OMAHA, Neb. — The Gators came into Thursday night’s game with Texas Tech hitting .211 as a team, lowest among the remaining participants in Omaha.
Through four innings on Thursday it looked like it would be more of the same. The Gators were 0-9 with two walks through three innings and freshman Jack Leftwich was struggling on the mound. Leftwich needed 54 pitches to get out of the first two innings and had to strand four in the process to keep the score knotted at zero.
“I think the reason I was struggling was just because I was nibbling and not attacking the hitters,” Leftwich said. “I was like kind of pitching scared.”
With momentum clearly in Tech’s favor heading into the fourth inning Florida needed something to go their way.
Jonathan India took matters into his own hands.
The 5th overall pick in the MLB Draft worked a seven-pitch walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. India became the first Florida Gators to steal two bases in a College World Series game when he swiped third before scoring on another wild pitch.
“Not many people think I can run,” India said. “I had to do something. They were walking me and not giving me anything to hit so I had to do something on the base paths.”
Just like that Florida took the lead in a game before recording its first hit.
Texas Tech stormed back. Zach Reams singled to start the inning before Leftwich got Michael Davis swinging. Cameron Warren singled to give the Red Raiders two runners and it looked like Cody Farhat would add another single to the frame if not for Austin Langworthy. The sophomore left fielder charged a diving line drive and caught the ball with his glove on the ground while sliding. Both Texas Tech runners had taken off so Langworthy, throwing from a seated position in left field, was able to double off Rheams at second to end the inning.
India wild run around the bases provided a spark for the Gators’ offense.
Blake Reese singled through the right side and stole second in the fifth. Nick Horvath singled to give Florida runners on the corners. Deacon Liput doubled to drive in Reese and send Horvath to third before he would score when Nelson Maldonado grounded out, giving Florida a 3-0 lead.
JJ Schwarz made it 5-0 with a two-run home run in the sixth inning. It was Schwarz’s first home run in 16 games at the College World Series.
Leftwich came back out to the mound to start the seventh inning with 94 pitches. He got ahead 0-2 on Warren before the first baseman lined a ball into left center for a single. Leftwich got another strikeout, his fifth, but a Cody Farhat single ended his night. That’s when the wheels fell off for Florida.
“We talk about it all the time with pitchers how when we put up a crooked number, the pitcher has to bear down with a zero,” Schwarz said. “Jack talked about the rebound runs, and they put up three and we had to respond, we had to change the momentum.”
O’Sullivan turned to Andrew Baker but the sophomore left walked Greg Holt and gave up a RBI single to Brian Klein. O’Sullivan then turned to Tommy Mace but the freshman lasted just eight pitches and was removed after allowing a RBI single and another runner to reach on an error. Jordan Butler got the final two outs of the inning but Texas Tech had taken back the momentum and trimmed the lead to 5-3.
Florida got “rebound runs” of its own in the next frame. Wil Dalton doubled to start the eighth and was moved over to third by a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly. Blake Reese collected his second double of the night and scored when Brady Smith tripled off the top of the wall in center field. Smith would score on Horvath’s single and just like that Florida responded with three runs of its own.
The Red Raiders responded with three more runs in the eighth inning, which forced Kevin O’Sullivan to turn to Michael Byrne for the third time in Omaha. Byrne was able to close out the game, getting the last four outs for his 35th career save, but O’Sullivan knows he’s running Byrne thin.
“Really what we were trying to do is squeeze the last nine outs of the game, eight outs of the game, to not have to use Michael Byrne,” said O’Sullivan. “He only threw 14 pitches, but in a game like that, with a five-run lead, with six outs to go, it would have been nice not to use him. But fortunate enough for us he only threw 14 pitches. But at the end of the day, we are going to need somebody to step up, give us some outs, if we want to advance here in the next couple of games.”
This is the third time in four years that the Gators have reached the semifinal of the College World Series. Florida will face Arkansas on Friday (8 p.m. ESPN) and they must beat the Razorbacks twice in order to advance to the CWS Final. Brady Singer will toe the rubber for Florida and Arkansas will counter with Isaiah Campbell.