GAINESVILLE, Fla. — At 11:31 p.m. ET Monday night, Florida sophomore outfielder Austin Langworthy stared toward the mound as Auburn reliever Cody Greenhill prepared to deliver a 1-2 pitch.
About 33 hours earlier at McKethan Stadium, Langworthy connected off Greenhill for his first homer of the season, a solo shot in the top of the ninth inning that temporarily tied the game. Auburn's Luke Jarvis delivered his own late-game heroics in the bottom of the ninth to force Monday's winner-take-all Game 3 for a trip to the College World Series.Langworthy had one pitch on his mind, the same as the previous afternoon when he smashed a Greenhill fastball high over the wall down the right-field line.
"I wasn't coming off the fastball until I got a pitch to hit,'' he said.
As the announced crowd of 5,958 watched anxiously while Langworthy stood in the batter's box in the bottom of the 11th, Greenhill delivered the 318th pitch of an instant classic between the long-time Southeastern Conference rivals. Langworthy got his fastball and drove it deep to right field. Teammate Blake Reese, whose steal of home in the fourth inning had given the Gators the lead, watched from the on-deck circle.
"Immediately off the bat, I thought it was no doubt it was going out,'' Reese said. "The more I watched the outfielder, the more worried I got."
Langworthy had already been robbed of hits twice Monday, first in the sixth inning when Tigers center fielder Jay Estes made a sensational diving catch and then doubled off Wil Dalton at first base. In the seventh, Langworthy lifted a ball down the left-field line that Judd Ward dived for to make the grab.
This time, Auburn right fielder Steven Williams galloped to the warning track and raced under Langworthy's drive to lead off the inning. Williams reached up to try make the catch. The ball deflected off his glove and well over the wall for a walk-off home run.
McKethan Stadium never felt more alive as Langworthy jumped around the based and into a swarm of teammates at home plate, the biggest swing of Florida's season delivering a 3-2 win and a school-record fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series. Langworthy's "Shot Heard 'Round Gainesville" (and beyond) set off a late-night party on Stadium Road.
"I didn't expect him to hit a walk-off home run," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I certainly thought he would give us a really good at-bat."
Langworthy, who grew up in nearby Williston, Florida, and a player O'Sullivan started scouting as a freshman in high school, did that and so much more late Monday night, providing one of the most memorable moments in UF baseball history.
A half hour later he sat behind a table at the postgame press conference with O'Sullivan, Reese and closer Michael Byrne, who pitched four shutout innings to earn the victory. The least talkative of the foursome, Langworthy didn't need to say much.
What was he thinking as he rounded the bases?
"Going to Omaha. Plain and simple. I was stoked for my team."How does he explain getting robbed twice earlier and then hitting the series-clinching homer?
"This game, everything comes back to you eventually."
What about that homer?
"It's unbelievable. Right when I hit it I knew it had a chance. I wasn't sure if I quite hit it high enough, but once I hit it over the fence I was ecstatic for myself and my team to get us back to Omaha for another year."
As the Gators celebrated a return to Omaha and a shot at another national championship, Williams turned from facing the wall with a shocked look. He then squatted near the warning track in disbelief before a group of teammates came to console the freshman from Albany, Georgia.
"I think 99 out of 100 he catches that," said Auburn reliever Davis Daniel, who tossed 5 1/3 brilliant innings prior to Greenhill taking over with two outs in the 10th. "One play doesn't define him. He's got a very bright future. The guy's been one of our leaders as a freshman all year. I think everybody on this team knows it. He laid it all on the line for that ball. Sometimes it just doesn't bounce your way."
In the three-plus hours before Langworthy's dramatic blast, Monday's game was a tight affair that hung in the balance from the first pitch. The Gators took an early 1-0 lead on Jonathan India's solo homer off Tigers starter Andrew Mitchell in the first. Auburn answered in the third when Williams stroked a two-out RBI single to score Will Holland.
In the fourth, Florida regained the lead on Reese's steal of home. With Nick Horvath at first base and Jonah Girand at the plate, Reese broke down the line toward home as the lefty Mitchell faced the opposite direction. Horvath took off for second to grab Mitchell's attention, purposely falling down in the basepath. By the time Mitchell whirled to throw home, Reese was on his way to scoring the go-ahead run, easily beating the throw with a head-first slide.
"It is something that we work on and very seldom happens. When you get the chance to do something like that, the timing has to be perfect," Reese said. "Credit Nick on the other end for selling it the way he did. It doesn't work without him."
Still, Auburn refused to go away and tied the game 2-2 in the seventh on Josh Anthony's RBI sacrifice fly. Meanwhile, Daniel overmatched Florida's lineup over the late innings, giving up only one hit with four walks and six strikeouts over 5 1/3 scoreless innings.
Auburn coach Butch Thompson marveled at the Gators pitching after the game, including Byrne and Gators freshmen Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace. In the end, it came down to one swing.
"It felt like a great SEC series. We play this over and over and over. Both teams were ready,'' Thompson said. "Both ballclubs saw the value in one run because they just knew it was going to be a great night of high-level competitive baseball. [It hurts] to get our hearts ripped out, but at the same time, this is living.
"This is awesome to be a part of. It was a great baseball game. It was going to end eventually, somehow, someway. We did everything we could."
The Gators did just a little bit more.
O'Sullivan may not have expected Langworthy to hit a home run when he stepped to the plate, but he is not surprised. There is a reason he has penciled him into the lineup over and over despite some ups and downs along the way.
"He's a very steady player,'' O'Sullivan said. "He's got a lot of a natural hit to him."
For once, the Tigers didn't chase one of those hits down and catch it.