OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Florida carried a five-run lead into the bottom of the seventh inning against Texas Tech. Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan never let himself get comfortable.
“We knew they weren’t going away,” O’Sullivan said. “They hung in there with us, and we knew it would be a nine-inning ballgame.”
It was every bit a nine-inning game Thursday night.
Fortunately for the Gators, they built enough cushion to survive Texas Tech’s six-run outburst over the seventh and eighth innings and eliminate the Red Raiders from the College World Series with a 9-6 win.
The Gators (49-20) have won two straight following a loss to Tech in their CWS opener and moved to the Bracket 2 final against Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas. The No. 1 national seed would have to beat the Razorbacks on Friday and again Saturday to return to the best-of-three championship round next week.
Florida freshman Jack Leftwich (5-5) allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings. He escaped trouble in the second and fourth innings before leaving with two runners on base in the seventh.
That’s when Tech (45-20) and its high-scoring offense started to make trouble for the Gators and their bullpen.
“Right now, you don’t feel too good,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “They compete and they love playing, and we’re proud of how they go about and play the game. We thought we could get through this and get to next week. Right now, we probably need to process all of it.”
Tech scored three times against four pitchers in the seventh to make it a two-run game. The Gators got those three runs back in the top of the eighth, with Brady Smith tripling off the center-field wall.
Tech came back with three more runs in the eighth against three relievers to make it 8-6. Florida got one of those runs back in the ninth.
O’Sullivan was forced to go to closer Michael Byrne with two outs in the eighth, and he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save.
“It would have been nice not to use him,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to need somebody else to step up and get us some outs if we want to advance here the next couple games.”
Schwarz broke his right hand May 18 and returned to the lineup for Florida’s first CWS game. The Oakland Athletics’ eighth-round draft pick was 1 for 11 in Omaha, and 1 for his last 20 overall, when he sent a 1-1 pitch from Ty Harpenau into the left-field bullpen for a 5-0 lead in the sixth. It was his 13th homer of the season and 50th of his career.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Schwarz said about making it back from his injury. “I definitely felt a little better at the plate, more comfortable. Today was a good step in the right direction. I wasn’t very comfortable the first couple games. I was a little rusty. I’m getting the hang of things again.”
The Gators went up 1-0 without getting a hit against Caleb Kilian (9-3) in the fourth when Jonathan India walked, took second on a wild pitch, stole third and came home on another wild pitch. They broke through for two runs on three hits in the fifth and extended their lead on Schwarz’s homer.
“I didn’t have my changeup, and they started to sit fastball on me and got some hits, and that got them into a rhythm,” Kilian said.
The Red Raiders loaded the bases with one out in the second and had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth against Leftwich.
“I think the reason I struggled was that I was nibbling and not attacking the hitters,” Leftwich said. “I was pitching kind of scared. After we scored a couple runs, I started to attack the hitters and they were going to get themselves out.”
Josh Jung went 3 for 5 with two RBIs, but said he and his teammates needed to get going offensively earlier against Leftwich.
“Seems every time we got a baserunner, he was able to shut us down pretty quick. Then they killed our momentum after we scored three in the seventh. They scored three. We got it right back and got three more. Just hats off to them for their performance.”
Tech’s Little made his second sensational catch of the CWS on Deacon Liput’s deep fly to left in the third inning. Little sprinted back, jumped and made the catch. He landed with his back against the fence to rob Liput of a sure double.
SPIN-O-RAMA, BASEBALL STYLE
Big 12 freshman of the year Gabe Holt swung so hard at a fastball from Leftwich in the second inning that he spun around and fell on his rear end. As would be expected, the boys in the Tech dugout got a good laugh.
Bracket 2 finalists Florida and Arkansas will be playing for the fifth time this season. The Gators won two of three in Gainesville, Florida, in March, and Arkansas won a meeting in the SEC Tournament.
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