 11, 2018, in a tied game against Auburn. Like that play against the Tigers, the Gators used a runner at first to distract the pitcher and allow Rivera time to score from third.
Central Michigan’s season comes to a close
It wasn’t the way the Chippewas envisioned their turnaround ending. Central Michigan started the 2022 season with eight losses in the first 12 games, and CMU had the host Gators on the ropes with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
One swing could have changed the game, and kept the Chippewas alive in Gainesville.
Instead, they’re headed home after being the only No. 4 region seed with 40 wins or more in the NCAA Tournament.
“We were 4-8 at one point. And what’s interesting for you guys that haven’t followed us, we had no ability to come from behind early in the season,” Bischel said. “The progress they made as competitors, there’s a lot more off of the field, but what a really, really remarkable job by these guys.”