Daniel Pigott hit a solo home run and Josh Tobias drove in an insurance run in the 10th inning to lead Florida to a 9-8 super regional win Sunday against North Carolina State to clinch the Gators' third straight trip to the College World Series.
Keenan Kish, the Gators' seventh pitcher of the game, came on to get the final two outs and his first save with the potential tying run stranded at second base. Wolfpack shortstop Chris Diaz had to be restrained after taking a called third strike to end the contest.
"I was kind of numb to be honest," Kish said. "I was just zoned in. I looked at Mike (Zunino's) glove and tried to pound the zone."
Florida (47-18) appeared to have the game sewn up a couple of times in regulation play but the Wolfpack (43-20) battled back each time to keep the crowd of 4,568 on the edge of their seats.
"It was one of those things that was like the big elephant in the room that no one talked about," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of the Gators' return to the College World Series.
"It was just there. ... It's one thing to be the underdog and not have the expectations but it's another when there are expectations. It's not just the external people; you find yourself putting pressure on yourself."
Tobias doubled to open the Gators' ninth and moved to third on Nolan Fontana's sacrifice bunt. Preston Tucker (Plant High) was intentionally walked and Mike Zunino followed with a sacrifice fly, his school-record 10th of the season, to put Florida ahead, 7-6.
But NCSU's Trae Turner walked and got his national-best 57th stolen base of the season to lead off the bottom of the ninth and Danny Canela's single brought him home.
"I think we battled hard the entire game," Canela said. "Unfortunately only one team could win and it wasn't us."
The Gators also appeared to have the game under control in the eighth inning after scoring twice on four straight hits to go up 6-5.
Designated hitter Brian Johnson hit his sixth home run of the season, and first since April 17, to tie the game at 5. Pigott and Casey Turgeon, who had three hits in the game, followed with one-out singles and Justin Shafer then drove in the go-ahead run. Turgeon was thrown out at the plate on the play.
But N.C. State tied it back up in the bottom of the inning on a solo home run by Jake Fincher, his first of the season, off Austin Maddox.
The game was delayed 2 hours, 23 minutes because of rain in the bottom of the third inning. Florida starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford returned despite the delay, but the Wolfpack elected to replace their starter, freshman All-American Carlos Rodon, departing after three hitless innings and 20 pitches.
"He begged, went and talked to the pitching coach. He begged, but it never was going to happen," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent of Rodon returning.
Reliever Anthony Tzantzis gave up Tucker's 16th home run to tie the game on his first pitch. Zunino and Johnson followed with a pair of long doubles. Turgeon singled home Zunino with the go-ahead run one batter later, chasing Tzantzis after just 1/3 of an inning, allowing four of the five batters he faced to hit safely.
"Everyone is swinging the bat well," Tucker said. "When you see guys around you succeeding it kind of boosts your confidence, too."
Ryan Wilkins replaced Tzantzis and immediately gave up a sacrifice fly by Shafer to score Johnson from third. Turgeon then stole second and scored on Vickash Ramjit's single to left to make it 4-1.
N.C. State responded with two runs of its own in the bottom of the inning to chase Crawford and bring on Greg Larson, who got the first hitter to ground out and end the rally. But the Wolfpack pulled even on Diaz's second homer of the year (and the first given up by Larson), a one-out, solo shot in the fifth inning.
It was the start of a back-and-forth game with teams trading blows the rest of the way.
"In this type of game and how things worked out that's what i came back for," said Tucker, who returned to school for his senior season despite being drafted last spring. "The competition here is just unbelievable. If I could pick a game to go out with, here at home, I think that's the one."