Gators Lose SEC Opener in Extra Innings

Third-seeded South Carolina (41-16) outlasted sixth-seeded Florida (28-29), 4-3, in 12 innings on Wednesday afternoon in opening-round action of the 2007 SEC Tournament at Regions Park.

The Gators will next take on seventh-seeded Alabama (31-25) at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the first elimination contest. Junior right-hander Bryan Augenstein (Sebastian, Fla.) (7-5, 5.24) will draw the starting assignment against Tide junior lefty Will Stroup (3-0, 4.61). With the victory, the seventh-ranked Gamecocks next face second-seeded Arkansas (39-18), the Western Division champion, at 6 p.m. tomorrow night.

In the 12th, Carolina sophomore Justin Smoak reached on a fielding error by freshman shortstop Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.) and moved to second on a balk by senior David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.). After an intentional walk to junior Phil Disher, junior Trent Kline dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position. An intentional walk to freshman pinch hitter Kyle Enders loaded the bases for junior Harley Lail, who punched a single past the drawn in Gator infield to score Smoak with the decisive run. All four of USC's runs on the afternoon were unearned. Senior Jeff Jeffords (6-1) pitched one scoreless inning to earn the decision, while Hurst (2-2) suffered the loss despite matching a career-high with 5.1 innings. The southpaw permitted five hits with two strikeouts and a pair of walks.

The Gators took advantage of three walks from junior Harris Honeycutt and used a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) to open the scoring in the second stanza. Senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and moved over on a wild pitch. Senior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) and Chris Petrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) earned back-to-back free passes to fill the sacks and Neer lofted his third sac fly into right field to bring across Leclerc. Honeycutt had freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) pop up to short to end the frame.

Florida tallied two runs on four hits in the third to take a 3-0 lead. Figueroa started things off with his 12th double and Barnes followed with seventh two-bagger to switch places with his teammate. A grounder by Leclerc advanced Barnes to third and Townsend walked for runners on the corners and two down. Pride poked an RBI single up the middle and Petrie legged out an infield hit to load the bases. Honeycutt induced a ground ball by Neer that forced Petrie at second to hold the Gamecocks' deficit at three runs.

Freshman Kyle Mullaney (Jacksonville, Fla.) issued a walk to Kline to begin the bottom of the fourth but then had sophomore Andrew Crisp ground into a 5-4-3 double play, the second Florida had turned in the ballgame. Lail punched a single into center field and senior Cheyne Hurst walked for two USC runners aboard. Sophomore second baseman Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.) snagged a line drive by sophomore Reese Havens to halt the threat.

South Carolina narrowed the gap to 3-2 in the sixth courtesy of two unearned runs. Disher reached on a throwing error by Figueroa and Kline walked before a wild pitch by Mullaney put both players in scoring position. Senior Robbie Grinestaff delivered a pinch-hit RBI single into shallow center to put the Gamecocks on the board and Hurst's sac fly to center scored Kline. Mullaney jammed Haven on an infield fly to preserve UF's lead.

den Dekker opened the seventh with a base-hit up the middle and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Figueroa. After walking Barnes, Honeycutt (6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 5 K) was replaced by junior Curtis Johnson. Although a free pass to senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) loaded the bases, the right-hander had Leclerc fly out and caught junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.) looking on strikes.

In the bottom of the frame, the Gamecocks evened the score on a sac fly by Disher. Junior Travis Jones reached on a fielding error by Townsend and a single through the right side by sophomore James Darnell left runners on first and third and prompted a pitching change. Hurst then came out of the bullpen for Mullaney, who scattered five hits and allowed zero earned runs over six innings. Hurst retired second-team All-SEC recipient Smoak on a fly ball to right before Disher tied the game with the sacrifice to center.

Hurst sent the game to extra innings by working out of trouble in the bottom of the ninth. Havens and Jones delivered consecutive one-out singles and a fielder's choice by Darnell left runners on the corners. Hurst had Smoak pop up to Townsend in foul territory to give the fans free baseball.

Florida mounted a rally in the 10th, as Leclerc walked and Townsend reached on a fielder's choice to put two men aboard. However, Johnson had Pride ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. The Gamecocks' Havens and Jones had back-to-back singles with two down in the 11th and Hurst had Darnell fly out to center.

Jeffords replaced Johnson (4.2 IP, 0 H, 5 K) to begin the 12th and gave up a single to short by Figueroa. Barnes advanced his teammate with a sac bunt and LaPorta was walked intentionally for the 29th time this season. A flyout to center by Leclerc nudged Figueroa to third and Jeffords responded with a strikeout of Townsend.

South Carolina held a 10-6 advantage in hits, led by two apiece from Darnell, Havens, Jones, Lail. Figueroa went 2-for-5 in his postseason debut for Florida. Each squad left 11 runners on base.

Courtesy UF Sports Information

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