The top-ranked Florida baseball team finally solved Matt Price.
Nolan Fontana drilled a two-out, two-run triple in the ninth inning to give the Gators a 5-4 win over No. 8 South Carolina in the deciding game of their SEC series Saturday at Carolina Stadium.
With the score tied at 3, the Gators (22-2, 5-1 SEC) got the rally started with two outs when Matt Price (3-2) walked Vickash Ramjit and hit Cody Dent on a full count. He then threw a 1-2 fastball to Fontana that was ripped into the right-center gap.
Price, who threw 91 pitches over a pair of 2 1/3 inning stints on Thursday and Saturday, could not close the door the second time around. But USC coach Ray Tanner had no doubt which pitcher he wanted on the mound in that situation.
“When you’ve got Matt Price out there at the end of the game, regardless of the result, you feel good that you gave it your best shot,” Tanner said.
The Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5 SEC) cut the lead to a run on LB Dantzler’s fourth homer of the season, a solo shot to left-center, but Florida closer Austin Maddox (2-0) hung on for the win.
After dropping the first game of the series, with Price getting the win in relief, the Gators battled back against their nemesis — who also got both saves in last season’s College World Series championship finals between the teams.
“It gets awfully loud when Price comes in, I know that. You think, here we go again. You know you’re going to get your best effort from him,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The fans here do a wonderful job, they get behind their team. You’ve got to be able to weather some storms.”
Price, who was a weekend starter for five games before moving back to his former role as a closer against the Gators, was disappointed that he didn’t get the job done after he retired the first six hitters he faced.
The Gamecocks have now lost six of their past eight games.
“We’ve just got to keep battling and keep doing what we need to do to go forward,” Price said.
South Carolina missed a big opportunity to take its first lead of the day in the eighth inning when a pair of walks and wild pitches put runners on second and third with one out. But Maddox struck out pinch-hitter Michael Roth and catcher Grayson Greiner.
“We’re certainly disappointed because we did get in a position to win. We had a chance to make something happen, and we didn’t,” Tanner said. “They got a big hit, and we failed to get one.”
The Gamecocks tallied five hits.
“We’re showing glimpses of stuff here and there, hitting the ball hard and getting runners on base on when we need to. We’re just missing one element. We’re not getting runs across,” junior first baseman Christian Walker said.
The Gators flashed their power in the third inning against USC starter Colby Holmes when Daniel Pigott and Mike Zunino both blasted solo homers deep into the Florida bullpen. Zunino leads the Gators with nine home runs, and his team leads the SEC with 37 homers. That finished the day for Holmes, who also gave up a run in the first on singles by Fontana and Preston Tucker and a sacrifice fly by Zunino.
But the Gamecocks cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning against Florida starter Jonathon Crawford on Greiner’s RBI single and Erik Payne’s sacrifice fly. The inning opened up when Florida center fielder Daniel Pigott missed Christian Walker’s fly ball for an error. An inning later, USC tied the game at 3 on a double by Tanner English and an RBI single by Joey Pankake.
While the Gamecocks rallied, reliever Tyler Webb was holding the Gators at bay with 32/3 scoreless innings. Yet the result was a loss after Maddox and Steven Rodriguez countered for the Gators with four innings of one-hit relief.
“With Rodriguez and Maddox in that bullpen, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Tanner said. “Those guys are as good as anybody in the country. That’s why they’re where they are.”
Walker is ready for the Gamecocks to get back on track, especially after a tough series loss.
“There’s always disappointment. Everybody in the locker room is disappointed. We should be,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, I’m definitely not used to losing. I don’t like losing. But that’s the way it goes. We are where we are. We’ve got to try to get the momentum and get things going our way.”
All three games in the series were sold out with crowds of 8,242, the second time in the stadium’s history that has happened (Vanderbilt in 2011).