Pecking order in Omaha
Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.
OMAHA, Neb. — If Florida is going to win its first national championship in baseball, the Gators will have to do it the hard way.
What: College World Series elimination game
Who: Florida vs. Kent St.
When: 5 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
Two-time defending champion South Carolina scored five runs in the fifth inning on its way to a 7-3 win over UF, sending the Gators to the losers' bracket.
“To be honest, I think South Carolina outplayed us in every phase of the game,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “Obviously, it was not one of our best games. But we have enough pitching to still get through this tournament.”
Florida had beaten South Carolina three times in four games this season, but the Gamecocks own Omaha and Michael Roth owns the postseason. Roth allowed seven hits in 6⅔ innings and the Gamecock bullpen made it hold up.
Trailing 5-3, Florida's best chance to tie the game came in the bottom of the seventh when the Gators had runners at second and third with one out. But Preston Tucker flew out weakly to left against reliever Tyler Webb and — after Mike Zunino was intentionally walked — Brian Johnson lined out to right to complete an 0-for-4 night.
“It's about grinding out at-bats,” Tucker said. “There were some unfortunate balls that were hit right at people. But they had better at-bats when it counted and that's what hurt us.”
O'Sullivan's decision to start Johnson, who had handled S.C. twice this season, did not pay off on the mound.
Johnson managed to dig himself out of trouble through the first four innings, stranding seven runners including five in scoring position. But in the top of the fifth, the roof caved in on the junior left-hander.
South Carolina loaded the bases with nobody out and designated hitter Erik Payne cleared them with a line-drive triple to the gap in right-center. LB Dantzler followed with a drive to deep center over Daniel Pigott's head to make it 4-2. Chase Vergason's RBI single capped the scoring in the inning.
“There's a reason why they win in the postseason,” O'Sullivan said. “They had the momentum and it felt like it got passed down from player to player.”
Florida had taken a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third off South Carolina starter Michael Roth. Justin Shafer and Vickash Ramjit singled to start the inning and Florida had runners on first and third when senior Preston Tucker launched a drive to left.
South Carolina left fielder Tanner English first started in on the ball, then started racing back. The ball went over his head and rolled to the wall giving Florida a pair of runs.
Florida scored a run in the bottom of the fifth when catcher Mike Zunino delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3.
Keenan Kish gave Florida a strong relief effort, retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced. But a leadoff walk in the ninth turned into a run when Steven Rodriguez entered the game with a runner on third and threw a wild pitch.
Then things completely fell apart.
Two errors by the usually reliable Gator defense gift-wrapped a run for the Gamecocks.
“That was uncharacteristic,” O'Sullivan said. “The play at first was a tough play and (Ramjit) probably should have held onto the ball. (Rodriguez) has been great for us all year.”
South Carolina made the plays to keep the Gators off the board after the fifth, including a diving catch by Evan Marzilli to steal a double from Pigott to lead off the eighth.
With the win, South Carolina is in the driver's seat on its side of the bracket while Florida is staring at elimination. It was South Carolina's 22nd straight NCAA Tournament victory and 12th straight in Omaha.
Florida is now 47-19 on the season and will need to win four straight games to make it back to the championship series for the second year in a row.
The loss dropped O'Sullivan's record at the CWS to 3-5 and his overall record in the NCAA Tournament to 21-10.
The top-seeded Gators will face Kent State, which on Saturday lost 8-1 to Arkansas, Monday at 5 p.m. with the loser going home. The two teams have met three times in history with Kent State winning two of the previous encounters.
“Once you get into the losers' bracket,” O'Sullivan said, “you can't look too far ahead.”
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