By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay
Gavin Kash homered twice and San Antonio’s Brandon Beckel earned a two-out save, propelling the Texas Tech Red Raiders to a 5-4 victory Saturday over the national No. 2-seeded Florida Gators in the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
Beckel, from Antonian High School, faced a stressful situation in the ninth inning with Tech leading by the eventual final score, with a runner on first base and with Florida star Jac Caglianone at the plate.
Caglianone entered the at bat with 29 home runs on the season, including a two-run shot in the sixth inning, but Beckel got him to pop up to the infield for the last out of the game.
With the victory, the Red Raiders improved to 2-0 in the regional and moved into the finals with high hopes of advancing to next week’s Super Regional round.
On Sunday afternoon, Florida will take on Connecticut in a battle of once-beaten teams. The loser is out, and the winner will play Texas Tech in the finals Sunday night. Tech needs to win only once for the regional title. Its opponent would need to win Sunday and Monday to advance.
“It’s definitely a lot easier to win (a regional) when winning the first two than losing the second or first one,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said in comments published on the school’s athletics website. “It’s very hard to do it the other way. Definitely puts you in a good spot.
“At the same time, I think we got a group that has the utmost respect for the other teams and the game. We’ll go eat dinner. Enjoy it for a little bit, and then get ready to go tomorrow.”
For Texas Tech, Austin Green hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Kash, a transfer from Texas, hit a solo shot in the fifth inning and a two-run blast in the eighth.
In the eighth-inning uprising, San Antonio’s Zac Vooletich from Brandeis High School singled to center. Kash followed by smashing a ball to center that made it 5-3.
The top of the ninth was tense, with Florida fans on edge. Tech reliever Derek Bridges got the first out, getting Colby Halter on a ground ball. The next batter up, pinch hitter Dale Thomas, tripled into the gap in right center. At that point, Texas Tech brought in Beckel, who had pitched two innings of scoreless relief in Friday’s victory over Connecticut.
Cade Kurland, Florida’s leadoff man, grounded to second base on a play that brought Thomas home. Trailing by one, Florida needed only a few more positive things to happen to pull off the comeback.
Florida fans got one of the two. Wyatt Langford beat out an infield single, but Caglianone popped up on an 0-1 count for the final out. With the victory secured, Beckel earned his seventh save of the season.
Kyle Robinson, Ryan Free, Ethan Coombes (the winner, who improved to 4-0), Bridges and Beckel combined to hold the Gators to eight hits. Tech pitching struck out 10 and walked three. Langford led the Gators with two hits and two runs scored.
Caglianone was one for five with the two-run homer off Free, which tied the game, 3-3.
In the day’s earlier game, Connecticut eliminated Florida A&M, 9-6.