Saturday, November 25, 2017

Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series


GAINESVILLE — On Saturday, at the end of a 7-1 victory over N.C. State in the best-of-three NCAA Super Region, Florida baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan made a promise: Getting another win over the Wolfpack would not be easy.

Sunday, it was a knock-down, drag-out, old-fashioned dogfight.

It took 6 hours, 8 minutes — including a rain delay of 2:23 — and 10 innings before the Gators earned a 9-8 win in front of 4,568 at McKethan Stadium that put them in the College World Series for the third consecutive season.

"It was one of those back-and-forth games, one that I know I won't forget," O'Sullivan said. "The momentum swings back and forth. Our guys battled. It may not have been our best day on the mound. But each guy did enough. It's not easy to get to Omaha."

The World Series, in Omaha, Neb., starts Friday. Florida's first opponent of the double-elimination tournament will be the winner of the rain-delayed South Carolina-Oklahoma Super Region that continues today.

The Wolfpack (43-20) took a 1-0 lead in the third, but the Gators countered with a four-run fourth aided by a leadoff home run from senior rightfielder Preston Tucker — the school-record 11th in NCAA tournament play for the graduate of Tampa's Plant High.

With the score tied at 7, the Gators (47-18) scored two in the top of the 10th. Daniel Pigott homered to lead off the inning, and Dunedin's Casey Turgeon singled and scored what proved to be the winner on Josh Tobias' single.

N.C. State answered with one run. But its season ended on a called third strike on shortstop Chris Diaz with a runner on second. Believing the pitch was outside, Diaz was restrained by his coach, Elliott Avent, as he screamed profanities at the umpire.

"My angle is the worst angle in the world," Avent said. "I'd like to grab 50 people behind home plate and ask them. I trust Chris Diaz. He's a (second-team) All-American for a reason. He has a good eye. He's not going to leave the bat on his shoulder if he's not 100 percent sure it's a ball."

The rain delay altered the game plan for both teams. During it, N.C. State argued not to resume the game, Avent saying afterward he was concerned about the condition of the field.

N.C. State starter Carlos Rodon, the ACC's freshman and pitcher of the year, threw just 40 pitches over three innings before the delay. Avent took him out when play resumed, saying he was "extremely disappointed" in having to make that decision.

Florida's Jonathon Crawford, who threw 17 pitches over two prior to the delay, returned, throwing 62 over 32/3 innings.

O'Sullivan said he is extremely protective of his pitchers' arms. But he felt with so few pitches, Crawford, who threw a no-hitter in the opener of the region tournament, could handle returning.

Karsten Whitson earned the win and Keenan Kish, Florida's seventh pitcher, got his first save of the season.

Avent said he was asked before the Super Region if he believed the team that won it had a shot at the national title. Sunday, he reiterated his belief — yes.

"I think if they reseeded things right now in the poll and they were honest about the last half of the season, Florida would be the No. 1 team and we're No. 2," he said. "I believe that."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

.Fast facts

Florida baseball by the numbers

26 Combined hits Sunday (15 by Florida)

12 Combined pitchers Sunday (seven by Florida)

5:14 Combined time of the three rain delays during the two Super Region games

11 Home runs in NCAA play by former Tampa Plant standout Preston Tucker, his solo shot Sunday adding to his school record (he has 57 for his career)

10-0 Record against the ACC this season: 3-0 vs. Florida State, 3-0 vs. Miami, 2-0 vs. Georgia Tech (region tournament) and 2-0 vs. N.C. State (Super Region)

23 Come-from-behind victories this season

8 College World Series appearances: 1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012

0 National titles


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