Among the thousands of out-of-town visitors who departed Charles Schwab Field late Friday after a classic nightcap in the College World Series, it was difficult to imagine two people headed for such different nights of rest than Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan and Virginia’s Brian O’Connor. Florida’s stunning 6-5 comeback win over Virginia was the 678th career win for O’Sullivan, but few will be as memorable as what transpired on a warm Nebraska evening in this CWS-crazed city.
Soon after Florida’s dugout emptied to rush onto the field and celebrate Luke Heyman’s game-winning RBI sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning, O’Connor, born and raised here and back in his hometown for a sixth trip to college baseball’s biggest stage, had a look of shock as he entered his postgame press conference. O’Sullivan and O’Connor both have national championships on their resumés, but as O’Sullivan basked in the ecstasy the game often delivers, O’Connor resided in its agony following the events of a ninth-inning comeback that Gators fans will talk about long past the final out of this CWS. “A very tough loss,” said O’Connor.
That is a sentiment sure to be shared by diehard Cavaliers fans. The opposite is true for the Florida faithful. They will relive the ninth inning any chance they get. The bottom of the ninth began with Virginia holding a 5-3 lead, adding an insurance run in the top of the inning on an RBI triple by Harrison Didawick. The Gators’ magical comeback started with a solo home run by Ty Evans to make it a one-run ballgame. Evans slammed a 2-1 pitch from Virginia left-handed reliever Jake Berry into the left-field seats.
Berry, called upon with two outs in the seventh to maintain a 4-2 lead, then struck out Cade Kurland for the first out. It was the last out Berry would get. However, he would face four more Gators before finally handing the ball to O’Connor in a tie game. Following Kurland’s at-bat, Gators phenom Wyatt Langford stepped into the batter’s box with a chance to tie the game. It took two pitches. Langford hit a majestic, no-doubt-about-it home run over the concourse in left to bring the Gators even and those in the sold-out crowd of more than 24,000 to their feet.
Mired in a 2-for-23 slump and hitless in the Gainesville Super Regional sweep against South Carolina, Langford crushed a 1-0 pitch from Berry that he knew was gone the instant he made contact. Langford immediately pumped his arms and looked toward the Gators’ dugout as the crowd gasped and buzzed.
“Going up to the plate, I was thinking the same thing I always do,” Langford said. “I was going up there to compete, get on base, and pass the torch for the next man to eventually lead us to winning the game.” The home run was the third of the game for the Gators off Berry, who entered the game having allowed only three home runs all season in 48 2/3 innings. He gave up a solo shot to catcher BT Riopelle in the eighth, making it a 4-3 game.
O’Connor stuck with Berry despite Langford’s 456-foot bomb, the longest home run in the CWS since the event moved to Charles Schwab Field in 2011. “He showed right there in that at-bat how great of a player he is,” O’Connor said. “Rose up at the big moment when his team needed him.”
O’Sullivan had seen it before from his All-American left fielder nicked the Trenton Thunder, a tribute to the small town Langford calls home in north Florida. “He’s one of the best players we’ve ever had,” O’Sullivan said. “He has a knack for rising to the occasion with a couple of other guys, too.”
While Langford’s blast was a show-stopper, the Gators kept charging. Jac Caglianone singled, Josh Rivera walked, and Berry loaded the bases by hitting Riopelle. O’Connor finally came to the rescue and brought in right-hander Jay Woolfork to face Heyman. Three pitches later, Heyman hit a deep fly ball to center that easily scored Caglianone from third and set off a joyous celebration in short right field as teammates swarmed Heyman. Veteran team leader Riopelle said the Gators never gave up after losing a 1-0 lead when the Cavaliers broke out with a four-run seventh inning.
“We’re always bringing the attack to our opponent,” Riopelle said. “We don’t let the opponent dictate the pace of the game or the way we play or whatnot. We dictate that. Your best players have to play the best in the right moments to win games. And we did that tonight.”
The Trenton Thunder agreed. He is known more for his bat than his mouth but provided some insight into the Gators following their 21st comeback victory of the season. “We’re never out of a baseball game,” Langford said. A fact O’Connor and the Cavaliers had to sleep on Friday night — if they slept at all.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, player BT Riopelle, Brandon Sproat, and Wyatt Langford all spoke about the win after the game. Video is courtesy of the NCAA.