The Gators (37-6, 14-5 SEC) trailed the Gamecocks (33-9/14-5 SEC) from the bottom of the first inning until the top of the ninth when a pair of unlikely solo home runs deleted a 4-3 deficit and delivered the final 5-4 tally giving the Gators the win in the first of a three game weekend series. Both teams now are tied for the best record in the SEC.
South Carolina took an early lead and held off the Gators as long as they could. After a scoreless eighth frame, Florida trailed 4-3 with the bottom half of the order due up and just three outs remaining.
The Gamecocks drew blood first off of Florida starter Logan Shore (4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER) who just a weekend ago recorded his school record 14th straight win. Shore walked John Jones before Gamecock Alex Destino just cleared the right field fence for a two-run home run.
“I thought Logan kept us in there,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said following the game. In an environment like this, the fans are into it, to fall behind 2-0 in the first we could have fallen apart there. He just kept battling. That’s what he does all the time.”
“It was a heck of a game. It’s a shame anybody had to lose. It was back and forth. I would expect tomorrow to be the same. It should be an exciting finish to the weekend.”
South Carolina ace Clarke Schmidt (6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER) hassled the Gators for five innings holding the nation’s top team to one hit and no runs through the first 15 outs. In the meantime, Shore gave up the opening inning home run and then another single shot over the left field fence by catcher Chris Cullen in the bottom of the fifth.
With a 3-0 deficit, the Gator bats finally found a little momentum in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Florida freshman Deacon Liput hit a nasty grounder toward first that was recorded as an error and he found his way on first base. That set the stage for sophomore J.J. Schwarz to park the ball in the left field bleachers for the Gators first two runs of the ball game.
O’Sullivan was happy to see South Carolina starter Schmidt, who was relieved after 99 pitches, finally hit his limit.
“I thought Schmidt was really sharp early,” O’Sullivan said. “He kept making pitches on the edges of the plate, kept expanding the outer half of the plate. I thought we had a good game plan but he kept executing his pitches. You can have the best game plan you want, but if the guy on the mound is executing pitches there’s not much you can do.”
In the bottom of the sixth Cullen would strike again for the Gamecocks. With Kirby Snead on the mound replacing Shore for the final out of the fourth inning, Gamecock third baseman Jonah Bride led off the top of the fifth with a double in the right field corner. Dane Dunning (3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER) would then replace Snead. Madison Stokes would sacrifice bunt Bride to third before Cullen would double down the left field line scoring Bride and giving the Gamecocks a 4-2 advantage.
Dunning would then shut things down for the Gamecocks until being relieved in the ninth.
The Gators added another run in the seventh to cut the deficit to one. Sophomore catcher Mike Rivera walked with one out and advanced to second after Nelson Maldonado’s second single of the night right up the middle. Rivera would score on a blooper single to center field by Jeremy Vasquez who was inserted in place of Ryan Larson at the plate.
With Dunning getting through the eighth inning without giving up another run, the Gators came to the plate in the ninth with a different look in their eyes. Freshman Jonathan India facing South Carolina ace closer Josh Reagan launched the ball in the left field bleachers to start the ninth inning and tie the game. With two outs, fellow freshman Nick Horvath, another batter inserted at the right time, bested India’s shot by about 15-20 feet sending the ball deep over the bleachers in left field.
India was quick to praise his teammate who pinch hit and came in dry for his bomb to deep left field for the first home run of his career.
“[Horvath’s home run] was a big moment to take the lead like that at a great place like South Carolina,” India said. “For him especially since he doesn’t play every day. When he gets his chances he makes the most of it. It was awesome.”
With a 5-4 lead, O’Sullivan would bring in closer Shaun Anderson to try and finish the Gamecocks off. Gamecock LT Tolbert would lead off the inning with a single before Marcus Mooney would ground into a 6-4-3 double play to leave just one out left. After Anderson walked Gene Cone, Dom Thompson-Williams came to the plate and represented the winning run for the Gamecocks. Thompson-Williams hit a bomb that came up just short and in the glove of Maldonado at the warning track in left field.
The Gators survived to take the first of the three game series and will meet Saturday at 7 p.m. for game two of the series.