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Ashton Wilson emerges as X-factor for resurgent Gators at Super Regional

GAINESVILLE — Florida outfielder Ashton Wilson entered the Gators’ final weekend to salvage their season having done little to suggest what was to come.

But Wilson ended the NCAA Stillwater Regional as its MVP, an X-factor for a resurgent team and folk hero for a frustrated fan base.

Wilson’s performance at Oklahoma State came out of nowhere, but just in the nick of time.

With consecutive wins while facing elimination against the host, the unseeded Gators (32-28) advanced to this weekend’s Super Regional at No. 6 Clemson (44-14) with the fewest wins of the 16 remaining teams and a realistic chance to advance to the College World Series.

“Ashton has certainly made the most of his opportunity and he’s worked hard,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

UF sophomore right fielder Ashton Wilson (right) celebrates with teammate Dale Thomas during a 4-hit day against Nebraska May 31 during the NCAA Stillwater Regional. (UF's University Athletic Association Communications/John Paternoster)
UF sophomore right fielder Ashton Wilson (30) celebrateswith teammate Dale Thomas with four hits against Nebraska last week during the Stillwater Regional. (Courtesy of UF’s University Athletic Association)

Wilson, who hails from Orlando and played at Ocoee’s TNXL Academy, was ready for his chance after season-ending injuries forced him into the lineup with the Gators’ season on the line after slipping into the NCAA Tournament field.

The sophomore transfer from Charleston entered the opening game at Stillwater against Nebraska showing some modest form. Wilson managed 4 hits in four games after he stepped in for freshman right fielder Hayden Yost, who tore his ACL on May 15 soon after recently replacing starter Ty Evans (broken wrist).

But a record-setting day did not appear in the offing.

Facing 2024 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brett Sears, Wilson hit a home run and three doubles in five at-bats for a UF record 10 total bases in a game during a 5-2 win against the Cornhuskers.

“You need to have surprise stories at this time of the year to make a run,” O’Sullivan said.

UF sophomore Ashton Wilson reacts after one of his three doubles against Nebraska May 31, 2024 at O'Brate Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., during the NCAA Regional. (UF's University Athletic Association Communications/John Paternoster)
UF sophomore Ashton Wilson stands on second base after one of his three doubles against Nebraska at O’Brate Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., during an NCAA Regional. (Courtesy of UF’s University Athletic Association)

The next day Wilson found himself batting No. 3 behind Gators star slugger Jac Caglianone, who is expected to be a top-5 pick in the MLB Draft, and ahead of shortstop Colby Shelton, whose 20 home runs are second to Caglianone’s 31.

“It’s been really cool,” Wilson said. “I came from a smaller school so then coming here and playing, the guys around me have talent that I’ve never even witnessed before. To see the guy hitting before me and the guy hitting after me, it’s just so cool to see how good they are.”

Wilson struggled in his new role, going 0 of 4 with 2 strikeouts during the Gators’ 7-1 loss to Oklahoma State forced them into the losers bracket.

O’Sullivan stuck with his strategy.

Wilson answered with 5 hits, 4 runs, 3 RBI and a steal during three consecutive wins, including a pair against Oklahoma State. He ended the 9-for-21 (.429) with 3 doubles, a home run, 6 RBI, 5 runs and 2 steals in five games.

The Gators can’t expect another MVP effort at Clemson, but Wilson is suddenly an integral part of O’Sullivan’s plans.

“We certainly wouldn’t hit him in the three-hole if we didn’t trust him,” he said.

Wilson earned O’Sullivan’s respect while performing the mundane chore of charting pitches during the season’s early months. The 6-foot, 195-pound utility fielder took just seven at-bats during February, March and April.

It was not quite how Wilson envisioned his future at UF after transferring, but it’s hard to argue with results.

“It paid off,” he said.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at moc.lenitnesodnalro@nospmohtge

NCAA Clemson Super Regional

UF (32-28) at No. 6 Clemson (44-14)

When: Game 1, 2 p.m., Saturday

Game 2, 2:30 p.m., Sunday

Game 3, TBD, Monday, if necessary

TV: ESPN

At stake: One of eight spots for College World Series

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