Gamecocks' Gatorade Thirst Quenched

After 41 wins throughout an eventful regular season, the Yardcocks' SEC Tournament hopes came down to Friday afternoon. South Carolina faced the Florida Gators in a cliché laden battle to decide who would remain in Alabama for another day. When it was all over, it was the Gamecocks who were able to stay alive, beating the Gators by a score of 5-3.

The cliché's were tossed around the ballpark freely all afternoon:

Throw the records out the window. There is no tomorrow. They have to run the table, have to win out, and have to remember what got them here. They've been here before, have a lot of big game experience, and control their own destiny. It's do or die.

You get the point.

Beating the Gators this year three out of four times meant nothing Friday afternoon. Mike Cisco was handed the ball and asked to keep the Gator bats silent. "How silent?" was the question everyone asked. The Gamecock offense needed to improve on their 1.71 runs per nine innings in this year's installment of the SEC tournament.

The Gamecock bats were going up against Florida's RHP Patrick Keating who was making his first collegiate start. Keating had allowed 60 base runners in 36.2 innings pitched before today, while opposing teams were hitting .318 against him.

The Gators would strike first in the top of the first inning. After Cole Figueroa singled, stole second and was bunted over to third, Matt LaPorta launched his 20th home run of the season - easily the longest of the tournament.

"I don't think Mike could have done anything differently. It was a pitch LaPorta got a hold of. His strike zone is a little bit bigger than most people," said South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner, "I thought Mike was throwing the ball well. He just missed a spot there. Eight strikeouts, he was able to get his change up over and dump some breaking balls in there."

Cisco could have folded after the moon shot by LaPorta, but instead he buckled down, giving up only a single over the next six innings. With seven innings in the books, he gave way to Jeff Jeffords, but not before registering the Gamecocks best pitching performance of the Tournament.

Florida Coach Pat McMahon said of Cisco's performance, "Case in point, he threw a 3-2 change-up, with runners in scoring position to tie. He locates the pitch, that's the mark of a great pitcher. Not only is Mike Cisco an outstanding pitcher, and you saw that once he came unfolded, he was getting breaking balls over behind in the count, this and that, he'd throw change-ups behind in the count. You don't see that a lot. I thought he did a masterful job of that."

Throwing 115 pitches, Cisco struck out eight, walked one and only had the two first inning runs on his conscious. "Mike Cisco gave us a great start. Seven quality innings," said Tanner continued, "He gave us the chance to win."

The Gamecocks would come back, though, in the bottom of the second inning with a barrage of singles from Phil Disher, Andrew Crisp, Harley Lail and a two run single by Travis Jones. In between, Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta made a great grab to save at least two other runs on a laced down the line hit by Reese Havens.

Havens made a great play of his own to end the top of the fourth inning on a rocket up the middle, but threw wild to first. Justin Smoak stretched as far as his 6'4" frame would allow, snagging it and recording the out.

Carolina got on the board again in the bottom of the sixth inning on Harley Lail's second RBI single of the game and a James Darnell bases load walk.

Jeff Jeffords came in to close out the game for Cisco. Able to work around two walks, he escaped the eighth inning unscathed.

The ninth inning, however, was a tad more anxiety provoking. The Gators staged a two out rally that had all the Gamecock fans in attendance holding their breath. Two walks, a single and a throwing error on right fielder Harley Lail put runners on second and third with a run scored. Though Florida's Avery Barnes was walking to the batter's box, it seemed everyone was more concerned with the on-deck circle. As Matt LaPorta started taking his practice hacks, visions of a heart wrenching exit from the tournament were not only in the minds of Gamecock fans.

"I was thinking, ‘Oh Gracious, here comes "The Natural" all over again," said a smiling Tanner. He was referring to a baseball movie starring Robert Redford.

Later he continued with his praise about Florida's powerful first baseman, "I was close (to a heart attack)," he said with a smile. "If LaPorta would've made it to the batter's box (my life) would have been over at that point."

Instead, Avery Barnes grounded out to end the game and Florida's season inciting yet another cliché: it just wasn't meant to be.

That being said, there's only one fitting cliché left for the Gamecocks… They brought their A-game.

Tomorrow's game will begin at 11 a.m. ET with the Gamecocks sending Blake Cooper to the hill against Arkansas' Duke Welker. Welker is as big as they come. An imposing 6'7", he's 5-5 with a 4.04 ERA and allows roughly 1.27 base runners per inning. Cooper is 7-1 on the year with a 4.50 ERA. Though his season started strong, things seemed to go downhill after that. Tomorrow would be a great time to turn it around.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Florida's Right Fielder Brian Leclerc robbed Andrew Crisp of an RBI double when he sprinted deep into the gap, dove and snagged the blast on the warning track. About the play, Coach Tanner said, "We had a couple of chances to get some insurance runs but Leclerc took care of all that by himself with his glove."

NUMBERS BEYOND THE BOXSCORE: Though James Darnell only had one hit Friday, he saw 25 of Florida's 134 pitches. Almost 20% of the pitches thrown were to James Darnell. When it comes to tiring pitchers out and letting your teammates see everything the opposing pitcher has, that's as good as it gets.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Harley Lail and Mike Cisco. Lail was 2-for-4 with a run scored and two big runs batted in. Lail was also the last batter in the previous Florida game Wednesday afternoon, driving in the winning run in the twelfth inning.

All Mike Cisco did was completely shut down the Florida offense in dominant fashion. Other than one pitch left up in the zone, Cisco was awesome. With eight K's and only one walk, he never let Florida so much as threaten to comeback.

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