Carolina Takes Game 2 in Comeback Win, 6-5

As the old saying goes, all bad things must come to an end. South Carolina picked up their first SEC victory in what seemed like ages Saturday as they continually came back against the pesky Gators Saturday afternoon at Sarge Frye Field, winning 6-5 behind the complete game pitched by Will Atwood and timely hitting by James Darnell.

The South Carolina baseball team defeated the Florida Gators 6-5 Saturday afternoon behind the pitching of junior Will Atwood. The victory forces a rubber match with the Gators to determine the series victors. The game is set for 1:30 tomorrow.

The Gamecocks snapped a four game losing streak in the Southeastern Conference with the win.

"We ran through a rough stretch here, and we've been needing a win for a few days. We had some guys step up big for us," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "Atwood got touched up a little bit early, but he battled for us and settled in."

Junior southpaw Will Atwood (5-2) pitched his first career complete game and tied a career high in strikeouts with seven as he willed South Carolina to the one-run victory over the pesky Gators.

It was unusual stat line for a complete game, as Atwood gave up 11 hits and five runs for the game.

"It's not your typical complete game stat line right there, but it has a win beside it so we'll take that," Atwood said. "It's just damage control. You can't get too high, can't get too low. You've just gotta understand that the numbers are going to work themselves out, and thankfully we came out on the right side of it."

Ironically, the last SEC victory for the Gamecocks also came on a complete game performance, when Blake Cooper gave up one run in a 4-1 complete game victory over Mississippi.

It looked as if it would be the same story on a different day for the Gamecocks (32-15, 12-11) early on, as the Gators quickly jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning.

After recording two quick outs to start the frame, Atwood gave up a base hit to Dustin Bamberg before Riley Cooper stepped up to the plate.

Sporting a cool .077 batting average, the freshman drove a 3-1 fastball over the right centerfield wall to put the Gators up by two early on.

Carolina would cut into the lead in the bottom half of the frame as junior third baseman James Darnell blasted a 3-1 pitch over the left field wall to give the Gamecocks their first run of the contest.

"I was just trying to see a slider up," Darnell said. "They've been pitching me pretty tough in those situations but I was fortunate to get a good pitch to hit and just hit it hard."

However, UF (28-17, 13-10) quickly got the run back in the next inning when Cole Figueroa singled through the left field hole, stole second base, tagged up to third on a flyout to Andrew Crisp, and then scored on an RBI single by Matt den Dekker.

But the Gamecocks would charge right back in the bottom half of the frame. After recording two quick outs, Reese Havens extended his hitting streak to 17 games and Whit Merrifield reached first on an error by the UF first baseman.

Justin Smoak cut into the lead with an RBI single to left field. Darnell then added on to his RBI total with a double to left field, but Smoak was tagged out at home to keep the score tied at three.

But just as they had done all weekend, the Gators proved to be relentless with the bat in the top of the fourth. Florida got both runs back on four consecutive singles, all of which game with two outs. Atwood finally stopped the bleeding when he struck out Brandon McArthur to end the inning.

Despite his struggles early on, Atwood didn't change much on his way to dominating UF in the second half of the contest.

"No (I didn't change anything). Everything was working the whole game, but I think maybe my combinations of what I followed pitches up with maybe was a little different early," Atwood said. "But I really didn't change anything. I had the same mindset. I just kind of kicked it in gear a little bit in the fourth or fifth or whatever it was and it ended up working out for us."

Carolina would continue to live up to their name "The Fighting Gamecocks" as they clawed their way back in the bottom of the fifth. With one out and the bases empty, Merrifield singled on a bunt attempt then reached second on an error by the third baseman.

Smoak then picked up his second RBI of the afternoon when he lined a 2-2 pitch to left field to drive in the speedy Merrifield.

Howevever, Smoak was tagged out at home plate on a single by Phil Disher, the second time of the afternoon that it had happened to the junior. The fans began to get on third base coach Monte Lee, who had clearly made two questionable decisions throughout the first half of the contest.

"I was a little slow and got thrown out," a blunt Smoak said.

However, despite Carolina's misfortunes on offense, Atwood would begin to settle into a groove on the mound. After striking out McArthur to end the fourth inning, Atwood went on to retire the next nine batters over the next three innings. In the process, he ran his strikeout count to six.

USC finally gave Atwood some assistance in the bottom of the seventh.

Havens walked to leadoff the inning and Merrifield doubled to put runners on second and third with one man out. Florida decided to intentionally walk Smoak to load the bases for Darnell.

However, the Gators theory went for naught as Darnell poked a single through the left field hole to drive in two runners and give the Carolina its first lead of the afternoon at 6-5.

Atwood, having thrown 110 pitches after seven innings, surprisingly returned to the mound in the eighth. After retiring his tenth batter in a row, Townsend singled to right centerfield, but was thrown out by Lail attempting to stretch the base hit into a double. Atwood then induced a 5-3 groundout to end the inning and send the Carolina faithful into a roar.

In the top of the ninth, Tanner kept Carolina's destiny in Atwood's hands.

The skipper chose to leave the junior in the contest to pick up the complete game victory, and the junior didn't disappoint. He struck out the first two batters of the ninth and Darnell closed out the game with a great catch on the edge of Florida's dugout to give Carolina the 6-5 victory.

"It's big. You've gotta give credit to Will," Smoak said. "He pitched his butt off for us today and we came out and battled and James came up in big situations. So it's a big win for us."

"Hopefully we'll be ready to play and pitch well and give our guys a chance to win at home," Tanner said.

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