Gators take dramatic series opener

The tying run was on its way home. Chase Vergason lined a single to right field, sending T.J. Costen flying around third base to tie the game -- and then he tripped. Costen lost his balance one-third of the way between third base and home plate, sliding head first on the ground. Florida catcher Taylor Gushue threw Costen out at third to end the game, giving the Gators a 3-2 win on Thursday.

"I was ready to tag him," Taylor Gushue said. "When I looked up and saw he was pretty far down the line, I was like, ‘oh, that's pretty easy.' Then I just threw him out. As soon as I caught it, I turned and saw him laying down."

The throw home from right fielder Cory Reid might have had T.J. Costen at the plate either way, but the his trip around third ended any doubt. The gap back to third base was too far for him to make up. Gushue gunned the ball to third base where Josh Tobias caught it, dropped his knee in front of the base and kept Costen from getting back.

And the Florida dugout emptied in a hurry. Closer Johnny Magliozzi, who was expected to start on Saturday and still might, was called on to come in and save the game after Ryan Harris walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth. Gushue and Magliozzi celebrated while the rest of their teammates joined them on the field.

"I think it would've been a close play (at home) regardless, but obviously he slipped," Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Our catcher made a really nice throw to third. Josh put his knee in front and (Costen) didn't get back to the bag. It was a nice way to end it -- a weird way -- but we had a feeling going into the ninth inning that it wouldn't be a 1-2-3 inning. It never is against really good teams."

And it definitely never is against South Carolina. The two programs have played close matchups during the regular season over the last three years and met in Omaha as a part of the College World Series in each of the last two years -- including the championship series in 2011.

The Gators held their 3-2 lead since the fourth inning. After singles by Vickash Ramjit and Harrison Bader, the Gators gave Bader the green light to steal second, and South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner's throw to second was wild. That allowed Ramjit to score, giving the Gators their third run of the game.

"We're being a lot more aggressive," O'Sullivan said. "You're going to run yourself out of some innings and get picked off more than you want, but we don't have guys that can hit three-run homers. You've got to take some chances and take some risks. You're hoping it works out, and tonight it did."

While the Gators scored their runs with small ball, junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford settled in on the mound. He threw 6.2 innings, giving up seven hits, two walks and two runs while striking out five hitters. He velocity held through the entire game, touching 96 mph in his final innings of work.

His only blemish came in the third inning -- the inning after Florida scored its first two runs -- by allowing the Gamecocks to tie the game on a wild pitch and a two-out RBI single to LB Dantzler.

"I was bearing down," Crawford said. "I like this weather and pitching in it. I've just got to stay consistent. When I make a bad pitch, I can't have my mind racing. I've got to stay locked in. I was staying over the rubber and getting some sink."

The Gators now hope to carry that momentum into Friday's second game at 7:30 p.m. Florida will send freshman left-hander Danny Young (1-3, 3.38) to the mound to face South Carolina sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (3-0, 0.78). Young has a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 innings during SEC play.

The youth of the Gators has been an issue throughout the season, and they're hoping that the team is starting to turn the corner.

"We're a really young team, but we're starting to play really good baseball," Crawford said. "We've just got to stay with it."

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