Florida opens key SEC series with win over South Carolina

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Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey, File)

Kevin O’Sullivan’s Florida baseball team got a series-opening win Thursday night, but the Gators didn’t seem too happy about it.

The player who had the biggest hit in the game?

“It was a frustrating win,” said sophomore Brady McConnell, who put Florida ahead with a three-run homer in the third.

The pitcher who got the win?

“I should be able to throw a fastball where I want it to be,” said Tommy Mace. “I didn’t throw as well as I should have.”

And the head coach?

“I’m excited about the win because it’s better than the other outcome, but we can’t be fooled into thinking we’re playing our best because we’re not,” O’Sullivan said.

Florida beat South Carolina 9-5 in front of 3,414 people at McKethan Stadium, but the Gators walked eight, threw four wild pitches, hit two batters and had some base-running mistakes.

Other than that …

“I don’t know what to say,” O’Sullivan said. “We haven’t walked this many in our 11 years here. We’re just not throwing the ball across the plate. It’s kind of been that way all year long.

“We’re going to keep coaching them up, but at some point we’re going to have to change some things.”

Florida put six runs up in the third inning and looked to be on cruise control before the Gators nearly ran into a ditch. Still, it was a much-needed win to start a three-game series.

“We need to get rolling in SEC games,” Mace said.

Florida (23-13, 5-8 in the SEC) got to South Carolina starter Reid Morgan in the bottom of the third. After two walks and a failed sacrifice attempt, Morgan gave up a rocket shot of a three-run homer to McConnell to the opposite field.

The homer was McConnell’s seventh of the year and he continues to lead the Gators in hitting, now at .381.

“He left it over the plate, a first-pitch slider,” McConnell said. “I sat on it well. I was just glad to get us the lead like that.”

But Florida wasn’t finished. Austin Langworthy continued his hot hitting with a slicing double and Nelson Maldonado singled. Florida then got RBI singles from three freshmen — Kendrick Calilao (who now has 37 on the season), Cory Acton and Ocala’s Jud Fabian — to take a 6-0 lead.

Mace worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fourth getting Chris Cullen. In the fifth, Mace’s third walk of the game scored after a groundout, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly to center.

Mace (6-3) had an uneven start with the four walks, two hit batters and two wild pitches against the SEC’s worst hitting team.

“Me, not commanding my fastball,” he said. “I have seven days to work it out.”

He did give Florida the kind of start it needed in an opener after the Gators were swept last weekend by Ole Miss and gave up 40 runs in the three games.

Mace went 6-plus innings, leaving after walking Brady Allen to lead off the seventh on his 102nd pitch. He gave up only three hits and struck out six before giving way to Hunter Ruth.

After getting two outs, Ruth gave up a double to Noah Campbell before uncorking two wild pitches to pull the Gamecocks (20-14, 3-10) within 7-3. After a second straight walk, the Buchholz product was pulled for Nolan Crisp, who got out of the inning on a liner to second.

Crisp pitched a perfect eighth, but walked two to start the ninth and gave up a double to score a run and bring on Ben Specht. Specht got three outs, allowing only one of the inherited runners to score.

Florida had extended the lead earlier to 7-1 in the fifth when Calilao singled with two out and raced around the bases on Acton’s double to left, just beating the throw to the plate.

The Gators added insurance in the bottom of the eighth as Calilao and Acton finished off a six-hit night between them to start the inning. One run scored on a wild pitch on an 0-2 count and another on Fabian’s sacrifice fly.

The two teams continue the series today at 6:30 p.m.

Friday

Who: South Carolina (20-14, 3-10 SEC) vs. Florida (23-13, 5-8)

When: 6:30 p.m.

Where: McKethan Stadium

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

Online: SEC Network+

Pitching matchup: USC righty Cam Tringali (1-0, 3.03 ERA) vs. UF righty Christian Scott (3-1, 3.60)

Series: Saturday’s finale starts at 3:30 p.m.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m glad the Gators have some offense this year because holy cow @ “Gators walked eight, threw four wild pitches, hit two batters”.

    Coach Sullivan will get it figured out. I’m betting this team makes a run before the year is up and gets back to monster status next year.