GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Still soaked from the ice water dumped on him during Southern Mississippi’s postgame celebration, coach Corky Palmer pulled out his cell phone and had 24 text messages.
“Somebody likes me, huh?” he said.
He’s sure to get even more love in the next few days. After all, Palmer and the Golden Eagles will be the feel-good story of the College World Series.
Joey Archer drove in three runs, reliever Scott Copeland pitched three scoreless innings and the Eagles beat Florida 7-6 on Sunday night to advance to the CWS for the first time in school history. The victory also set Palmer up for a storybook send-off in Omaha, Neb.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Palmer, who’s retiring at the end of the season. “I don’t know what happened three weeks ago. We just kind of grew up. We earned everything we got.”
They certainly earned the latest one.
The Eagles (40-24), the surprise of the NCAA tournament, overcame a five-run deficit to win for the 12th time in 15 games. The hot streak started shortly after Palmer announced his retirement. Now, they’re headed to Omaha for the first time in the program’s 63 years.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling to go to Omaha, Neb.,” second baseman James Ewing said. “I can’t even put into words how that feels.”
Archer had two huge hits to get them there. He had an RBI double in the fourth, then drove in two runs with a single in the three-run eighth off Billy Bullock (3-3).
Tyler Koelling followed with a grounder to shortstop that should’ve been an ending-inning double play with the game tied at 6. But Preston Tucker, Florida’s best player, couldn’t field the throw that skipped in the dirt.
“I think we rushed our throw a little bit, didn’t set our feet and short-hopped Preston,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Tucker singled in the ninth to give the Gators (42-22) a chance, but closer Collin Cargill got Josh Adams to hit into a game-ending double play for his 13th save.
Teammates rushed the field and piled onto Cargill, who also got a save in Saturday’s win. The 1,000 or so supporters who made the trip to Gainesville started chanting “Corky, Corky, Corky,” and two players answered the call by dousing Palmer with water.
Maybe Copeland should have gotten one, too.
The right-hander was 1-5 with a 6.81 ERA in 14 appearances this season, but he looked downright nasty against Florida. He allowed one hit and gave the Eagles a chance to mount a comeback after the Gators tagged ace Todd McInnis early.
“We’re not done yet,” Archer said, anticipating more wins in Omaha.
Florida opened up a 6-1 lead with solo home runs in the first two innings and four more in the third. Tucker’s two-out liner cleared the fence in right, then Brandon McArthur skied one to left to make it 2-1 in the second. McArthur did more damage with his next at-bat, delivering a two-out, two-run single after Josh Adams and Matt den Dekker drove in runs.
Bo Davis and Ewing had solo homers for the Eagles, who had a chance to tie it in the fourth but ran themselves out of the inning.
Corey Stevens singled home Ewing and moved to third on Archer’s RBI double. Koelling struck out, then B.A. Vollmuth walked to load the bases with one out.
Pinch-hitter Kyle Maxie lifted a fly ball into shallow right, and third-base coach Chad Caillet had Stevens tagging and testing Jonathan Pigott’s arm. Pigott’s throw was perfect and had Stevens beat by 10 feet. Stevens, though, barreled through catcher Buddy Munroe and immediately was ejected by umpire Paul Guillie.
Players from both dugouts ran onto the field, and coaches got between them to prevent the situation from escalating.
The Eagles got the final word, though, as they celebrated and posed for pictures on Florida’s field after their biggest victory in school history.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pretty successful career,” Palmer said. “But to go to this, the mountaintop of Division I baseball, this will do so much for our school and our baseball and our athletic program. I’m so proud of that.”
Mark Long/The Associated Press