Ryan Larson couldn’t have found a better way to make up for lost time on Saturday night.
Playing in his first game back since getting struck in the head by a pitch on May 26, Larson came through for the Gators when they needed him most.
The senior outfielder stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th with two outs and smacked a single up the middle against Wake Forest reliever Colin Peluse, sending home third baseman Jonathan India for a walk-off base hit.
The game-winning RBI secured a 2-1 victory for Florida against the Demon Deacons and gives UF a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Gainesville Super Regional series.
“It was just one of those games,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We had a senior at the plate who stayed in the middle of the field and had a big hit for us. Not an easy game but we did just enough to win.”
The Gators (46-17) received a record-setting performance from their pitching staff, which threw 23 strikeouts for the most in program history in an NCAA Tournament game.
Junior Alex Faedo got the starting nod and tossed four scoreless innings against Wake Forest before a three hour and 49 minute rain delay ended his outing earlier than expected.
When play resumed, O’Sullivan called upon No. 2 starter Brady Singer to make his first relief appearance of 2017. The sophomore was lights out on the mound, throwing another scoreless four innings and only allowing two Wake Forest batters to reach base.
In the top of the ninth, sophomore closer Michael Byrne then entered the game to complete the shutout and clinch the win for UF. An RBI groundout from shortstop Dalton Guthrie in the bottom of the third inning had given Florida a 1-0 lead for the majority of the contest.
However, Byrne was unable to secure the victory, blowing his first save of the year on a solo shot from Demon Deacons catcher Ben Breazeale.
"Just trying to see a pitch I could drive," Breazeale said of his game-tying home run. "Really was just trying to get on base. I wasn't trying to do too much."
Despite the one-run blast to open his outing, Byrne would stay steady for the rest of the night, striking out six in three innings before setting things up for Larson in the bottom of the 11th.
With Saturday's win, the Gators are one game away from their third consecutive College World Series berth and their 11th overall in program history.
Florida and Wake Forest will face off again on Sunday at 3 p.m. Jackson Kowar will start for UF, while Connor Johnstone will start for the Deacons.
Contact Dylan Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
UF outfielder Ryan Larson jogs to the dugout during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.