Hurston Waldrep struck out 12 in six innings, and Florida homered three times in the first four innings to take a four-run lead on Oral Roberts.
Then things got interesting at the College World Series — again.
The Gators took control of Bracket 1 with a 5-4 victory Sunday night. But first Florida had to survive Matt Hogan's inside-the-park home run that pulled ORU within two runs, a bases-loaded situation in the eighth when its closer was forced out of the game because of a mound-visit rules violation, and finally another threat in the ninth.
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“These past couple of games that have been played early on in the World Series have been kind of like thrill seekers towards the last couple innings,” Gators shortstop Josh Rivera said.
For the first time in CWS history, which dates to 1947, five of the first six games have been decided by one run.
“I think people here in Omaha are getting their money’s worth,” ORU coach Ryan Folmar said.
The Gators (52-15) will play Wednesday against the winner of the Tuesday elimination game between ORU and TCU. Florida would have two chances, if needed, to get the one win that would send it to the best-of-three finals beginning Saturday.
The Summit League's Golden Eagles (52-13), the first No. 4 regional seed since 2012 to play in the CWS, are known to punch above their weight, but they looked outclassed early against the No. 2 national seed Gators.
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That changed in the seventh when Hogan drove Ryan Slater's pitch off the left-field wall. Center fielder Wyatt Langford had trouble picking up the ball off the carom, and by the time he did Hogan was heading for third and not slowing down. Rivera took the cutoff and threw home, but Hogan got in easily with a head-first slide.
“Matt’s swing was big, and I think just as big as the swing was the way he’s running around the bases, the way he hustles, the way he plays,” Folmar said. “I think that’s contagious throughout our team. I think all of them have that.”
The Eagles loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth against Brandon Neely. When Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan came out to talk to his closer, the Gators were charged with their seventh defensive mound visit, one over the limit. Under the rule, O'Sullivan had to replace Neely. Cade Fisher came on and got Justin Quinn to fly out.
O'Sullivan blamed himself, though he said someone in the dugout is assigned to keep track of the number.
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“No one feels more terrible than I do about it,” he said. “It’s like a player that has a bad game or gives up a run in the ninth or extra innings … you've got to move on from it. I apologized to the team after the game, and they said they had my back.”
Florida held on in the ninth after ORU scored on a groundout and had runners on the corners with two outs. Jacob Godman flew out to end the game, and the Gators came pouring out of their dugout to celebrate.
Waldrep (10-3) allowed one run in his six innings despite scattering seven hits and walking three. ORU had at least one man reach base against Waldrep each inning, but the projected first-round pick came up with the big pitch when he needed it most and finished with double-digit strikeouts for a third straight outing.
“Overall the end result was good, and that’s all that matters,” Waldrep said. “It took me a while to settle in. It's a big stadium, and there was a lot of adrenaline that comes with this game. I didn't have the best feel for my fastball, but I had my three off-speed pitches work, and that let me control the game.”
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ORU starter Harley Gollert (10-2) went into the game off his two worst outings of the season, and things didn't get better. The left-hander pitched into the third and gave up homers to Ty Evans, Rivera and Luke Heyman and left with his team down 5-1.
Evans' homer was the Gators' 133rd of the season, breaking the record of 132 by the 1998 team.
Gollert has surrendered seven homers over three appearances totaling 8 1/3 innings in the NCAA Tournament.