Though power has been their trademark all season long, the No. 2 Florida Gators beat the No. 7 Texas Longhorns at their own game Saturday, using a combination of strong pitching and clutch hitting to win the second game ever played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE. The Gators (51-17) came back from a three-run deficit to beat the Longhorns (49-18) 8-4 and advance to the winner’s bracket of the 2011 College World Series.
Texas took advantage of consecutive errors by Florida to get on the board first in the third inning. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and junior first baseman Preston Tucker allowed the first two batters on after bobbling easy outs, and the Longhorns utilized a RBI single and two sacrifice flies to score a trio of unearned runs and take an early 3-0 lead.
The Gators got a similar opportunity in the bottom frame, starting off with consecutive walks. A single to right by senior center fielder Bryson Smith and a passed ball with Tucker at the plate scored freshman third baseman Cody Dent and Fontana (0-5, R), respectively, reducing UT’s advantage to a single run.
Drawing a two-out walk one inning later, sophomore left fielder Tyler Thompson moved to second on a wild pitch and scored as junior right fielder Daniel Pigott hit a double to deep right. Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, BB) was rewarded by Dent (1-3, RBI, R, BB), who smacked another two-out double down the left field line to put Florida ahead 4-3.
Smith again got things rolling for the Gators in the fifth, taking first base after getting hit by a pitch. Tucker powered a gapper to deep right-center to plate him and give his team a 5-3 lead, but not before forcing Texas starter Taylor Jungmann into his shortest outing of the season. Jungmann (13-3) left after allowing five runs (four earned) on three hits with four walks, a hit batter and a pair of wild pitches while striking out three.
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (11-3), who started on the hill for Florida, was terrific throughout the evening, tossing four 1-2-3 innings (including three in a row) and retiring 13 consecutive batters at one point. He was pulled after allowing a RBI double to left in the seventh, finishing the contest having given up four runs (one earned) on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings.
The Gators answered the Longhorns immediately in the seventh. Smith walked with one out and advanced to second after Tucker (1-4, RBI, R) ran through an infield single hit after the pitcher balked. With two outs, sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson (1-4, 2 RBI) hit what should have been a three-run homer to right-center but was instead ruled a two-RBI double off the top of the wall due to the inability to utilize instant replay.
Florida would end up earning that run the next inning when, with runners on first and second, Smith (2-2, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) hit a liner to center to score Thompson (1-3, 2 R, BB) and give the Gators an 8-4 lead.
Junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson struck out the only batter he faced in the seventh, and junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde came on to toss the final two innings of the contest, striking out three batters without allowing a single hit.
With the victory, Florida improves to 41-3 this season when out-hitting their opponent, 44-2 when scoring four or more runs and 44-0 when leading after seven innings. The Gators’ 51st victory of the year ties a single-season record.
UF will face No. 6 Vanderbilt (53-10) in the winner’s bracket on Monday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. Florida is 3-1 against their Southeastern Conference Eastern division rival in 2011 with all four games played away from home.