GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dominant pitching, a big swing and some heartbreak are sending top-ranked Florida back to the College World Series for the fourth consecutive season.
Austin Langworthy hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Gators a 3-2 victory over Auburn on Monday in the finale of the best-of-three super regional at McKethan Stadium. The defending national champion Gators (47-19), who are making their seventh trip to the CWS in 11 seasons under coach Kevin O’Sullivan, will play Texas Tech (44-18) on Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Twice in the game, Langworthy had been robbed of extra-base hits by diving catches in the outfield, but he hammered a line drive off Auburn reliever Cody Greenhill to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning. Right fielder Steven Williams was in position to rob Langworthy of the homer, but the ball bounced off his glove and over the fence.
“Right when I hit it, I knew it had a chance,” said Langworthy, who also hit a solo home run off Greenhill in the top of the ninth inning in Auburn’s 3-2 victory. “I wasn’t sure if I quite hit it high enough, but after I saw it go over the fence, I was just ecstatic for myself and my teammates to get us back to Omaha for another year.
“In this game, everything comes back to you eventually. You have a few bad at-bats and then have some good at-bats. That’s how it works pretty much.”
Williams, one of four Auburn freshmen named to the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America team, dropped to the ground after the play. Teammates made their way into right field to console him as the Gators celebrated.
“He’s a good ballplayer,” said freshman pitcher Andrew Mitchell, who started Monday’s game and limited Florida to two runs in 4⅓ innings before being replaced by freshman Davis Daniel. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him, and one play doesn’t define him.”
Auburn coach Butch Thompson said what happened shouldn’t stick with Williams.
“It’ll be part of his journey,” Thompson said. “He had a heckuva year. Had a big home run for us [Sunday]. Special ballplayer, and our whole club knows it. It’ll be part of the journey that he’ll look back on.”
Williams, who was not at the postgame news conference, hit 12 home runs and drove in 51 runs for the Tigers (43-23), who were making just the second super regional appearance in school history.
Williams later posted a tweet praising his team.
They call it the Auburn Family for a reason! Love this team wouldn’t want to go to war with anyone else. War Damn Eagle
— Steven Williams (@steven_wms21) June 12, 2018
The Gators are back in the CWS for the 12th time, and they got there because their pitching staff limited Auburn to seven runs in the three-game series after the Tigers scored 40 in their three games in the Raleigh (North Carolina) regional the previous weekend. The latest bit of dominance came from freshmen Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace and junior Michael Byrne, who combined to hold the Tigers to six hits and two earned runs on Monday.
Byrne entered the game to start the seventh inning and gave up one run, struck out five and walked only one over the game’s final four innings.
“Michael Byrne was special again,” O’Sullivan said. “He continues to do what he does. He knows who he is. Makes big pitches consistently, and he was extra special tonight.”