Fontana's Clutch Triple Wins Series

COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Gamecocks were in control. Relievers Tyler Webb and Matt Price retired 17 of the first 20 batters they faced. With two outs in the ninth, the Florida rally began. Nolan Fontana, who was 2-37 against South Carolina before the at-bat, lined a two-run triple into the right-center gap, sparking No. 1 Florida to a series win after a 5-4 victory Saturday.

The momentum was in the South Carolina dugout from the third inning until the ninth. Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third behind home runs by Daniel Pigott and Mike Zunino. The Gamecocks chipped away and tied it in the fifth inning.

South Carolina reliever Tyler Webb tossed 3.2 shutout innings to hold the Florida bats down. Gamecocks closer Matt Price came out of the bullpen, to the theme song from The Price is Right, with two outs in the seventh inning.

"It gets awfully loud when Price comes in—I know that," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said about the third straight sellout crowd of 8,242. "You go, ‘here we go again.' The fans here do a wonderful job of getting behind their team, and you've got to weather some storms."

Florida did just that, starting a rally from the least expected place in the order. Eighth hitter Vickash Ramjit walked on four pitches to bring Cody Dent to the plate. Dent was 1-8 with a bunt single and four strikeouts on the weekend before Price hit him in the back with a 3-2 pitch.

That's when Fontana did his damage, lining a ball over the second baseman's head and it rolled to the fence for a triple. Despite going 2-37 in his career against South Carolina before the at-bat, Fontana said he didn't know that was true.

"It's the game of baseball," Nolan Fontana said. "You can't ever think about that because you can't do anything about the past. I'm glad I got that opportunity today."

Florida closer Austin Maddox, who was on the mound for the final two outs in the eighth inning, gave up a solo home run in the ninth inning but recorded the final three outs to end the game.

Maddox struggled and gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Friday. He bounced back and was the dominant closer he had been all season.

"He doesn't get nervous," O'Sullivan said. "I think he gets over anxious, over amped and maybe too much adrenaline," O'Sullivan said. "You'd rather have it that way than the other way, but he'll learn from this. He'll be better for it."

The Gators got a solid start from Jonathon Crawford. The sophomore right-hander threw five innings and gave up four hits, three runs (one earned), and one walk while striking out two hitters. He was hurt by his defense in the fourth inning when a ball bounced over third baseman Cody Dent for a single and Daniel Pigott lost a fly ball in the sky. Both of those runners scored and were unearned.

"He threw strikes," O'Sullivan said. "You've got to remember he threw (4.2 innings) last year. To pitch in front of the fans here in South Carolina where they're very supportive of their home team, I thought he did great. It's a learning experience for him.

"Sometimes you take for granted that because a kid has a good arm he's going to go out there and dominate. There are some nerves and some unsettledness they've got to get through. It's another step forward for him."

Steven Rodriguez came in and gave Florida 2.1 shutout innings while allowing just one base runner on a walk. He was pulled after that walk and Maddox came in to pitch. Rodriguez was the perfect bridge from Crawford to Maddox.

"Paco was outstanding," O'Sullivan said. "If Paco doesn't come in and settle things down for 2.1 (innings)—that was probably the best he threw all year."

After getting beat by six runs on Thursday night, O'Sullivan was happy with the way his team responded. It's to be expected from the veteran team, but the head coach wouldn't take it for granted.

Despite the injuries of losing Karsten Whitson for weeks, Tyler Thompson's season ending when he tore his ACL and Josh Tobias expected to be out 3-4 weeks with a fractured hamate bone, the Gators continue to push through adversity and play well.

"We got beat good on Thursday night," O'Sullivan said. "They got us good. We didn't hang our heads—just came out the next day and swung the bats early. With a rubber match today, it could've been easy after we take a three-run lead and then come back and tie it. Then you feel the momentum going."

Karsten Whitson threw a bullpen before Saturday's game and felt good. O'Sullivan said they brought out the radar gun to gauge his velocity, and it sat in the low 90s with his fastball. O'Sullivan was encouraged with how Whitson threw, but he was still unsure whether he'll start Tuesday against Florida State in Jacksonville or next Sunday at Ole Miss.

"He threw today and looked very good," O'Sullivan said. "He looked comfortable. The next few days will be telling to see how his arm responds. It was very encouraging today."

If Whitson doesn't start on Tuesday at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, O'Sullivan said Bobby Poyner or John Magliozzi could get the ball. Either way, O'Sullivan pointed out that the game will likely be pitched by committee.

First pitch on Tuesday is set for 7 p.m., and will be live in Jacksonville to cover it.

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