Florida (51-17) overcame a 3-0 deficit en route to an 8-4 victory over Texas (49-18) in front of 25,521 fans on Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha to complete the first day of the 65th NCAA College World Series. With their first-ever victory over the Longhorns, the Gators will next face Vanderbilt (53-10) for the fifth time this season in a winner’s bracket game on Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Tonight’s triumph also matched UF’s single-season mark for wins set in 1991 (51-21).
Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) improved to 11-3 on the campaign by limiting Texas to one earned run over 6.2 innings, junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) struck out the only batter he faced with the Gators holding a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning and the tying run aboard at second base and junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) set down all six batters he faced and totaled three K over two innings to collect his third save.
Offensively for the Orange and Blue, senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (2-for-2, two runs, two RBI) reached base in all five of his plate appearances, with two singles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch, sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) put the Gators ahead to stay with a two-out RBI double in the fourth inning off junior Taylor Jungmann (13-3), junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) was 2-for-3 and sophomore Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) returned to the lineup for the first time since May 28 and delivered a key two-run double that should have been ruled a homer in the seventh inning.
“I was awfully proud of the way we battled back,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We gave up those three runs there in the third and uncharacteristically made a couple of errors. I didn't have a really good feeling at that point, to be honest with you, facing a first‑rounder and the guy’s had a ton of success this year. But, I was awfully proud of the way we battled back and we kept chipping away. Hudson (Randall) did a really nice job settling in and obviously our bullpen did a nice job too. It was good to get the first one and obviously we've got a long way to go but I am awfully proud of the way we battled tonight.”
Helped by consecutive Gator errors that began the third inning, Texas opened the scoring with three unearned runs off Randall. Freshman Jacob Felts (1-for-3, two runs) reached on a fielding error by sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) and junior Jordan Etier laid down a sacrifice bunt to move his teammate into scoring position. A throwing error on the play by junior first baseman Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) resulted in two runners aboard and senior Tant Shepherd opened the scoring with an RBI single into right center field that brought across Felts. With runners on the corners, freshman Mark Payton lofted a sacrifice fly into left field to bring in Etier for a 2-0 lead. After Shepherd stole second, junior Brandon Loy (2-for-4) singled through the right side of the infield to move his teammate to third base. Freshman Erich Weiss increased the Longhorns’ lead to three runs with a sacrifice fly into left field.
The Gators answered with a pair of runs in the home part of the inning on an RBI single by Smith and a passed ball to narrow the gap to 3-2. Pigott and Dent had drawn consecutive walks to begin the frame and Fontana attempted to bunt his teammates into scoring position but Jungmann made a tremendous bare-handed play to force Pigott at third base. Smith put Florida on the board with a single into right field that was his club’s first hit, extending his hitting streak to 11 games, and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two men in scoring position, Fontana came home on a passed ball by Felts. Jungmann stranded Smith on third with strikeouts of Tucker and sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.).
Back-to-back two-out doubles in the fourth by Pigott and Dent moved the Gators ahead by a 4-3 score. Jungmann retired the first two hitters on grounders before issuing a free pass to junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (1-for-3, two runs). A wild pitch advanced Thompson to second and Pigott roped a 2-2 pitch to right for his 20th two-bagger of the season to bring across his teammate with the tying run. Dent picked an opportune time for his first extra-base hit of the campaign by stroking a double just inside of the third-base line to drive in Pigott.
After Randall set down the Longhorns in order in the fifth, Smith was hit by a pitch with one down to prompt a pitching a change. Over 4.1 innings, Jungmann allowed three hits and five runs (four earned), with four walks, three strikeouts and two wild pitches. Moments later, Tucker greeted sophomore Hoby Milner with an RBI double to the base of the wall in right center to score Smith all the way from first base for a 5-3 lead. A fly ball to center field by Johnson pushed Tucker to third and caused another pitching move. Senior Kendal Carrillo prevented further trouble by having senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) fly out to left field to end the inning.
Randall had a run of 13-consecutive Longhorns retired before Felts punched a two-out single up the middle with two down in the seventh. Etier followed with a double to left field that pulled Texas within 5-4 and brought Larson into the game. In 6.2 innings of work, Randall scattered five hits, gave up four runs (one earned) and registered five strikeouts without permitting any walks. Larson fanned Shepherd on three pitches to keep UF ahead by a run.
In the bottom of the stanza, Smith drew a one-out walk from junior Andrew McKirahan to reach base for the fourth time in the contest. On a fielder’s choice by Tucker, McKirahan was called for a balk, resulting in two Gators on base. Nathan Thornhill replaced McKirahan (0.1 IP, 2 R) and had Zunino fly out to center field. Johnson stepped to the plate and hit an apparent three-run homer over the wall in right center. However, it wound up being called a two-run double, as both Smith and Tucker scored for a 7-4 margin.
Thompson and Pigott had back-to-back singles in the eighth, bringing freshman Corey Knebel in for Thornhill (0.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R). After the righty struck out Dent on a bunt and had Fontana fly out, Smith ripped an RBI single into center field to drive in Thompson to finalize the 8-4 margin. Florida held an 8-5 advantage in hits and notched its 19th come-from-behind win of the season.
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