Texas Tech’s mastery of Florida ended Thursday night at the College World Series.
And so did the Red Raiders’ 2018 season.
The defending national champion Gators charged to a 9-6 victory over Texas Tech in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Our season comes to an end with a 9-6 loss to No. 1 Florida, at the College World Series.
— Texas Tech Baseball (@TTU_Baseball) June 22, 2018
Texas Tech ended the top-seeded Gators’ 2016 season with an upset in the College World Series. And then, the Red Raiders notched a 6-3 win Sunday night.
But Florida was ready Thursday on a cool night at the ballpark to oust the Red Raiders (45-20). The Gators notched a season-high 5 stolen bases and battered six Tech pitchers for 12 hits in the victory.
Despite falling into an early 5-0 deficit after 6½ innings, the Red Raiders refused to quit. They rallied for 3 runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but it was too little, too late. Tech stranded 11 runners in the game.
Winning pitcher Jack Leftwich, a freshman from Orlando, overcame a slow start to finish strong.
Leftwich scattered seven hits in 6⅓ innings with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. His 102-pitch effort was his longest of the season.
In their last two games, Florida’s starters have allowed no unearned runs with 4 walks and 18 strikeouts.
Their victory on Thursday boosts Florida to 8-0 in elimination games over the last two seasons.
Florida is looking to become the first No. 1 seed to win the tournament since Miami did it in 1999.
And if the Gators (49-20) play like they did on Thursday, they’ve got a puncher’s chance to fight their way out of the loser’s bracket.
To make next week’s championship series, Florida will need to beat Arkansas twice in the next two nights. Their first game will be at 7 p.m. CT Friday.
Texas Tech trails Thursday before allowing a hit
Florida took a 1-0 lead in the fourth without a hit. SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India led off with a walk, advanced on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on another wild pitch.
The Gators tacked on another run in the fifth, parlaying their first hits of the game while knocking Tech starting pitcher Caleb Kilian out of the contest.
Blake Reese ripped Florida’s first hit, a leadoff single in the fifth inning and stole second. Reese went to third on Nick Horvath’s single. Reese scored when Deacon Liput doubled through Texas Tech first baseman Cameron Warren’s legs. Horvath later scored on Nelson Maldonado’s infield out.
Florida boosted the lead to 5-0 in the sixth on a 2-run homer by JJ Schwarz, his 13th of the season and the Gators’ 100th homer of the season.
Texas Tech challenged in the second inning, loading the bases with one out. But Leftwich coaxed Braxton Fulford and Gabe Holt to pop out to end the threat.
And the Red Raiders were turned away in the third and fourth innings when they flied into two double plays.
Those big defensive plays appeared to embolden Leftwich, who struggled with 54 pitches in his first two innings to 10 batters. He finished with 48 more pitches before he was pulled with one out in the seventh.
Surprisingly, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan attempted to save closer Michael Byrne.
It cost him as the Red Raiders scored 3 runs and loaded the bases in the inning. But reliever Jordan Butler struck out Zach Rheams on a full count. He then retired Michael Davis on a lineout to right to quell the threat.
And Florida answered by scoring 3 runs in the eighth inning during a rally that featured a leadoff double by Wil Dalton, another double by Reese and a key two-out RBI triple by Brady Smith.
But when Texas Tech loaded the bases in the eighth, Byrne finally appeared. He was greeted by a 2-run single by Grant Little that pulled Tech within 8-6, but Horvath flied deep to center for the final out.
Florida added a clinching run in its ninth after India singled, stole his third base of the game and scored on Davis’ throwing error.