Five-Run Fifth Inning Dooms Florida

OMAHA, Neb. – Brian Johnson flirted with disaster in the first four innings but managed to wiggle out of it. He couldn't do it in the fifth. Five straight South Carolina hitters reached to start the inning against Johnson. Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan waited until back-to-back doubles scored four runs and gave the Gamecocks a lead they wouldn't relinquish, cruising to a 7-3 win on Saturday.

It could've been worse for Brian Johnson. He didn't a run in the first four innings while stranding seven runners on base. South Carolina made hard contact early, but the junior left-hander made big pitches to get out of the jam.

That came crashing down in the fifth. Evan Marzilli doubled to start the inning and Christian Walker singled to follow. After Adam Matthews walked to load the bases, Kevin O'Sullivan went to the mound to talk to Johnson. With his pitch count in the low 80s already and hard contact happening against him in the first four innings, O'Sullivan left him in the game.

Erik Payne followed with a three-run triple, and with Johnson still in the game, LB Dantzler doubled to center field, pushing the South Carolina lead to 4-2 in the fifth.

"We elected to let Brian pitch to Payne," O'Sullivan said. "Obviously, Payne had a good at-bat and so did Dantzler. It was just one of those things. We had a two-run lead."

The fifth inning was marred with big hits for the Gamecocks, but the Florida meltdown came in the ninth inning. With the game a two-run deficit, the Florida defense fell apart.

With a runner on third and one out, O'Sullivan brought in Steven Rodriguez. His first pitch got past catcher Mike Zunino to allow the run to score. After getting a tapper back to the mound that should've ended the inning, Rodriguez bobbled it and allowed the runner to reach. An infield single followed before first baseman Vickash Ramjit overthrew Rodriguez at first base for another error to score another run and make it 7-3.

In the five previous NCAA Tournament games, the Gators made two errors—an outfield fielding and throwing error. On Saturday, three Florida errors loomed large.

"It was uncharacteristic," O'Sullivan said. "We just did not have a clean inning, and I was hoping we'd try to keep it to two (runs)."

Keenan Kish did provide Florida with three innings out of the bullpen, allowing one run and saving other arms.

The Florida offense got off to a good start. With runners on the corners and two outs, Preston Tucker hit a line drive the opposite way. South Carolina left fielder Tanner English broke in on the ball before racing backwards and jumping to attempt the catch.

It wasn't enough, and the ball went over his head for a two-run double. Florida wasn't able to capitalize on that lead.

"It's about grinding out at-bats and scoring runs when you have to. There were some unfortunate balls right at people. South Carolina had the same thing, and they grinded it out. I think they had better at-bats when it counted, and that's what hurt us."

Michael Roth held Florida to three runs in 6.1 innings of work.

The Gators will play an elimination game against Kent State on Monday at 5 p.m. EST. Hudson Randall will start on the mound for Florida. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

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