The Price is right again

Matt Price returned to his familiar role out of the bullpen to shut down #1 Florida and eighth-ranked South Carolina scored seven runs in the seventh and eighth inning to pull away for a 9-3 win Thursday night. The Gamecocks picked up their first SEC win of the season while the Gators suffered their first loss in SEC play.

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner threw a curveball that no one saw coming in Thursday's series-opener with #1 Florida. The Gators didn't know what hit them. Tanner brought in Matt Price, Friday's scheduled starter, in the top of the seventh to shut down the Gator offense over the final two-plus innings and the Gamecocks scored four runs in their half of the seventh and three more in the eighth to blow open what was a tie game in a 9-3 win at Carolina Stadium.

"I know, personally, that that bus ride home from Kentucky when all three of those games were still in balance, I'm not sure if (Price) would have been there in the fifth or sixth inning, but I also thought that if he pitches in relief, we might get at least one on that road trip, if not two," Tanner said. "We talked about it with Matt and decided that if this game presented itself in at least a tie situation by the seventh, we were going to try to make it happen."

That's exactly when Price entered the game. With the game still very much up in limbo. Price struck out Daniel Pigott looking to end the frame and set up the frame that broke it open. Kyle Martin's two-run single with the bases loaded gave Carolina a 4-2 lead, and two batters later Erik Payne came through with a two-run double to give Carolina a 6-2 lead.

That would be all the cushion Price would need as he finished out the last two innings with just one unearned run in the ninth, but the Gamecocks got three more in the eighth to drive in the final nail in the Gator coffin.

"The coaches and I have talked and if it was a close game tonight they wanted to win the ball game so they threw me out there," Price said. "Mike (Roth) did his job and kept us in the game and our batters stepped up tonight."

Randall got in big trouble in the first, but danced out of it. Back-to-back singles by Evan Marzilli and Joey Pankake was followed by a walk to Christian Walker – just Randall's second on the season – loaded the bases with nobody out. With a chance to blow the game open before most fans got settled into their seats, Randall struck out LB Dantzler, Grayson Greiner, and Michael Roth to end the frame and escape without giving up a run.

"That was difficult because; number one, when you get an opportunity like that against Hudson Randall sometimes it's only once, and we loaded them up and then strikeout, strikeout, strikeout," Tanner said. "Now you're thinking there's going to be four or five goose eggs up there and that's a little frustrating."

The Gators would get on the board first in their only lead of the game. Casey Turgeon began the frame with a grounder to short that Joey Pankake bobbled for his eighth error of the season. Turgeon advanced to second on a fielder's choice and moved over to third on a two-out infield single by Daniel Pigott. Unlike the Gamecocks in the first inning, the Gators got the timely hit on a single by Preston Tucker to score Turgeon and give Florida a 1-0 lead.

Just when it appeared Randall had settled in and got into his rhythm, the Gamecocks struck in the fourth. After striking out Roth and Erik Payne, Tanner English singled to center to set up Matthews. He sent an 0-1 hanging changeup into the Gator bullpen to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.

The Gators tied it in the sixth on another two-out single, this time from Austin Maddox to score Pigott.

Randall would leave the game in the bottom of the sixth after a two-out single from English to avoid facing Matthews, who was 2-for-2 against Randall. The move would pay off for the Gators as Steven Rodriguez struck Matthews out on a high fastball to end the inning, the only time Matthews would be retired on the evening. Randall finished the game pitching 5.2 innings, giving up seven hits, two earned runs, one walk, and a career-high 11 strikeouts.

Like Randall, Roth's day would come to a close with two outs in the top of the seventh. After a two-out walk by Fontana, Price came in to pitch.

Matthews was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Marzilli was also 3-for-4 with a run scored and English was 2-for-4 with a run scored.

The Gators lost for just the second time this season, ending a school-record 18-game winning streak, dropping to 20-2 on the year and 3-1 in SEC play. Carolina improved to 17-5 overall and 1-3 in SEC play. The Gamecocks have now won five of the last six meetings with the Gators, including the College World Series sweep.

"I think we were trying to make a statement to ourselves to sort of get out of that funk we've been in," Roth said. "We're just excited we played a great game tonight. The way we played tonight was great. Let's hope we can keep coming up big this weekend."

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