As the ball left his bat and sailed through the humid Gainesville sky Monday night, Austin Langworthy felt optimistic.
In the 11th inning of a tense Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional against Auburn, a game that would decide which team advanced to the College World Series and which team would see its season end right there, Langworthy watched the ball whiz toward right-center field.
Auburn right fielder Steven Williams was in position to make the grab — and rob Langworthy of a hit for the third time that night — but sunk to the ground as the ball bounced off his glove and past the fence.
Welcome back to the College World Series, Florida.
Langworthy's walk-off home run sealed the top-seeded Gators' 3-2 win and clinched UF's fourth consecutive appearance in Omaha, Nebraska. Florida became just the fifth program to make it to the College World Series four consecutive times since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, joining the likes of Stanford (1999-2003), Texas (2002-2005), UNC (2006-2009) and TCU (2014-2017). It's also UF's seventh College World Series appearance under coach Kevin O'Sullivan.
"It's unbelievable. Right when I hit it I knew it had a chance," Langworthy told reporters after the game. "I wasn't sure if I quite hit it high enough, but once I hit it over the fence I was ecstatic for myself and my team to get us back to Omaha for another year."
Now, the Gators stand five wins from defending their title from last season.
And while there are some hesitations about Florida winning a second title — most of it revolving around the health of catcher JJ Schwarz — Florida has the potential to make another run.
The likely deciding factor: Florida's offense.
The Gators are hitting .278 as a team this season, 19 points higher than the .259 average from their national title run in 2017. The big difference, however, comes in the power Florida has shown this season. The Gators have hit 96 home runs this season, the third most in program history. In seven NCAA tournament games, Florida has knocked 15 balls out of the park — and that has been done without Schwarz, who has not played since breaking his right hand in UF’s 12-4 loss to Mississippi State on May 18, a span of 11 games. Schwarz is still listed as day-to-day heading into the College World Series.
UF has five players with at least eight home runs this season: third baseman Jonathan India (20), outfielder Wil Dalton (19), Schwarz (12), shortstop Deacon Liput (9) and designated hitter Nelson Maldonado (8).
The Gators open the College World Series against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. Sunday.