Gators snatch series: Late rally wrecks USC for second straight day

nwhite@thestate.comApril 13, 2014 

— South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook watched his team lose its second-straight, late-inning game against Florida, and he made no excuses.

The Gators scored four runs on five hits and an error in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon on the way to a 6-5 comeback victory to claim the series showdown at Carolina Stadium.

With the win, No. 15 Florida (23-13, 9-6 SEC) took over sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division from the fifth-ranked Gamecocks (28-7, 8-7).

“It’s a disappointing loss and a disappointing series loss. We had a chance to win all three games and just couldn’t hold a lead there,” Holbrook said.

“We couldn’t make the big plays when it counted, or the big pitches, or get the big hit. That pretty much sums up the weekend. Their pitchers made the big pitches, and their hitters got the big hits. That why they deserve – and they did win – two out of three games.”

Both teams struggled. The Gamecocks took a 4-2 lead through seven innings with the help of five errors from the left side of the Florida infield. But USC also allowed the Gators to stay close by stranding 12 runners on base – one day after leaving 16 in a 4-3 loss in 13 innings.

Florida catcher Taylor Gushue, who had three of his team’s 13 hits, credited his teammates for refusing to yield – something the Gamecocks had done to opponents much of this season.

“Going down early against a team like South Carolina isn’t fun. We showed some really good resilience and grit the past two days,” Gushue said. “It’s definitely not easy to play here with the crowd and certainly against that ballclub. All of our pitchers did really well, and we clutched up in key situations. That’s really all you can ask.”

South Carolina took a 4-2 lead with two runs in the seventh on Grayson Greiner’s sacrifice fly – which followed Kyle Martin’s double and a balk – and an error on Florida third baseman Peter Alonso on a grounder by DC Arendas.

But Florida bounced back with those four runs, knocking out USC freshman right-hander Wil Crowe after three straight one-out singles. After freshman reliever Taylor Widener couldn’t hold the lead, Holbrook questioned himself for not bringing in Widener to start that inning and then putting him into a bases-loaded situation.

Crowe (6-2), who lost his second straight game, lamented USC’s inability to close out the final two games.

“You don’t expect that and you don’t want that, but that’s the way of the game,” Crowe said. “It’s a long season. There are ups and downs, and we’ve just got to battle back, get back ahead and start winning some games.”

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who formerly served as a longtime assistant at Clemson, credited his team for how it found a way to capture a tough road series.

“This is my 16th year going against Carolina, I think, and it’s hard to win one in here, let alone two,” O’Sullivan said. “Their starting pitching is really good. Wil Crowe battled his tail off today. He’s going to be a really good one in this league.”

It didn’t help South Carolina that injuries and illness put a makeshift lineup on the field. Second baseman Max Schrock, who’s sick, missed all three games. Right-fielder Connor Bright, who hyper-extended his elbow making a catch Saturday night, didn’t start Sunday. And third baseman Joey Pankake had to leave the game with a hamstring injury.

That put little-used Patrick Harrington and Gene Cone in the outfield and Widener as the designated hitter. Jordan Gore replaced Pankake and hit a solo home run in the eighth.

“I’m proud of the players who hadn’t normally played,” Holbrook said. “They gave me everything they had, and they competed their rear ends off, as did our entire team. We scratched and clawed to get five runs. That usually wins the game for us. It didn’t today.”

O’Sullivan, who used seven pitchers for the second straight day, saluted his pitching staff for not letting the game get out of hand, even when an overturned call at first base in the fifth inning led to a run for USC.

“To be honest, I think we probably caught them at the right time. Today, they had three starters out. Regardless, it’s tough to win here,” O’Sullivan said. “We have some depth in the pen, and we pitched out of a lot of difficult situations this weekend. They left a lot of runners on. It seemed like we were always on our toes. It wasn’t easy, but credit our guys.”

The Gamecocks could have blown it open early, but they left seven runners on base in the first three innings.

“It is tough. I thought we had it in the bag today,” Martin said. “We just couldn’t hang on to it – same as yesterday.”

Box score: USC-Florida, Game 1

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