Florida edges Texas Tech, staves off College World Series elimination in hard-hitting affair

By Adam Silverstein
June 21, 2018
Florida edges Texas Tech, staves off College World Series elimination in hard-hitting affair
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Image Credit: ESPN Images

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball exorcised some demons Thursday night at TD Ameritrade Park against the No. 9 Texas Tech Red Raiders, prevailing 9-6 in a game that tested not only the team’s hitting and pitching but its overall resolve when faced with adversity.

With the victory, Florida advances to the semifinals of the 2018 College World Series but will need to pick up two wins instead of one to earn the opportunity to defend its first national championship.

The Gators were fueled by a stellar outing from freshman right-handed pitcher Jack Leftwich (6.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), who threw six shutout innings before getting into some trouble in the top of the seventh.

Luckily for Florida, it had provided Leftwich a five-run cushion entering that frame. UF plated its first run on a walk, steal and two wild pitches in the third before going up 3-0 in the fourth thanks to an RBI double by junior shortstop Deacon Liput (2/4, RBI, BB) and a ground out RBI from junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonado (0/5, RBI).

The Gators plated two more in the sixth on a powerful two-run homer by senior first baseman JJ Schwarz (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R), who was playing in just his third postseason game after spending the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional sidelined with a hand injury.

Leftwich exited with two on and one out in the seventh, but his first two relievers were unable to get the job done, giving up a walk to load the bases and two RBI singles. An error by Liput on a grounder to short scored an unearned run before freshman left-handed pitcher Jordan Butler (0.2 IP, K) took the mound and ended the inning.

Florida did not waste any time retaking its five-run lead, immediately plating three insurance runs to open the eighth. Particularly impressive was a run-scoring triple by freshman catcher Brady Smith, in for slumping junior Jonah Girand the still-recovering Schwarz.

Though the Gators hoped to give junior closer Michael Byrne a game off in preparation of potentially utilizing him on Friday and Saturday, deja vu struck in the bottom half of the inning as head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made an ill-fated decision to go to freshamn RHP Hunter McMullen, who got into trouble and loaded the bases with two outs. After a RBI single to right off McMullen (0.2 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, K), Byrne entered and immediately gave up a two-run single to left before forcing a fly out and allowing Florida to maintain a two-run lead.

The Gators added an insurance run in the ninth, and Byrne (1.1 IP, H) took care of business to close the game out and send his team into the semifinals as it won its seventh straight elimination game over the last two postseasons.

UF will face No. 5 Arkansas at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN in an game that could spell Florida’s elimination from the CWS. Should the home-team Gators prevail, they will face the Razorbacks in a win-or-go-home contest on Sunday at a yet-to-be-determined time. Florida and Arkansas have split the four games they played this season with the Gators holding a slim 27-20 run-scoring advantage over the Hogs.

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