The Florida Gators’ College World Series-opening loss to Texas Tech on Sunday put them in the predicament of needing four wins just to get to the championship series of the event.
Now, one win down, they will need to get their second by knocking off those same Red Raiders on Thursday night (8 p.m., ESPNU or WatchESPN).
The Gators won’t have Brady Singer on the mound, either, as he — and Jackson Kowar, so good in Florida’s Tuesday win over Texas — are out of the question for this game. Instead, Florida will turn to freshman Jack Leftwich, who held Auburn in check in a pivotal Super Regional elimination game, to stymie the potent Red Raiders.
And that might be a tall task, as Texas Tech’s loaded lineup did ultimately knock around Singer after a scintillating start. Arkansas managed to keep Tim Tadlock’s club in check on Wednesday, allowing just four runs — and only two until the Red Raiders mounted a desperate comeback attempt down five in the ninth — in a 7-4 victory, but the Razorbacks were throwing junior Kacey Murphy, a more seasoned pitcher than Leftwich, if not necessarily a more talented one.
For Florida’s freshman, keeping his cool and focus will be important on a night that could be the Gators’ last of the season.
But Florida has shuffled its lineup to potentially give Leftwich a lead to defend. Brady Smith, probably Florida’s best-hitting catcher at the moment, takes Jonah Girand’s place behind the plate after the latter’s failure to follow his brilliant Gainesville Regional with any sort of production in the games since, and gives the bottom of Florida’s order a hitter who could be a runner on second base for the top of the order.
And, paradoxically, the Red Raiders might be worse off for starting a “better” pitcher against the Gators, in the form of Caleb Kilian (9-2, 3.04 ERA), than they were for their unorthodox approach of starting and relieving with softer-tossing throwers against the Gators on Sunday. Florida seemed to struggle to time up those Texas Tech hurlers, but ultimately got to Texas’s more orthodox bullpen late in the Gators’ Tuesday victory.
If Florida can continue the approach that led to that breakthrough against the Longhorns, the Gators have a great chance to avenge last Sunday’s loss — and while that win would only get them halfway to Monday, there’s no question that the Gators would much rather be prepping for a game on Friday than be halfway home on a flight out of Omaha.