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Gators walk off Virginia with a 3-run ninth inning

Hoos will have to do it the hard way after giving up a 5-3 lead in the ninth

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida vs Virginia sSteven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It took a while to get going, but the matchup between the Hoos and Cavaliers didn’t disappoint. Virginia and Florida have now faced off four times in Omaha and for the third time the game was decided by a single run. The game featured tons of excitement, but ultimately it was the Gators who prevailed. After getting an insurance run in the top of the ninth, the Hoos led 5-3 just needing three outs to open the College World Series with a win. But Florida did what they’ve done all year, relying on the long ball to get back into it. Ty Evans led off the inning with a solo home run to cut the deficit to one. After an out, Wyatt Langford blasted a ball that still hasn’t come down to tie the game at five. After a single to Jac Caglianone, Jake Berry walked Josh Rivera then plunked BT Riopelle loading the bases. Josh Heyman then hit a fly ball to center. Ethan O’Donnell made the catch but was going away from home plate and didn’t even attempt a throw as Caglianone scored the winning run.

Florida scored first in the bottom of the second when Riopelle drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a base hit by Heyman. He then advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on an RBI single by Colby Halter

With both pitchers dueling, the story of the first four innings was baserunners running into outs. In the top of the first, after leading off with a single, Griff O’Ferrall attempted to take two bases on a wild pitch, but was thrown out easily. Then in the top of the third, Florida starter Brandon Sproat was able to catch Ethan O’Donnell leaning towards second base for an easy pickoff play. Then in the bottom of the fourth, after leading off the inning with a double, Riopelle attempted to tag on a fly ball out by Heyman to rightfield. But Casey Saucke had other ideas as his frozen rope from right easily threw out the Florida catcher.

Virginia was finally able to break through in the top of the seventh when Ethan Anderson led off the inning with a walk and moved first to third on a single by Saucke. Then Anthony Stephan hit a ball to third that looked like a double play, but the Gator third baseman Halter bobbled it and was only able to get Stephan at first allowing Anderson to score. But the Hoos wouldn't be done. After Henry Godbout singled, Saucke was thrown out on a ground ball to third for the second out, but with two outs O’Ferrall ripped a ball down the left field line. Godbout scored easily, and Harrison Didawick was hot on his heels to also score and give Virginia a 3-1 lead. Then O’Donnell got in on the action singling up the middle scoring O’Ferrall and extending the lead to 4-1.

In the bottom half of the inning, Evan Blanco came in to relieve Parker. The Virginia ace’s day ended with him pitching 6.0 innings giving up only the single earned run on four hits, three walks and one strikeout. Blanco walked Dale Thomas and exited the game for Jack O’Connor. O’Connor then gave up a double to Ty Evans before Cade Kurland grounded out to third, though Thomas was able to score. Things got interesting after Langford reached on an error and Caglianone walked to load the bases. Jake Berry entered the game and got Josh Rivera to ground out, end the threat, and keep the score 4-2.

After a quick inning for the Hoos, the Gators cut the lead to 4-3 when Riopelle stayed hot and led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run. Berry settled down though and retired the rest of the Gators preserving the lead.

The Cavaliers would respond in the top of the ninth. Saucke led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Stephan. Then with two outs, Didawick hit a high fly ball to the deep right field corner that stayed in the air for what seemed like forever. The Gator right fielder made a great play on the ball, but was unable to come up with it. Saucke scored easily and Didawick ended up with a triple and another run for his ball club.

That set up the ninth inning heroics for the Gators. Berry started the inning but was pulled in favor of Jay Woolfolk who gave up the sacrifice fly to Heyman. Berry picked up the loss going 1.2 innings, giving up 4 earned runs on four hits, three of which were home runs.

The Hoos will face TCU on Sunday at 2 p.m. while the Gators square off against Oral Roberts in the nightcap at 7 p.m.