OMAHA, Nebraska -- Florida likes its chances of reaching the Men's College World Series finals after holding off Oral Roberts, 5-4, on Sunday at Charles Schwab Field.
Florida is now off to a 2-0 start in the MCWS for the fourth time in program history. On each of the three previous occasions, the Gators reached the MCWS finals -- winning the national championship in 2017 after losing in the best-of-three finals each in 2011 and 2005.
One more win on Wednesday, when Florida will face the winner of an elimination game between Oral Roberts and TCU, and a return trip to the championship series with a national title on the line will be assured. But the Gators had to really sweat it out against the Golden Eagles.
"We've got to keep our edge. We haven't done it yet," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "So, sure, we're one game away from the finals, but we've still got to play one more game.
"So we've just got to stay the course and (do) what we've done the entire year and don't take anything for granted and be ready to go on Wednesday."
The Gators used the long ball to build a 5-1 lead Sunday, and then had to hang on as Oral Roberts battled back by scoring two runs in the seventh and one in the ninth, leaving bases loaded in the eighth and runners on first and third when the final out was finally recorded in the ninth.
Ty Evans, Josh Rivera and Luke Heyman each homered for the Gators to help them build their lead, and starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep helped them hold it through the first six innings. Waldrep put together a gritty outing, holding ORU to a single run despite walking three and giving up seven hits before giving way to the Florida bullpen to start the seventh. He struck out 12.
"Overall the end result was good. And that's all that matters," Waldrep said. "But took me a little bit to settle in. It's a big stage. And obviously there a lot of feelings -- a lot of adrenaline and emotions -- that come with this game."
After the home runs by Evans, Rivera and Heyman, most of the rest of the Florida bats fell silent, as the Gators became the first team in 36 years to win a MCWS game with five hits or fewer while allowing 10 or more to its opponent. The last team to do so had been Stanford in 1987, with teams in that lopsided situation losing 65 consecutive games prior to Sunday's affair.
The Golden Eagles rapped out 11 hits to Florida's five, but lost in large part because they left 13 runners on base.
Florida jumped out front early, thanks to Evans, who blasted a two-run homer in the top of the second. It was his second homer of the MCWS, although he did not enter the Gators' first game vs. Virginia until pinch hitting in the seventh inning.
It did not stay 2-0 Gators for long.
In the bottom half of the second, Oral Roberts cut the deficit in half. Holden Breeze reached on an infield single to shortstop and one out later, Jacob Godman walked. After another out, Jake McMurray walked, loading the bases. Justin Quinn then lined an infield single off the foot of Waldrep, scoring Breeze.
Waldrep gathered himself and struck out ORU's Drew Stahl to end the inning without further damage.
The next inning, the Gators resumed pounding out homers -- with Rivera leading off the inning with a solo shot and Heyman ripping a two-run blast to center two batters later after BT Riopelle reached base in between when he was hit by a pitch.
That gave UF the 5-1 advantage it enjoyed until the bottom of the seventh inning.
Ryan Slater, who came on in relief of Waldrep to start the inning, issued a one-out walk to Quinn. With two outs, ORU's Matt Hogan hit a high, deep fly to one of the deepest parts of the park in left center. Florida left fielder Tyler Shelnut tried in vain to track it down, but ultimately it went over his head, hit the wall and took a wild carom. Hogan kept on running and slid safely head-first into home for a rare inside-the-park home run, making it 5-3.
In the tense ninth inning, Oral Roberts kept Florida's attention to the very end.
With Cade Fisher on the mound for the Gators, the first ORU batter was retired. But then Hogan hit a ground-rule double to left and Mac McCroskey singled to center, putting runners on the corners. Fisher then walked Breeze, loading the bases. Stahl then grounded to the shortstop and Breeze was forced at second for the second out, with Hogan scoring to cut the Florida lead to a single run.
Fisher then retired Godman on a fly ball to left center for the final out of the night. Waldrep was the winning pitcher and Fisher, who pitched the last 1.1 innings and gave up the one run, earned the save.
"That last inning was very intense. ... We had complete faith in Cade Fisher," Rivera said. "We knew he was coming in there to do his job. And that was just amazing for him to come in there and fill up the strike zone to get that last out."
HOW IT HAPPENED
T2 | With two outs, Tyler Shelnut walked. Evans followed with a two-run homer to right. Florida 2, Oral Roberts 0.
B2 | Breeze reached on an infield single. In between two outs, Godman and McMurray walked. After another out, loading the bases. Justin Quinn lined an infield single off the foot of Florida pitcher Hurston Waldrip, scoring Breeze. Florida 2, Oral Roberts 1.
T4 | Rivera homered to left. Riopelle was hit by pitch and Heyman followed with a two-run homer to left center. Florida 5, Oral Roberts 1.
B7 | With one out after Slater came on to pitch for Florida at the start of the inning, ORU's Quinn walked. After a second out, Hogan hit an inside-the-park home run to deep left. Florida 5, Oral Roberts 3.
B9 | Hogan hit a ground rule double to left. McCroskey singled to center, with Hogan advancing to third. Breeze walked, loading the bases. Stahl grounded into a fielder's choice, scoring Hogan. Florida 5, Oral Roberts 4.
Florida (52-15) advances in the winner's bracket and will get two days off before facing the winner of an elimination game between Oral Roberts and TCU- on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET. Oral Roberts will face TCU Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised by ESPN.
With one more win, the Gators can now secure a spot in the best-of-three MCWS championship finals.