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Gamecocks advance to first SEC softball title game in 17 years

A last-minute pitching change didn't stop South Carolina on Friday in the SEC softball tournament.

The third-seeded Gamecocks are into the SEC championship game for the first time since 2001. Carolina, behind a clutch circle performance from Dixie Raley, beat seventh-seeded Arkansas, 3-1, in Columbia, Missouri.

USC (45-13) will play Florida in an 8 p.m., Saturday, final. ESPN2 will televise the game. The Gamecocks are seeking their first league title since 2000.

Raley tossed a complete game five-hitter. She struck out seven batters and stranded six Razorbacks, not allowing a run until the sixth inning. Adding to the showing was the fact she was never scheduled to throw.

Calya Drotar, the winning pitcher against Mississippi State on Thursday, was a late scratch because of back stiffness.

"I wasn't surprised by the performance," USC coach Beverly Smith told the SEC Network. "But it was the game plan to go with Drotar and then to Raley and (Kelsey) Oh as we needed them, because I had two fresh arms.

"The thing about Dixie Raley is you saw her competitive nature. The other thing I've said about this team is they don't care who's pitching. And I think they showed that today. It was a last-minute change, and Dixie had no problem going in and doing her job. And the defense played great behind her."

Raley is a junior transfer from Georgia Southern. Friday marked her SEC tournament debut.

"I just got my mind right and went in," Raley said of her pregame switch in mentality.

Raley was supported by a balanced Carolina lineup.

Leadoff hitter Kenzi Maguire legged out an infield RBI single in the second inning. Eight-hole hitter Tiara Duffy belted a two-run homer in the fourth. That gave the Gamecocks 61 home runs on the season, a school record.

SEC tournament

Friday's semifinals

South Carolina 3, Arkansas 1

Florida 10, Tennessee 2

Saturday's championship

South Carolina vs. Florida, 8 p.m., ESPN2