Gators Claim SEC Championship with 5-2 Win

The Gamecocks SEC title dreams died a bitter death in the Gators' jaws Friday night, as USC lost 5-2 to Florida. The Gators Josh Adams led the way, as he first broke a 2-2 tie with a two-out two-run double in the top of the 7th inning, and then added a two-out RBI single in the 9th inning. Florida's victory clinched both the three-game series and the SEC championship.

The post-game press room was a somber place Friday night under Carolina Stadium. South Carolina Ray Tanner congratulated the victors, saying "(Florida) did a super job. They maximized their run-scoring opportunities. That really has been the theme over the last two days."

The Gamecocks came into the series hopeful that their one-two pitching punch of Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson could put knockout punches the first two nights on the Gators, but instead, Cooper suffered his first loss of the season on Thursday night, and then on Friday Dyson was chased after 6.2 innings and was handed his 5th loss of the season.

"Our pitching staff has allowed four earned runs and three earned runs, and we have not won a game," Tanner said. "We have had trouble pushing runs across, and certainly credit Florida's pitching staff. They are very good and they play great defense. They played better than us, pitched better than us and got some timely hits."

The stage was set in the best of all possible settings for the Gamecocks – beautiful weather greeted an all-time record home crowd of 8,242 fans on "Senior Night." They had history on their side against the Gators in Columbia, and on-and-on, but this was the Gators' night, series, and most painfully, their conference title.

Florida is now 40-12 and 22-7 in the SEC, while the loss drops Carolina to 42-13 and 20-9 in the SEC. The final game of the series is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday and will be televised live on FSN.

A tense battle between the two teams was all even at two apiece as the 7th inning opened, which was when the Gators made their move, as Brian Johnson led off with a single. Bryson Smith came in as a pinch runner, and then Daniel Pigott set a down a sacrifice bunt. On the play, Dyson threw to second base but Smith beat the throw to the bag giving the Gators a pair of runners. After a sacrifice bunt by Ben McMahan, Dyson struck out Tyler Thompson to get the second out of the inning. With runners still in scoring position and two outs, Adams connected on a 1-1 pitch with a double to the gap in right center, scoring both runners and giving the Gators a 4-2 margin.

That lead was extended to 5-2 in the ninth inning, as Adams again delivered with two outs with a RBI single to right field scoring McMahan, who reached base earlier on a Gamecock error.

After the game, the SEC tournament seedings were set. Florida would be the top seed, the SEC West winner Auburn will be the 2nd seed, and USC is locked into the third seed position. It almost seems unfair to make the home team come out again under the circumstances on Saturday, but play they must. Tanner said of the next game, "I know we are going to be our best to try to win tomorrow. We had an opportunity to be the regular season champion this weekend, but we let that go by the wayside. We go to the tournament on Monday, and we would certainly like to win a game this weekend. We will be ready to play tomorrow."

The coach had praise for his seniors, including Cooper, who played their last regular season game at home Friday: "It is a good group. Those guys have done some good things here in the classroom and on the field. They have great character. I am very proud that I had a chance to cross their paths and be associated with them. They are tremendous young men, and they will have great futures." The Gamecocks also have several talented juniors who may also be gone next season to the pros as well, led by OF Whit Merrifield.

Florida reliever Steven Rodriguez earned the win after 1.1 scoreless innings of relief with three strikeouts. Kevin Chapman came on in relief for the second night in a row, this time in the eighth inning, and worked the final 1.2 innings, not allowing a hit or a run, and struck out one batter to pick up his 10th save of the season and the second of the series. Dyson suffered the loss, his record dropping to 5-5 on the year. He allowed four runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Florida won despite the Gamecocks finishing with an 11-8 advantage in hits. Adam Matthews tied a season-high in hits with a 3-for-4 day at the plate and two runs scored as well as a home run. Brady Thomas also tied a career-high with a 3-for-3 day at the plate and Jackie Bradley Jr. was 3-for-5.

South Carolina will face the to-be-determined No. 6 seed in the second game of the SEC tournament on Wednesday, May 26. That game is scheduled to begin 30 minutes following the conclusion of game one, which is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET.

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