Locked in another struggle with a feisty, resilient Bethune-Cookman nine, the Florida Gators needed some timely hitting and timely pitching to finally get over the hump and out of the Gainesville Regional on Monday.
Austin Langworthy provided both.
Florida’s two-way freshman allowed one run in four innings of relief and deposited a three-run homer over the fence in right field, powering the Gators to a 6-1 win over the Wildcats that sends them to the Super Regional round for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
Prior to Langworthy’s big fly, Florida initially had about as much success at the plate as it had for most of Sunday’s loss to the Wildcats. The Gators put two runners on with no outs in the first and fourth innings, but did not score in the first five innings of play, with a Langworthy foul-out on a bunt beginning the squandering of the two-runner opportunity in the fourth.
But after JJ Schwarz singled and Mike Rivera reached base on an error in the top of the sixth inning, Langworthy had a chance at redemption, and got it on a slashing swing that pulled a no-doubter into a palm tree just shy of Stadium Road.
From there, Florida finally seemed to relax at the plate, collecting runs in each of the final three innings and building a lead too big to be truly nervous about.
Of course, it also helped that the Gators could turn, once more, to Michael Byrne. The Gators’ shutdown reliever added to his marvelous Gainesville Regional by coming in to clean up a two-on, two-out situation created by Langworthy in the seventh with a strikeout, then finishing off the Wildcats by allowing just one single in each of the last two innings of play.
To ascribe all the credit to Langworthy and Byrne would be to ignore the efforts of Kirby McMullen (2.2 innings of scoreless work in a spot start) and the trio of batters — Dalton Guthrie, Nick Horvath, and Nelson Maldonado — responsible for driving in the last three insurance runs.
But this was a Gainesville Regional decided by timely slugging — Florida had just three extra-base hits in four games, but made two of them three-run homers — and the Gators’ pitching depth, which simply outmatched the strapped Wildcats down the stretch on Monday. McMullen and Langworthy had pitched this year, if not in situations quite so pressurized; Bethune-Cookman had to turn to Nate Sterijevski, a hero at the plate on Sunday, for its final three innings of work — which quadrupled Sterijevski’s seasonal workload from one inning to four.
Now, the Gators move on to a Gainesville Super Regional where they will meet sweet-swinging Wake Forest, a team that is far more likely to turn contests into slugfests.
Florida may need more hitting in that series to return to Omaha and the College World Series. For a day, though, they had enough to get to one more weekend of play.