In his biggest start of the year thus far, freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich (5-2, 4.32 ERA) answered the bell. He gave the Gators five solid innings while allowing just one earned run on four hits, striking out three, and walking four.
After a walk to lead off the top of the sixth inning, Leftwich was pulled at 73 pitches with the Gators leading 2-1. He had done his job and it was now up to the bullpen to deliver these final 12 outs for Florida. In Leftwich's place came fellow freshman Tommy Mace. The right-hander would induce a pop up before a passed ball put a runner on second. He would then generate another pop up before walking a batter.
With two outs and the count at 1-2 on senior center fielder Jay Estes, Mace was able to escape the inning as Estes hit a deep fly ball to left field that was caught at the warning track. In the seventh inning, a leadoff single into right field followed by a Wil Dalton misplay on the ball put Game 2 hero Luke Jarivs on second with no outs.
A failed bunt attempt would get Mace a strikeout, but he would proceed to throw a wild pitch that allowed Jarvis to advance to third. Up now was senior first baseman Josh Anthony, one of Auburn's hottest hitters this postseason. After fouling off multiple pitches on a 1-2 count, Anthony hit a fly ball to right field.
Wil Dalton got under it and loaded up as he threw a rocket to the plate. It looked like Dalton would make amends for both his fielding and base-running gaffes in this game as the throw beat Jarvis to the plate. However, junior catcher Jonah Girand came up a bit to receive the ball as opposed to waiting at the plate for the ball to come to him.
As a result, Girand had to reach back to tag a head-first sliding Jarvis. This would be to no avail as the Auburn redshirt senior slid in safe to tie the game up. Mace would keep his poise, and got a pop up from the next batter to keep things tied.
In the eighth, it was Michael Byrne time. Putting the walk off that he allowed in Game 2 behind him, the junior closer came out firing as he struck out the side. In the ninth, the right-hander struck out his fourth straight batter before jumping off the mound to field a ball that he perfectly threw to first base for the second out. He would then record another strikeout to put the Gators in walk-off territory in the bottom of the ninth.
After a 1-2-3 ninth for Florida, Byrne ran into some trouble in the 10th. He got a fly out and a ground out on a total of three pitches before giving up a single to Jay Estes. A wild pitch allowed Estes to take second base before Byrne walked freshman right fielder Steven Williams on a full count.
Up to bat now was Auburn's three-hole hitter Brett Wright. With the count even at 2-2, Byrne induced a ground ball right to junior third baseman Jonathan India. He would step on the bag to end the threat.
Another futile Florida half inning meant Byrne was back out there again for the 11th. There would be no hiccups this time though, as Byrne retired all three Tigers in order to set up the theatrics in the bottom half of the inning.
Florida was scrounging for offense tonight as they banged out just six hits and scored a run in the first, fourth, and 11th innings. Of the six Gator base knocks, none was bigger than sophomore left fielder Austin Langworthy's. Having been robbed of two extra base hits in both the sixth and eighth innings, Langworthy stepped into the box to lead off the 11th inning against Tiger freshman reliever Cody Greenhill.
Langworthy had homered off of Greenhill to tie Game 2 in the ninth inning, so this proved to be a fairly favorable matchup for the left-hander. After falling behind 1-2, Langworthy smoked a 94 mile-per-hour fastball out to right field. The ball continued to go and go and looked like it could possibly clear the fence!
In the way though was the right fielder Steven Williams. The freshman tracked the ball and then leaped in an attempt to rob Langworthy of at least extra bases for the third time this game. However, the baseball gods smiled down upon Florida as the ball bounced off of Williams's closed mitt and over the fence for a walk-off home run to send the Gators to Omaha!
Just like that, Austin Langworthy was immortalized in Gator lore. He celebrated as he rounded the bases and the entire Gator team poured from the dugout onto the field to mob him at home. Keep in mind that Langworthy is from the city of Williston, which is a mere 30 minutes away from Gainesville. This means that essentially he is a hometown hero and may never have to purchase a meal in all of Central and North Florida ever again depending how the College World Series shapes out.
Here are some different angles of Austin's walk-off homer:
Though Langworthy's walk-off long ball overshadows them all, the five other Gators with base hits were junior shortstop Deacon Liput (1-5 with a double and a stolen base), junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo (1-5 with a stolen base), third baseman Jonathan India (1-2 with a solo home run and three walks), junior second baseman Blake Reese (1-4 with a double and a stolen base), and senior center fielder Nick Horvath (1-3).
India's home run kicked off the scoring as he drove an 0-1 pitch to right field to give Florida an early 1-0 advantage in the first inning. When the game was tied, Blake Reese's speed was utilized in the fourth inning. After his one-out double, Reese advanced to third on an infield single from Nick Horvath.
With Jonah Girand up, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan decided to roll the dice once the junior fell into a 1-2 count. Sully called a double steal and it was executed to perfection. Before the pitch, Nick Horvath took off towards second base and then immediately fell on his belly. This confused Auburn's left-handed starter Andrew Mitchell long enough to give Reese -who took off at the same time as Horvath- an ample amount of time to race towards home.
When Mitchell realized, it was too late. Reese slid in to beat the throw and Florida had literally stolen a run. Horvath would get thrown out at third to end the inning and this would cap off the rest of Florida's scoring until that unforgettable 11th inning.
Both squads made one error a piece in tonight's contest. For Florida, Wil Dalton not corralling a single in front of him allowed Auburn to put a runner on second base in the seventh inning. As mentioned earlier, the Tigers would take advantage as they scored him on a sacrifice fly.
For Auburn, second baseman Luke Jarvis bobbled a ball off the bat of Deacon Liput in the fifth inning and was unable to throw out the speedster in time. This would not come back to hurt the Tigers though.
This is by far the most exhilarating Gator baseball game (outside of winning the title), that I have ever watched! Before giving my final take on tonight's incredible victory, here are my final tidbits on a wild Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional:
- Worth saying again is that Florida will be playing in their fourth consecutive College World Series after their walk-off win tonight.
- This is the 12th time (seventh in the Sully Era) that Florida has advanced to Omaha.
- The Gators improve to 14-6 in super regional play and have now won seven consecutive super regionals.
- This is the first time in school history that Florida has advanced to the CWS on a walk-off of any kind!
- This is the second time in school history that Florida has won a super regional game on a walk-off (Ryan Larson in Game 1 of the 2017 Gainesville Super Regional against Wake Forest).
- The Gators finish with a 4-2 record against Auburn for 2018.
- Blake Reese's double was his 16th of the season while Deacon Liput's two-bagger gives him his 14th for the 2018 campaign.
- Jonathan India's home run gives him a team-leading 20 on the year while Austin Langworthy's legendary home run puts him at four on the season.
- Blake Reese's steal of home plate ties him for the team-lead at 12, while Deacon Liput and Nelson Maldonaldo swiped their ninth and sixth bags of the year, respectively.
- As a result of Austin's walk-off, Michael Byrne improves to 3-1 on the year.
- Jonah Girand had himself a hat trick as he struck out three times tonight.
- Auburn reliever Davis Daniel mowed down the Gator lineup after entering with one out in the fifth inning. The freshman would not give up a hit until the 10th inning, and struck out six while walking four in 5.1 incredible innings of relief. He threw 87 total pitches!
- As a defense, Auburn made a plethora of incredible diving plays throughout the game to keep the Gators off the scoreboard.
- Florida fans answered the call as 5,958 people packed the Mac for this instant classic. This is the third largest crowd ever in the history of Alfred McKethan Stadium at Perry Field!
To advance to the College World Series in this fashion is truly amazing. It had me thinking I was watching a Game 7 of the MLB World Series with how much every single pitch and at-bat mattered. The Gators grinded out a well-deserved victory, and that can carry major momentum into the CWS.
Florida deserves to celebrate into the night, but in six days they need to figure out how to fix the offense. Their first opponent in Omaha will be the No. 6 seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders (44-18), who eliminated Florida from the CWS back in 2016. It will be just the second meeting between these two schools on the diamond.
The Red Raiders are a good ball club, and no amount of good pitching on Florida's end can make up for the lack of run production. If the Gators wish to repeat, they need to get the bats rolling again and quickly.
First pitch for Florida/Texas Tech will be at 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN2. The Gators will probably go with junior right-hander Brady Singer (12-1, 2.30 ERA) while Tech will most likely counter with either junior right-hander Davis Martin (7-5, 4.56 ERA), sophomore right-hander John McMillon (5-3, 4.14 ERA), or sophomore right-hander Caleb Kilian (9-3, 3.04 ERA).
As for the Auburn Tigers, my hat goes off to them and their head coach Butch Thompson. They fought hard throughout all of super regionals and came one win away from upsetting the defending champions. They have nothing to hang their heads about. They finish the season 43-23 and have a very bright future ahead of them as they will try to end a 21-year College World Series drought in the 2019 season.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
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