lorida Gators third baseman Dale Thomas celebrates with assistant coach Taylor Black after hitting an RBI double against the Texas A&M Aggies during the seventh inning at Charles Schwab Field Omaha on Saturday. [Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports]

Gators Face Elimination Against NC State, But They’ve Been Here Before

After a four hour, 15-minute weather delay, off the field antics from disgusting fans and multiple bang-bang plays ending with a home-run robbery, the Florida Gators left two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth before falling 3-2 to the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday night in their College World Series opener.

The Gators (34-29) now look season-ending elimination dead in the eyes Monday against the No. 10 national seed  NC State Wolfpack (38-22) in the loser’s bracket at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN, 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF).

However, facing the pressure of elimination is something the Gators have not only played through this season, but thrived.

Florida is 3-0 when facing elimination in the NCAA Tournament this year.

At this point, the Gators have nothing to lose and everything to play for, which could prove dangerous for any opponent to mess with. But how long can the sparks last on the biggest stage?

This year alone, the Gators boast 19 come-from-behind wins, with 12 of the team’s 13 SEC victories coming in comeback fashion. The Gators also wield four walk-off victories this season.

They will be the away team against NC State on Monday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Neb. A win would put UF in another elimination game at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Texas A&M plays Kentucky in a winner’s bracket game at 7 p.m. Monday.

How NC State Got Here

The Wolfpack dropped their CWS opener via walk-off home run to the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats in a 10-inning nail-biter 5-4 Saturday.

The Pack broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth against the Wildcats (46-14) in what was an airtight game. Kentucky responded in the ninth to regain the tie followed by a homer to left from Mitchell Daly to secure Kentucky’s first win in the College World Series.

Matchup Against Florida

NC State faces a win-or-go home game once again after being in the same situation just a week ago against Georgia in the Athens Super Regional where they sent the Dawgs packing.

Left-hander Dominic Fritton (slight chance Logan Whitaker, a right-hander with a 3-1, 6.06 ERA mark) is expected to get the start for the Wolfpack against the Gators and is coming off a loss to Georgia in his last appearance where he gave up seven earned runs in three innings, with five of those runs coming from two homers.

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The Gators, who rank fifth nationally with 131 long balls on the season, could fare well against Fritton (3-6, 7.35 ERA) as they’ve lived and died by the homer many times in the season.

If Florida does indeed tee off on Fritton, you could expect to see another lefty in freshman Ryan Marohn (4-2, 3.97), who has the third most starts for the Pack, out of the pen to try and eat innings.

At the plate, NC State is very top heavy.

Seven of the Wolfpack’s 10 hits against Kentucky came from the first four batters along with four walks, anchored by catcher Jacob Cozart (.308, 19 home runs.

Cozart is coming off a 3-for-4 day at the plate against Kentucky in the 3-hole, while third baseman Alec Makarewicz (.380, 23 homers, 82 RBIs) went 2-for-5 with a homer.

Gators Need Some Juice

In what could potentially be two-way player of the year Jac Caglianone’s (5-2, 4.71 ERA) final start on the mound for Florida, the Gators need some extra juice that was missing for the first half of Game 1 against the Aggies (50-13).

Florida has blazed through the NCAA Tournament with hot bats while the pitching caught up. But the Gators struck out six of the first 10 batters they sent to the plate (16 total), stranding 10 runners throughout Saturday’s loss.

Simply put: The hitters looked timid and unsure at the plate

Unlike NC State, the Gators had production on the opposite end of the lineup in Game 1. Caglianone (2-for-3) was the only batter of the first four Gators with a hit, while the Ashton Wilson and Colby Shelton in the three-four hole combined for seven strikeouts.

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Dale Thomas, who’s been an inferno this postseason, shined in the seven-hole going 2-for-4 with an RBI, followed by Michael Robertson who also collected two hits and an RBI.

Right-hander Liam Peterson didn’t stay on the mound as long as coach Kevin O’Sullivan would have liked, but Fisher Jameson and Brandon Neely cleaned up with shutdown arms out of the pen by combining for five scoreless frames.

Neely, who’s been the hero when the Gators are in distress, only threw 29 pitches. He will be available along with a multitude of other arms for the pitching staff to get creative and give a full-team effort.

Florida bounced back once with its back against the wall this postseason, and with the availability of arms, all the Gators need is to settle in at the plate and bring the same fire and swag that carried them to Omaha in the first place.

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