“They were a little bit better than us in all phases,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They pitched a little better, they hit a little better and they played a little bit better defense. We knew it was going to be a great series after being involved in the SEC all year long.”
South Carolina starting pitcher Michael Roth was dominant, allowing just five hits and two runs in 7.2 innings. Roth exited the game with a career College World Series ERA of 1.17, the second best in history for a starting pitcher throwing at least 30 innings.
The Gators managed to get the leadoff runner on base in five of their nine plate appearances, but that’s when the trouble started. Florida went 1-for-9 Tuesday with runners in scoring position and 2-for-18 in the two games of the championship series.
“You’ve just got to stick with your approach,” Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. “(Roth) made some quality pitches tonight. Some people wish they had some pitches back, but we didn’t execute with runners in scoring position. It’s part of the game.”
The Florida offense was deflated by the fifth and sixth inning. In the fifth, a pitch hit Brian Johnson to start the inning and Vickash Ramjit followed with a single. Roth then struck out Cody Dent, who was trying to bunt, and got Bryson Smith to ground into a double play.
In the sixth, a pitch hit Nolan Fontana to start the inning and Zunino followed with a single. Preston Tucker then struck out before Josh Adams and Daniel Pigott grounded out.
Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson breezed through the first two innings, but he ran into trouble in the third when his command wasn’t as sharp. Scott Wingo got the Gamecocks on the board with a sacrifice fly for the second out of the inning. Two batters later, Whitson got a ground ball from Christian Walker to shortstop.
It was a tough short hop for Fontana, and bounced off his glove and into the outfield to score a run. Brady Thomas would follow with an RBI single to give South Carolina an early 3-0 lead.
“I just started nibbling a little bit,” Whitson said, referring to him trying to be too accurate with his pitches. “Then I started pitching behind in the count, walked a few guys and hit a few. It wasn’t very good execution on my part. I just tried to keep my team in the game as best as possible.”
The Gators got on the board in the fourth inning when Zunino broke out of his 3-for-17 College World Series slump. He drove a mistake off-speed pitch from Roth into the left field bleachers. Zunino added a single and double to finish 3-for-3 with a walk.
After his double, Zunino scored on an RBI single by Josh Adams in the last at-bat of his career.