Gators Reach CWS Championship For First Time

The Arizona State Sun Devils looked like they were going to cruise control it to a berth in the championship weekend of the College World Series Thursday evening, but that's when Florida Coach Pat McMahon blew his stack. The Gator coach isn't the only one who erupted. Florida followed with three home runs over two innings to take a 6-3 win over ASU for the Gators first-ever championship appearance in the CWS.

Florida (48-21) will face Texas in a best two of three format for the NCAA championship beginning Saturday.

When McMahon torched home plate umpire Bill Davis for making a controversial out call on a foul ball by Brandon McArthur, a fire was lit under the Gators whose bats were fairly impotent up to that point against Sun Devil starter Jason Urquidez. At that point, Arizona State was in total control but that's when the decision Davis made woke Florida up from a hitting nap that began in the first inning of a Wednesday night loss to the Sun Devils.

The wake up call was a McArthur pop foul near the Arizona State dugout that catcher Tuffy Goeswisch chased, sliding into the wall with his glove extended. Goeswisch never got a chance to make the catch because a fan reached over to catch the popup. Davis called McArthur out by fan interference and the normally mild-mannered McMahon charged from the dugout, hotly contesting the call. "You've got to be kidding me!" McMahon shouted as he came face to face with Davis.

McMahon lividly argued to Davis that while it was fan interference, there was no certainty of a catch because Goeswisch was sliding into the wall. The Florida coach reasoned that the umpires cannot reward effort on a play where there was no certainty of a catch. The umpires huddled together but then decided that the call would stand. McMahon argued a bit more but to no avail.

That argument, however, was all the Gators needed to turn on the power. Brian LeClerc hammered a fast ball by Urquidez fast ball over the right field fence for his 14th homer of the season, scoring Brian Jeroloman ahead of him and cutting the ASU lead to 3-2.

An inning later, the Gator bats remained as hot as McMahon had been when he was arguing his point with the ump. Stephen Barton singled to lead off the inning, bringing to an end Urquidez's stint on the mound. Sun Devil Coach Pat Murphy brought on righthanded sidearmer Brett Bordes to face Jeff Corsaletti, who greeted the new pitcher with a seeing eye single up the middle. Adam Davis followed that with his 12th home run of the season over the left field wall to give the Gators their first lead of the game at 5-3.

As added insurance, Matt LaPorta followed Davis' home run with a towering blast that left the ball park in left field. It was the 26th home run of the season for LaPorta and ensured the sophomore from Port Charlotte the NCAA statistical championship.

From that point on, reliever Tommy Boss simply mowed down the Sun Devils. Boss, throwing in relief for the first time this year, was almost untouchable. He gave up four hits and walked only one to record his ninth win of the season. He walked a batter and gave up a single in the top of the ninth, but he escaped without damage by forcing a popup and then getting the final out on a grounder to shortstop Justin Tordi.

Boss came on in the top of the fourth inning when Gator starter Alan Horne suffered what appears to be a severe hamstring injury while making a pitch. Horne fell to the ground and immediately rolled forward on his belly, clutching the back of his leg. He was on crutches at the end of the game. It is fairly certain that Horne won't be pitching anymore this season but more will more will be known in the morning after a MRI.

With Horne out of the game, Boss came on and took center stage as if he had been born on the mound in pressure situations. He consistently threw strikes and got ahead in the count. His breaking ball on the outside corner totally neutralized the Sun Devils bats, making his 88 mile per hour fast ball look like the Nolan Ryan Express. The Sun Devils could only beat the ball in the ground and the Florida infield played flawlessly behind him.

Horne, making his second start in the CWS, gave up a pair of runs in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Jeff Larish doubled in the gap in right center and Travis Buck brought him home with a double into the left field gap. Buck moved to third on a ground out and scored on a wild pitch.

In the second inning, Larish lined a single to right field to late ASU's third run of the game.

Florida was lethargic at the plate in the first three innings. Jeroloman had a ground ball single in the second for the Gators first hit, but Urquidez kept throwing junk and for the second straight game the Florida hitters just couldn't seem to find their timing against the slow ASU pitchers. Florida hitters were grounding meekly to the infield or hitting popups against Urquidez and his 80 mph fast ball and 66 mph curve.

The lethargy ended in the fourth when McMahon blew his stack. From that point on, the Gators dominated the rest of the game.

For Florida (48-21) the question for the weekend is who will pitch? Horne won't be available. Boss would have been the Saturday starter but it's likely that McMahon won't use the Dunnellon senior again until Sunday's second game. Brian Ball pitched five-plus innings Wednesday and considering he had a tender elbow that kept him from starting for about a three-week stretch, it's unlikely that he would go Saturday.

Freshman Stephen Locke had some good outings in midweek games this year, beating Florida State in Tallahassee, so he's the most likely starter for Saturday. However, McMahon may choose to go with upperclassmen. He could give a start to Connor Falkenbach or Darren O'Day, his two righthanded sidewinders. O'Day has been very effective in the CWS and he's capable of throwing a lot of innings. Falkenbach has a rubber arm so he can throw nearly every day, but his problem is that he sometimes gets hit pretty hard the second time through the lineup.

But, no matter who McMahon chooses to go this weekend, this Gator team is making history. This is the first time Florida has ever been within striking distance of the national title. Not bad for a team that some were giving up for dead in late April.

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