Unsung Heroes Give USC Win in Extra Innings

And the last shall be first. Travis Jones came into the weekend series against Florida with the next to last batting average in USC's starting lineup, and left after the series as the undisputed MVP of the weekend. He hit home runs in all three games, including a 3 run blast in the top of the 9th inning Sunday that brought the Gamecocks back from the dead after they trailed most of the game.

His heroics gave USC the opportunity they needed to win, and they took it, winning the game 8-6 and the SEC series with Florida two games to one before a nationally televised ESPN audience.

Florida had held a 5-2 lead entering the ninth. On a 2-2 pitch from Gator reliever Josh Edmondson, Jones blasted the game-tying homer over the 400 foot marker on the center field wall to tie the game at five apiece. Head Coach Ray Tanner said of Jones performance, "Remarkable. When Travis hit a ball, I didn't think he could in any way get it out of the park. Dead center. He's a special player."

Jones had an incredible series vs. the Gators, batting 10-for-12 on the weekend with five home runs and 11 RBI. "I never had a weekend like that in my life. The ball just looked real big right now, like a balloon coming at me." Jones said. He wasn't quite through after his ninth inning heroics. In the tenth inning, he put the Gamecocks ahead 6-5 with a single, driving in Andrew Crisp. The Gators tied it up again in the bottom of tenth inning, but they had no answer to yet another home run, this time a two-run shot by catcher Trent Kline.

This weekend was somewhat of a homecoming for Jones, who played two years as a junior college player less than an hour from Gainesville at Lake City Community College. Florida's coach looked a little green when he admitted he had recruited Jones, but let him get away. South Carolina's Tanner didn't, and he continued to talk about his star for the weekend: "He had a series and a half. Ten for twelve, that's incredible. And what a great kid for it to happen to. We needed every one he got. Maybe LaPorta rubbed off on him a little bit."

Tanner was referencing Matt LaPorta, Florida's superstar player who was held largely in check this weekend by the Gamecock pitchers. Jeff Jeffords came in after first starter Blake Cooper and then Alex Farrotto faltered on the mound. The Gators came back with two runs in the bottom half of the fifth inning as they drew four walks against Farotto and also scored on a fielder's choice. With the bases loaded and LaPorta up to bat with one out, Jeffords got LaPorta to ground into a 1-2-3 double play on the first pitch to keep the Gamecocks within three runs.

"The only way we were going to win the game was if he just came out there and stopped them, that was our only chance." Tanner said. "He comes right out there, LaPorta is getting ready to blow it open, and he gets a comebacker (a hit that comes right back to the pitcher) on the first pitch, double play, and then we've got the tying run in the hole, vs. being blown wide open by probably the best player in the league. It was a tremendous turn around for us, and he gave us a chance to win.

In the tenth inning, Jeffords did what fellow USC pitcher Wynn Pelzer could not do at the end of the game on Saturday - stop Cody Neer, who went 6 for 9 in the series. He hit Jeffords' first pitch to the right fielder for the third out, which sent the game into the 11th inning. In his longest outing as a Gamecock, Jeffords limited the Gators to just three hits and one run, unearned, while striking out four batters and walking two. He is now 3-0 on the year. "The way our guys were hitting the ball this weekend, I knew I just had to throw strikes and hopefully get a few of them out and I knew we'd come out on top. It all comes around to the defense, and these guys were great."

First baseman James Darnell started the scoring for South Carolina, hitting a solo home run in the first inning. The Gators answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs of their own. After two scoreless innings, Tanner replaced Cooper with southpaw Alex Farotto. Cole Figueroa immediately hit a double to give Florida a 3-1 lead.

Jones hit his first home run of the day in the fifth inning when he pounded a fastball over the left field fence, cutting Florida's lead to 3-2. Florida picked up two more runs in the fifth inning, and the score of 5-2 held until Jones tied it in the ninth.

South Carolina is now 26-7 on the season, and pulled within one game of the SEC leading Gators, improving their SEC record to 7-5. Florida is now 20-15 on the season and 8-4 in the SEC. Florida reliever Steven Porter suffered the loss and is 0-2 this season.

South Carolina finished with an 18-10 advantage in hits for the day, including four home runs on the day. Lail, Darnell, Kline, Justin Smoak, Phil Disher and Andrew Crisp all had two hits for the Gamecocks. Jon Townsend and Avery Barnes tallied two apiece to lead the Gators.

South Carolina returns to action on Wednesday night at archrival Clemson. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Player of the Game, the Series, and most likely to be named SEC Player of the Week: Travis Jones

Key Play of the Game: Jones' 3 run shot in the top of the ninth inning that breathed new life into the Gamecocks on this Easter Sunday.

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