One win to go for SEC title

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida is one win away from their first SEC baseball championship under coach Kevin O'Sullivan. The Gators handed South Carolina their first defeat in an SEC series opening game all season, 3-2. UF's relievers were the stars of the night, working 5.2 innings of one run ball to secure the triumph.

Florida got on the board in the top of the third inning when leftfielder Tyler Thompson crushed a solo shot off Gamecocks starter Blake Cooper into South Carolina's bullpen behind the right centerfield wall. It was Thompson's second homer of the season.

Thompson was "just looking for something over the plate to put in play", but he gave Florida a lead they never relinquished.

A Daniel Pigott double later in the inning set him up to be driven in by a Preston Tucker single, which made it 2-0 Gators. They tacked on another run in the top of the fourth on a Josh Adams RBI groundout, which turned out to be the end of their scoring.

Although starter Alex Panteliodis was able to keep the Gamecocks off the scoreboard early, he threw a lot of pitches in doing so. South Carolina had the bases loaded in the bottom of the third before Parker Bangs flied out to end the threat. With the sophomore's pitch count at 80 after three innings, it was clear O'Sullivan was going to have to go to his bullpen earlier than he would have preferred.

After Bobby Haney's single got the Gamecocks on the board in the fourth, O'Sullivan summoned Jeff Barfield to deal with a bases loaded situation against South Carolina's home run leader Whit Merrifield. Barfield struck out Merrifield and Jackie Bradley, Jr. back to back to end the threat.

"I was thinking strikeout on the first batter but was just pitching to the second one," said Barfield. "At two strikes, I started thinking strikeout on him too."

"That was probably the difference in the game, to be honest with you," said O'Sullivan.

"That was huge. The game ball's definitely going to him," said closer Kevin Chapman.

Daniel Pigott was more succinct, adding "that was awesome."

Barfield allowed a solo homer to Jeffrey Jones in the fifth but otherwise kept the Gamecocks in check until Merrifield singled off him to start the bottom of the seventh.

O'Sullivan brought in lefty Steven Rodriguez at that point to face Bradley, who he struck out. Merrifield then was thrown out while trying to steal by Gator catcher Mike Zunino to extinguish the threat. Chapman worked a scoreless two innings to get the save.

"I wanted to attack the hitters and make them earn it," said Chapman. He does not expect working two innings to have any effect on his availability for the next two games.

Florida improves to 39-12 on the season and 21-7 in SEC play. Barfield picked up the win while Gamecocks starter Blake Cooper was stuck with his first loss of the season.

Game two of the series will feature a matchup of righty starters with a major experience gap. Tampa native Sam Dyson will go for the Gamecocks. The fourth year junior has been SEC Pitcher of the Week twice this season, and is 5-4 with a 3.79 ERA. He'll be facing Florida freshman Hudson Randall, who's 6-3 with a 2.96 ERA this season.

"Obviously the series is a long way from over" said O'Sullivan. "Last night is last night has been our motto all year long and it definitely is here."

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