Gamecocks even SEC series, force rubber game vs. Gators

Florida baserunner Nelson Maldonado is tagged out by South Carolina catcher Luke Berryhill during Friday's game at McKethan Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent

The Florida Gators have won just one of their four SEC baseball series this season, and they’re now at risk of losing another.

After falling in the series opener, South Carolina rebounded with a 6-3 win Friday to hand UF its ninth conference loss before 4,531 at McKethan Stadium. The Gators (23-14, 5-9 SEC) will have a rubber match against the Gamecocks (21-14, 4-10) at 3:30 p.m. today.

UF starting pitcher Christian Scott gave up four home runs, while South Carolina walk-on Cam Tringali threw fastballs all night and allowed just four hits in six innings.

“We didn’t score for the first six innings,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It literally was one pitch to one side of the plate. I don’t think he more than threw five offspeed pitches. We can point to a lot of different things that happened, but certainly offensively it was disappointing.”

The Gamecocks first scored in the second inning with Chris Cullen’s single plated Jacob Olson. Scott then allowed two home runs in consecutive innings, giving up a two-run shot to Luke Berryhill and another to George Callil in the third.

Quinntin Perez and Cullen both hit homers in the fourth, putting the Gators in a 6-0 hole. Scott settled down over the net two innings, striking out two batters with no hits.

But O’Sullivan sat him down in the seventh after Noah Campbell’s single. Scott, who has been filling in for starter Jack Leftwich (blister), finished with five strikeouts and nine hits allowed in 101 total pitches.

“I felt OK after the home runs,” Scott said. “You gotta move past it pretty much instantly, especially when it happens four times like that. … If you miss your spot like I did, this is what’s going to happen.”

After just two hits through the first five innings, Florida came close to scoring with Nelson Maldonado’s deep shot to left center field. He almost homered on the play, but the ball hit the top of the wall and Maldonado went for an inside-the-park home run. As he rounded third base and approached the plate, South Carolina’s Noah Campbell made an incredible play from shallow center on the relay to throw out Maldonado.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, the Gators finally got on the board when Jordan Butler singled to score Kendrick Calilao. Brady McConnell’s popped up following Butler’s at-bat, ending the inning.

Florida had three more hits in the eighth to cut the deficit to 6-3, scoring two runs on Jud Fabian’s single to left field and Kris Armstrong’s double down the right-field line.

Austin Langworthy and Hunter McMullen singled to center field in the ninth, putting Calilao at the plate for the potential tying run with two outs. After allowing six hits and a pair of runs through two innings, South Carolina closer Brett Kerry struck out Calilao swinging to end the game.

“We have to come out and win tomorrow, plain and simple,” Langworthy said. “We can’t drop the third game here. We just can’t do it.”

However, O’Sullivan disagreed with the notion Saturday is a must-win game.

“It’s not,” he said. “All of them are must-wins at this point. We’ve obviously been pretty inconsistent this year, let’s just be honest. The bottom line is we just need to play better and eliminate some of our mistakes.”