A day after the Florida Gators turned an expected pitchers’ duel into something resembling a rout, they found themselves in a real one against the Auburn Tigers on Sunday in Gainesville.
And this one didn’t go the Gators’ way — so they’ll play again tomorrow, in a decisive Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional.
Auburn second baseman Luke Jarvis ripped a walk-off single to the wall in left off Florida closer Michael Byrne in the bottom of the ninth to score the winning run in a 3-2 game that was as tight as any the Gators have played all year. (Visiting teams play as the home teams in Game 2 of Super Regional play, because the NCAA is stupid.)
Florida and Auburn traded goose eggs on the board until the top of the fourth inning, when the Gators finally broke through against Tanner Burns via a Nick Horvath RBI double that scored Blake Reese from first. But Auburn would answer in the bottom of the frame with a solo homer by Steven Williams off Jackson Kowar — and both Burns and Kowar would settle down after their first runs allowed of the day, ultimately making them their only runs allowed on the day.
For Burns, that meant working out of jams he created with his four walks and five hits allowed by pitching to a defense that helped him out with rock-solid play in the field. For Kowar, who allowed just three hits and issued no walks, that largely meant bearing down to get six strikeouts.
But while Florida’s Jordan Butler and Auburn’s Cody Greenhill would each allow single runs while on the mound in relief — Butler on an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth, Greenhill on an Austin Langworthy solo homor in the top of the ninth — it was what Byrne allowed in a jam inherited from Butler in the bottom of the final inning that proved fatal for Florida.
Brought in in the middle of an at-bat, Byrne got a two-pitch strikeout to begin his appearance, then immediately gave up singles to left to put a runner in scoring position and bring him in, saddling Florida with a loss in Game 2 of Super Regional play for a second consecutive year.
The good news for Florida? Almost all of these same Gators were in this same situation a year ago, as Wake Forest pushed them to a winner-take-all conclusion to the Gainesville Super Regional — and, as you may recall, they won that game and then some more games in Omaha.
The bad news? They must win Monday, or there won’t be any more games to play this season.