OMAHA, Neb. - As transformations go, what the Gators did Sunday at the College World Series ranks up there with Clark Kent dashing into a phone booth and coming out as Superman.
It was sudden. They faced adversity. And they beat the bad guys - LSU starred as the villain - to make the world seem a better place at the moment if you run with the Orange & Blue crowd.
In reality, the Gators didn't defeat LSU. They picked the Tigers up, tossed them around, and knocked them over the head by a score of 24-4 at sold-out Charles Schwab Field in Game 2 of the CWS Championship Final. Florida's victory sets up a winner-take-all Game 3 for the national championship on Monday night.
About 14 hours after departing the ballpark in a somber mood following a 4-3 loss in Game 1 on Saturday night, the Gators returned facing a must-win game Sunday afternoon. They answered the challenge, improving to 4-0 in elimination games in the NCAA Tournament. If they can make it 5-0, they will return home with the program's second national championship and first since 2017.
"All the runs we scored today, we can't carry them over to [Monday], but we can carry over the momentum,'' outfielder Wyatt Langford said. "We're going to be ready to play."
Once Sunday's victory was over, Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan took a minute to himself in the dugout as Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" blasted from the stadium's sound system. Players signed autographs, hugged their families, and flashed huge smiles after the Gators scored a CWS-record 24 runs on 23 hits, including six home runs, the most hit in a single game since the CWS moved to Charles Schwab Field 12 years ago. Evans, Ty (2023 CWS vs. LSU, Game 2) Ty Evans watches as his third-inning grand slam goes from foul to fair in Sunday's win over LSU. (Photo: Maddie Washburn/UAA Communications) The scene was nothing like Saturday night when LSU won in the 11th inning on a home run by Cade Beloso that put Florida's season on the brink.
"You lose a game like last night, and it's just really, really hard to kind of let it go,'' O'Sullivan said. "And then just to flip the switch and the whole story - the whole narrative changes. It's emotional. It was a really cool deal."
The looming storyline over the Gators' head, when they took the field Sunday was whether the top of the lineup could get going, primarily No. 2 hitter Wyatt Langford and No. 3 batter Jac Caglianone. Langford was 3-for-16 and Caglianone 2-for-17 in the CWS. They crushed that storyline out of the park and across the nearby Missouri River.
Langford went 5-for-5 with a home run, two doubles and six RBI. Caglianone finished 3-for-6 with a pair of home runs and five RBI. The Gators' lineup produced from top to bottom against six LSU pitchers, with eight players recording two or more hits. The final box score was so loaded in Florida's favor that it was difficult to imagine that the Gators trailed 3-1 after the first two innings. And then the top of the third happened.
The Gators tied the score 3-3 on Josh Rivera's RBI single and had the bases loaded when right fielder Ty Evans, who put the Gators on the board with a solo homer in the second, stepped to the plate against Tigers reliever Gavin Guidry. Evans hit a ball high and deep down the left-field line. The ball appeared headed foul when a stiff wind blowing out toward center field pushed the ball back into fair territory for a grand slam.
Evans stood and watched until the ball landed in the LSU bullpen, shocking fans down the line who expected it to land foul. According to the CWS, Evans' home run had a launch angle of 51, higher than any over-the-fence home run in Major League Baseball since Statcast was introduced in 2015.
The home run was Evans' fourth of the CWS, the first player to accomplish the feat since the event moved to Charles Schwab Field.
"I hit it pretty good, and I knew the wind was helping. I just didn't think it was going to push it back fair,'' Evan said. "I knew I squared it up well enough to get it out. I really thought that ball was going to end up foul.
"It was incredible. It was awesome to be able to produce, to help the team out."
Evans' grand slam capped a six-run third inning, and no one knew then that the Gators were heating up. But first, with starter Hurston Waldrep having control problems - Waldrep walked six and allowed three runs in 2 1/3 innings - O'Sullivan called on seldom-used Blake Purnell with LSU down 7-3 and the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the third.
Purnell got Tommy White and his NCAA-leading 101 RBI to ground into a double play to end the inning.
"Huge play in the game,'' O'Sullivan said.
Reliever Nick Ficarrotta took over in the fifth and pitched the final five innings for a save. Ficarrotta turned in his finest performance of the season on the biggest stage, giving up only three hits and one run. He struck out two and didn't walk a batter in a 78-pitch outing.
Meanwhile, the Gators kept hitting and hitting and hitting. They scored 16 runs in their final four at-bats, highlighted by Langford's 449-foot blast in the sixth inning, the second-longest home run in the CWS since 2011 behind only the 456-foot shot Langford hit against Virginia. Caglianone crushed homers Nos. 32 and 33, a solo shot in the sixth, and a towering two-run blast to right field in the eighth.
"It was a long day out there and not a great day,'' LSU coach Jay Johnson said.
The Gators had a different view.
"We did exactly what we said we were going to do - flush last night and come in ready to play,'' Langford said.
The Gators turn to Caglianone in another way on Monday. He will start Game 3 on the mound with an opportunity to win a national title.
The 6-foot-5 two-way standout, after Florida's historic day at the plate in Game 2, is eager for another shot at history in Game 3.
"I'm really excited,'' he said. "I'd give anything for this team to win. My biggest goal is just to get a ring on these guys that have been here for a while."