In the end, Central Michigan baseball couldn’t keep Wyatt Langford from scoring —early, late and in between.
The Florida sophomore homered twice and scored the winning run in the top of the ninth after walking, his fourth time on base, as the 13th-seeded Gators eliminated the Chips from the NCAA tournament in the Gainesville regional with a 6-5 win Sunday afternoon.
Florida took the lead for good in the top of the ninth, as Langford opened the inning with a seven-pitch walk and advanced to second on a walk to Sterlin Thompson. A sac bunt advanced both runners into scoring position and Langford scored on a sac fly by Ty Evans, who had struck out in three prior at-bats.
CMU attempted to rally in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with two outs on two singles and a walk. But Aidan Shepardson fouled out to third to end CMU’s hopes of knocking off the host Gators.
“Well, if you’re a fan, what a good college baseball game,” Central Michigan coach Jordan Bischel said. “Really proud of our guys and I’m sure Coach (Kevin) O’Sullivan is also proud of his. Shame someone’s got to go home, but we tip the cap to Florida, they did a great job, and we certainly, we’ll wish them the best of luck the rest of the way.”
It certainly didn’t look like CMU would make it close after four innings. The Chips mustered little offense, with just three hits off Florida starter Nick Pogue. But a homer to right by Robby Morgan IV to lead off the fifth got CMU on the board, and the rest of the offense came to life in the sixth.
Pogue, who had been cruising, walked Justin Simpson on four pitches and surrendered a single to Jakob Marsee on the second pitch of the at-bat to put runners on the corners. That was enough for O’Sullivan, who turned to his bullpen, beginning with Blake Purnell; the move opened the gates for CMU.
Danny Wuestenfeld singled for the Chips’ second run, and Shepardson walked to load the bases and end Purnell’s outing without any, well, outs. Phillip Abner entered, only to walk Garrett Navarra on four pitches; he was quickly replaced by Tyler Nesbitt, who at least got to six pitches before giving up a single to left to Morgan for another CMU run. Jacob Donahue then grounded to shortstop Josh Rivera, who threw to third for the first out of the inning, seven hitters in, as Shepardson scored on the fielder’s choice. The Chips couldn’t take the lead with runners on first and second, however, as Adam Proctor and Mario Camilletti both flied out to right to end the inning.
The Gators threatened early in the first inning, as Langford reached on a hit-by-pitch and Thompson walked. But Logan Buczkowski locked in, striking out the next three Florida batters to escape the jam. He couldn’t escape a one-out triple in the second inning, however, as a groundout to short by catcher Mac Guscette scored Rivera. Buczkowski then whiffed Colby Halter on a 3-2 count, after a video review overruled the original call of a hit-by-pitch.
But he couldn’t completely shut down Langford and the rest of the Gators offense. Langford led off the third with his first homer of the day, to right-center, followed by a double by Thompson and a walk by BT Riopelle. Buczkowski retired the next two Gators, but was betrayed by his defense as Jac Caglianone’s grounder to Simpson at short was thrown away, allowing Thompson to score.
Langford homered again, this time to center, with one out in the fourth, extending the Gators’ lead to four runs. They made it 5-0 in the fifth when they followed a pair of two-out singles by Rivera and Guscette with a double steal; Guscette slid into second as Rivera crossed home without a throw from reliever Ryan Palmblad.
The Gators will face Oklahoma on Sunday night in a rematch of Saturday’s late game, which Oklahoma won, 9-4; a win by the Sooners would send them to the super regionals, while a win by the Gators would force a winner-take-all game at 1 p.m. Monday.
As for the Chips, they’ll head back to Mount Pleasant with a 40-win season that should be considered a success after their struggles to open the season.
“We were 4-8 at one point. And what’s interesting for you guys that haven’t followed us, we had no ability to come from behind early in the season,” Bischel said. “The progress they made as competitors, there’s a lot more off of the field, but what a really, really remarkable job by these guys.”