Florida baseball claims SEC crown

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida baseball has claimed the SEC Championship for the first time in five seasons. The Gators were efficient in their run scoring opportunities in rallying from one run margins twice to take a 5-2 win over South Carolina. It's Florida's 11th SEC title overall.

"All the credit goes to the players and the assistant coaches," said coach Kevin O'Sullivan. "I'm awfully proud of the way they played."

The key hit for the Gators came with two out in the top of the seventh, runners on second and third and the score tied at 2. Josh Adams was able to stroke a double to right center off South Carolina starter Sam Dyson that brought them in. That gave the Gators their first lead of the evening, and the bullpen made it stand up to secure the victory.

Adams singled home Ben McMahan with an insurance run in the ninth, meaning the second baseman drove in three runs and scored another while hitting from the ninth spot in the order. Adams has struggled with his hitting this season, but it was all worth it Friday night.

"Even though it's been a tough year, people are going to remember him - the guy with three RBIs in the SEC clinching game," said O'Sullivan

For his part, Adams "felt great to help the team for once."

Once again one of the stories of the night was Florida's ability to frustrate the Gamecock hitters with runners on base. After leaving eight on the night before, South Carolina stranded nine Friday.

Florida didn't get a hit off of Dyson until the fourth inning, but once Matt den Dekker singled they were able to manufacture a run with him stealing second and eventually scoring on an Austin Maddox sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1 each. After South Carolina scored in the bottom half of the fourth to retake the lead, Florida again tied it on a Preston Tucker triple which drove in Adams. The Gators had two runs despite only having three hits at that point.

Florida starter Hudson Randall worked into the sixth, where reliever Steven Rodriguez came in with a runner on. He struck out Bobby Haney and Scott Wingo back to back and wound up getting his first career win. Closer Kevin Chapman worked the final five outs for his second save in as many nights.

"Coach Sully told me 'We're going to have a great team and do something special,'" said Rodriguez. "That's why I came here."

While the players celebrated the win with a giant pile near the pitchers mound, it was clear they still understand there's much more to accomplish.

"We've got a lot more to earn," said Chapman.

"This really is only our first goal, and we really are battle tested now," said O'Sullivan. "Our goal is in Omaha."

Florida has now won a school record 22 SEC games for the season, and their overall record improves to 40-12. While the conference championship and the top seed at next week's SEC Baseball tournament is now secure, the Gators still have the chance to record their second consecutive sweep of South Carolina. Coming into the weekend, Florida had won the series just once in 10 trips to Columbia.

Freshman lefty Brian Johnson had been scheduled to start for the Gators, but O'Sullivan says he will now likely not pitch or only work an inning or so. Johnson will then start Florida's first game in the SEC Tournament as a way to keep the other starters closer to their usual routine. It's not clear who will start for South Carolina, but senior righty Jay Brown and freshman lefty Tyler Webb are considered the strongest candidates. O'Sullivan also intends to give a number of Florida's backups a chance to start as a way to get them some work and rest the mainstays.


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