The top-ranked Florida baseball team had won 18 consecutive games entering Thursday night’s series opener against South Carolina.
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But the Gators still can’t find a way to beat the No. 8 Gamecocks, who had lost four of their past five games before pulling away to a 9-3 victory before a sellout crowd of 8,242 at Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina (17-5, 1-3 SEC) defeated Florida (20-2, 3-1 SEC) in four of five meetings last season, including the final two in the College World Series championship finals. And that didn’t change in the new calendar year as the Gamecocks scored four seventh-inning runs to break a 2-2 tie on pinch-hitter Kyle Martin’s two-run single and Erik Payne’s two-run double.
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“We were just excited to play a good game tonight. It’s our first SEC win so that’s huge for us, especially coming off a loss last night and the four out of five games,” USC left-hander Michael Roth said. “I don’t think we were trying to make a statement to Florida or anybody. I think we were trying to make a statement to ourselves to prove we can still play and get out of that funk we were in.”
USC right-hander Matt Price (3-1), who was tonight’s scheduled starter, picked up the win in relief of Roth with 2 1/3 solid innings. It was Price’s return to the closer’s role, where he earned All-America status last season, after moving into the starting rotation for five games this season.
But after last weekend’s sweep by Kentucky, USC coach Ray Tanner knew his team might be better served with Price finishing games again instead of starting them.
“We made a decision earlier in the week that if this game presented itself in at least a tie situation by the seventh, we were going to try to make it happen,” Tanner said. “That’s sort of how the scenario played out, and he was pretty special when he got there. Will it be permanent? Possibly. We’ll see how it unfolds.”
Price looked like the guy who saved 30 games over the past two championship seasons.
“I’ve always felt that (adrenaline rush) coming from the bullpen so it was good to feel that again,” he said.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan thought it looked like the Price of old.
“He dialed it up. He’s a competitor,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m sure he was wanting to be in that situation again.”
The Gamecocks tacked on three runs in the eighth. Adam Matthews led the 12-hit attack with three hits, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning. He had gone through a slump earlier in the season and sat out a few games along the way.
“Adam Matthews was a big story for me. He looked comfortable. He really looked comfortable to me,” Tanner said. “He took some good swings up there.”
The senior captain was pleased that he could contribute in a big way against the nation’s No. 1 team.
“It’s big for us going forward, and to do against a good team like Florida means a lot,” Matthews said. “Each of our guys is excited about what’s ahead, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got room to make improvement.”
Florida reliever Steven Rodriguez (3-1) took the loss after allowing a leadoff single to Evan Marzilli to start the seventh inning in front of the hits by Martin and Payne.
The pitchers’ duel between Roth and Florida right-hander Hudson Randall ended with neither factoring into the decision. Roth threw 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Randall tossed 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out a career-high 11.
Florida got RBI singles from Preston Tucker in the third and Austin Maddox in the sixth to forge a 2-2 tie heading into the seventh.
The teams meet in the second game of the series at 7 tonight with USC right-hander Forrest Koumas facing Florida left-hander Brian Johnson.
Even with his starting rotation unsettled, Tanner was happy to get the win after a tough week. He noted that he tried to stay less vocal and less edgy in order to relax his team.
“I thought our maturity was pretty good for a team that had been scuffling,” he said. “Our guys were a little more relaxed in there.”
|Nolan Fontana ss||3||0||0||0||2||0||1||1||0|
|Daniel Pigott cf/lf||4||1||2||0||0||1||0||1||1|
|Vickash Ramjit ph||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Preston Tucker rf||5||0||1||1||0||0||2||0||2|
|Mike Zunino c||3||0||0||0||1||1||14||1||2|
|Taylor Gushue 1b||2||0||0||0||2||2||5||1||0|
|Austin Maddox dh/p||3||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeff Moyer ph||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1|
|Justin Shafer lf||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1|
|Cody Dent cf||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||2|
|Casey Turgeon 2b||4||1||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Josh Tobias 3b||4||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||0|
|Hudson Randall p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Steven Rodriguez p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Harris p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Stump p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli cf||4||1||3||0||0||0||3||0||1|
|Joey Pankake ss||3||1||1||0||1||1||1||1||1|
|Christian Walker 1b||2||2||0||0||3||1||8||1||0|
|LB Dantzler 3b||3||1||0||0||2||1||0||0||0|
|Grayson Greiner c||3||0||0||0||0||3||6||1||1|
|Kyle Martin ph||1||1||1||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dante Rosenberg c||1||0||0||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Michael Roth p/dh||4||0||0||0||0||3||1||3||3|
|Brison Celek ph||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Erik Payne 2b||4||0||1||2||0||2||2||1||0|
|Tanner English lf||4||1||2||0||0||1||3||0||1|
|Adam Matthews rf||4||2||3||2||0||1||1||0||1|
|Matt Price p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Gushue(1); Shafer(2); Pankake(8); Payne(2). LOB - UF 9; S. Carolina 9. 2B - Payne(2). HR - Matthews(2). SH - Marzilli(3); Pankake(2). SF - Ramjit(1). SB - Fontana(6).
|Steven Rodriguez L,3-1||0.1||1||1||1||0||1||0||1||0||0||2||2||0||0||14|
|Matt Price W,3-1||2.1||0||1||0||3||3||0||0||0||0||7||11||4||0||44|
Win - Price (3-1). Loss - Rodriguez (3-1). Save - None. WP - Randall(2); Stump(1). BK - Rodriguez(2). Pitches/strikes: Randall 97/69; Rodriguez 14/10; Maddox 25/13; Harris 19/10; Stump 9/4; Roth 113/65; Price 44/21.
Umpires - HP: Tony Maners 1B: Mark Chapman 3B: Jeff Head
Start: 7:31 pm
Rodriguez faced 1 batter in the 7th.