OMAHA, Neb. - Twenty-two and counting. South Carolina upset, at least in the eyes of head coach Ray Tanner, top-seeded Florida 7-3 to keep the NCAA Tournament winning streak alive.
Senior Michael Roth pitched 6.1 innings and allowed three earned runs on seven hits and three strikeouts
The Gamecocks (46-17) used a five-run fifth inning and a quality performance from senior Michael Roth to move into the winners bracket. Sophomore Erik Payne belted a three-run triple to start the scoring and that was the beginning of the end for the Gators (47-19), which Tanner called the favorites at every opportunity in the build up to the game.
“(The streak) is hard to talk about. I know we’ve had a pretty good run, but it doesn’t feel like that,” Tanner said. “We have some good players, we’ve done some good things, but we’ve also had some good fortune. All those things are important. You have to give our guys credit, too. They keep scrapping.”
Florida starter Brian Johnson, a first round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox, found his way into early trouble often but was able to escape. After notching a two-run lead, the Gators had to feel good about their chances given his prior performances against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina, however, had other ideas.
“You get down with a guy like Johnson on the mound and it could be a major task for you,” Tanner said. “We were able to have a big inning. We don’t get 5, 6, or 7 with double-digit hits but we were able to do that tonight.”
The Gators got on the board first on a two-RBI double by Preston Tucker in the bottom of the third inning. With runners at the corners with two down, both outs coming on beautiful defensive plays, a miscue put Florida on the board.
Freshman Tanner English broke in on a line drive directly at him. The ball carried just over his head and to the wall in left field, which scored both runs and gave Johnson a lead to work with.
“He said he lost it in the stands a little bit,” Tanner said. “When he picked it up, it was getting over his head. The ball was hit pretty hard. That was a tough, tough play but we kept hanging around.”
Sophomore Erik Payne was 1-for-4 with a three-RBI triple
South Carolina squandered early chances stranding seven runners on base against Johnson over the first four innings of play. There were two runners on with no one out in the fourth inning but Johnson retired the final three hitters in order to get out of that threat.
Johnson could only avoid trouble for so long. Five straight hitters reached base to start the fifth inning as the Gamecocks were able to put four runs on the board. Sophomore Erik Payne went the opposite way on a two-strike pitch and cleared the bases on his third triple of the season.
“I was trying to keep my hands still, stay balanced, and work the whole field,” Payne said. “I split a gap and was fortunate enough that it fell.”
Junior LB Dantzler stepped up right behind him and took Johnson deep to center over the head of Daniel Pigott. The ball rolled to the wall scoring Payne easily to give the Gamecocks a 5-2 lead.
That hit would end Johnson’s day when he couldn’t register an out in the fifth inning. He allowed five earned runs on eight hits and three walks on 87 pitches. Johnson threw a complete game against the Gamecocks on 89 pitches in the SEC Tournament but USC solved the riddle at the College World Series.
The Gators got one back in the bottom half of the inning when catcher Mike Zunino, who won the Dick Howser Award for the nation’s top player the night before, hit a sacrifice fly to left field.
Florida had another golden opportunity to score in the bottom of the seventh inning with the tying runs in scoring position with one out. Reliever Tyler Webb got Tucker flied out to shallow left and then, after an intentional walk to Zunino, Johnson lined out to right to end the inning.
“Anytime you play a team like the Gators, every pitch is a big deal,” Tanner said.
Junior Matt Price now leads the SEC with 42 saves career saves
Along with being on the hook for the loss, Johnson couldn’t help his cause at the plate. The two-way player left seven of Florida’s eight runners stranded through the first seven innings.
Roth allowed three runs, all earned, on seven hits and three walks. He struck out three on 98 pitches and moved his record to 8-1 on the season. Webb pitched two-thirds of an inning with one walk before giving way to junior Matt Price, who looked to become the sole SEC record holder in saves for a career.
“I’d like to be a little better, of course,” Roth said. “Florida is a great hitting team. You just try to keep them off balance.”
Price was called upon to get the final six outs of the game and it was fairly easy. The first hitter, Pigott, hit a line drive to left center. Marzilli got a great read off the bat and headed for the gap. He made a full-extension catch to keep the leadoff runner off the bases.
South Carolina added a pair of runs in the top of the ninth inning when Walker, walked to begin the inning, came around to score on a sacrifice bunt and two wild pitches. Dantzler reached on a fielding error and came around on another comedy of errors by the Gators. He scored on an error by first baseman Vikash Ramjit, who had an errant throw to first to the covering pitcher on the potential final out of the inning.
That was plenty for Price, who is the conference record holder by himself with 42 saves in his career. The Gators knocked a couple of hits in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t manage to plate any extra runs.
“They grinded it out,” Tucker said. “I think they had better at-bats when it counted and that’s what hurt us.”
South Carolina played a near-perfect game to defeat the top-seeded Gators. The streak, now at 22 games, continues.
South Carolina will now play Arkansas in the winners bracket game on Monday night at 9 p.m. EDT. The Gamecocks, which won two out of three against the Razorbacks (45-20) earlier this year, will be the home team. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Junior Colby Holmes is expected to start with Ryan Stanek getting the ball for Arkansas.
Want to enjoy all of the premium content on TheBigSpur.com? Click HERE to find out how to receive access to the latest in South Carolina athletics. Get all the breaking news, insight from the best staff of insiders in the market, and join a lively message board community. Also check out our recruiting database, get free text alerts, and enjoy quality content from football, basketball, baseball, and other Olympic sports.