James Darnell sensed an atmosphere akin to the postseason, rather than a Saturday conference game in early May. Although it wasn’t do-or-die for the USC baseball team, it sure felt like it to Darnell, his teammates and the fans at Sarge Frye Field.
The tenseness went away for at least a day, thanks in large part to Darnell. The Gamecock junior’s two-run single in the seventh was the difference in a 6-5 victory against visiting Florida, ending USC’s four-game losing streak.
“It just pumps me up. At the end, the life in the crowd and everything, that’s why I play the game,” Darnell said. “So I think this gives us a lot of momentum going forward.”
Whether it is enough to propel the Gamecocks back into contention for a national seed in the NCAA tournament remains to be seen. At a minimum, they stopped the bleeding.Darnell’s hit gave USC (32-15, 12-11 in the SEC) its first lead of a game where big plays had mostly gone Florida’s way. If not for Darnell’s hit, two ill-fated decisions by USC to send a runner home would have made the difference.
Justin Smoak was thrown out at home twice, both on singles to left field. He was out by a few yards in the third inning, then was tagged on his shoulder on a closer play in the fifth inning.
“I’m a little slow, and I got thrown out,” Smoak said.
The crowd took out its anger on Lee, who waved Smoak home both times. But Tanner backed up his assistant, pointing out there were two outs both times, and said the Gators executed the plays perfectly.
“In my opinion, coach Lee should’ve sent both runners,” Tanner said.
There was no throw to the plate in the seventh on Darnell’s hit. After Florida (28-17, 13-10) made the obvious decision to intentionally walk Smoak, Darnell came up with the bases loaded and none out.
Darnell, who homered earlier in the game, lined a shot past the drawn-in left half of the infield, bringing in the tying and go-ahead runs.
USC starting pitcher Atwood ended with a complete-game 11-hitter.
“It’s not your typical complete game stat line right there, but it was a win beside it,” Atwood said. “You know it’s just damage control.”
Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.