Bullpen Struggles in Series Opening Loss

COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Florida bullpen was dominant for the first 21 games of the season. That changed in the first game of the series with South Carolina. Florida closer Austin Maddox became human for the first time this season and the bullpen totaled seven runs allowed and five walks. Those extra base runners came back to hurt the Gators as their 18-game winning streak came to an end Friday.

"For the first six innings, it was probably as good as advertised with what everybody thought," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.

After Evan Marzilli started the seventh inning with a single off Steven Rodriguez, O'Sullivan didn't hesitate. He went to his closer, giving the ball to Austin Maddox. He had allowed one run and no walks in 18.1 innings to start the season.

Joey Pankake laid down a sacrifice bunt before Maddox walked Christian Walker and LB Dantzler to load the bases. Freshman designated hitter Kyle Martin grounded a single up the first base line to score two and give South Carolina a 4-2 lead.

Two batters later, Erik Payne lined a double into the right-center field gap to give the Gamecocks a 6-2 lead.

"The walks hurt us," O'Sullivan said. "When you do that in situations like that, those guys are bound to score."

Maddox wasn't able to command many of his pitches. His fastball wasn't located well and his changeup didn't look as sharp as it has in the early parts of the season.

"He looked a little off because he has been throwing strikes," O'Sullivan said. "He did not look like he has. He'll bounce back if we need him."

The Gamecocks scored three runs in the eighth inning against Florida freshmen relievers Ryan Harris and Corey Stump.

The late inning struggles overshadowed a strong performance from starting pitcher Hudson Randall. The junior loaded the bases to start the game with nobody out before striking out three hitters in a row to get out of the jam.

"My whole purpose as a pitcher is to not let them touch home plate," Randall said. "Anything I could do to keep them from doing that is what I was thinking."

Randall ended the game throwing 5.2 innings, allowing seven hits, two runs, one walk and striking out a career-high 11 hitters.

"My arm felt good," Randall said. "I started out a little wild, but I battled through that first inning and found my stuff."

In the third inning, Randall induced a fly ball off to left field off Walker's bat. Florida left fielder Justin Shafer got under the ball but misplayed it and allowed it to drop. After Shafer hit when Florida came to the plate, O'Sullivan sent Cody Dent in to play center field and moved Daniel Pigott to left field.

"He just dropped it, so we just made the (move)," O'Sullivan said. "We wanted to sure up the defense. We knew it was going to be a low scoring game. Cody has been looking good when we've worked with him in the last week. He has played out there before."

After South Carolina ace Michael Roth allowed two runs in 6.2 innings, the Gamecocks made a surprising move. Head coach Ray Tanner gave the ball to Matt Price for the final 2.1 innings. Price has been the second starting pitcher all year after serving as the closer for the Gamecocks the last two years.

Tanner threw him back in that role on Friday night to shut down the game.

"I thought it was Koumas out there warming up because I thought Price was going to start tomorrow," O'Sullivan said. "He threw really good. He dialed it up. He's a competitor, and I'm sure he was wanting to be in that situation in the end."

Florida and South Carolina will continue the series with game two at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The Gators will send junior left-hander Brian Johnson (3-0, 3.16). The Gamecocks were unsure about their starting pitcher after Price closed the game, but sophomore right-hander Forrest Koumas (1-1, 2.13) is expected to make the start.

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