Omaha Twelve! Langworthy’s eleventh inning walk-off sends Gators back to College World Series

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Austin Langworthy picked a pretty good time for his first home run of the year at McKethan Stadium, a solo shot down the right field line to tie Game Two of the Super Regionals against Auburn.

He picked an even better time for his second.

In the bottom of the eleventh inning of the decisive Game Three, Langworthy sent a line drive deep into right center field. Auburn right fielder Steven Williams gave chase and leaped for it, but could only get a piece of his glove on the ball, deflecting it up and over the wall for the first ever Super Regional round clinching walk-off in Florida’s illustrious history.

Florida now has twelve trips to the College World Series to its name, including four straight and seven in the last nine years. Simply getting to Omaha is no longer the goal, though: Florida is the defending national champion, but even that title last year doesn’t completely wipe away the stain of so many trips to Omaha before it that ended in failure. Winning back to back national championships would not only completely make up for all the previous devastation in Omaha, but cement this program as one of the blue bloods. They’ll begin their quest to do so with a rematch with Texas Tech, the team that knocked the Gators out of the 2016 College World Series.

But getting there was far from a done deal until it was.

Florida had their hands full with Auburn in each of the last two games of the Super Regional, to say the least. Auburn won Game Two on a walk-off gapper from Luke Jarvis and then gave Florida an even bigger scare in Game Three. Jonathan India got the scoring started right away, going the other way with an outside fastball and depositing it into the Auburn bullpen, and then Auburn got one back in the fourth when Williams drove in Will Holland on a single through the 3-4 hole.

Then things got interesting, ugly and frustrating.

The Gators didn’t drive in their second run of the night. They stole it. With Nick Horvath on first and Blake Reese on third, Horvath broke for second and purposefully fell down, tricking Auburn’s entire infield into thinking that they had him picked off- while Reese, the forgotten runner on third, broke for home and slid in safely. It’s a play that words can’t do justice, and that you just have to watch over and over to fully appreciate:

But Auburn would fight back again in the top of the seventh, as Jarvis doubled and came around to score on a sac fly to tie it up again. And it was only after four heart stopping scoreless innings, which with a tie score meant extra innings, and it wasn’t until the eleventh that Langworthy shot off the lightning bolt that killed Auburn’s season and announced the Gators’ return to Omaha.

The Gators definitely didn’t make things easy for themselves this weekend. Florida hit a woeful 8-45 with runners on base this series, hit into six double plays in the last two games and directly ran themselves out of two different innings on the basepaths in the finale. On top of that, Auburn came to play, making several highlight reel defensive plays and probably more importantly, not self destructing on the bases. In a lot of ways, the Tigers deserved to win. They really, really did.

But Florida got outstanding pitching performances from everybody who toed the rubber, from Brady Singer in Game One, to Jackson Kowar in Game Two (albeit in a losing effort), to freshmen Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace in starting and extended relief efforts, respectively, in Game Three. Nobody, though, was quite as heroic as Michael Byrne, who- and this bears repeating, because we can’t enjoy him enough while we’ve got him- is the best closer in school history. All Byrne did was bounce back from surrendering a game losing gapper to Jarvis in Game Two to work four scoreless innings, keeping an Auburn team that unquestionably had the momentum at bay while his teammates fought valiantly to help him out.

And Langworthy did just that with his deep shot to right. In truth, the ball likely wasn’t leaving the park without the help from Williams, but that shouldn’t take away from what Langworthy did: he barreled up a ball and smacked it in a big spot. Baseball is a game of luck, and had that ball been drilled twenty five feet left or right, even if it didn’t have the legs to get out, it would been a leadoff double or triple off the wall. All you can ask hitters to do is hit the baseball on the screws; while hard line drives right at outfielders don’t count for anything other than an out, the hitter of a deep lineout did a better job from a pure hitting standpoint than the hitter who reaches safely on a bloop single or grounder that finds a hole between the infielders. So while Langworthy probably didn’t hit a homer on his own, he put a good swing on a ball in a tough situation.

And in such an evenly matched, hard fought series, that’s what made the difference and sent the Gators back to the promised land.

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    Creator and founder of IAKOW 2.0

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