Thursday, May 22, 2014

SEC Tournament: #12 UF vs #6 South Carolina

After dropping their first game of the SEC Tournament to #9 seeded Kentucky (34-22) by a score of 4-2, the #1 seeded Gators found themselves in the loser's bracket and just one more loss away from elimination from the entire tournament! To make matters worse, their opponent was the South Carolina Gamecocks, one of the most talented teams in the country. The #4 seed in the tournament earned its spot in the loser's bracket after suffering a 12-0 loss to #5 seeded Mississippi State (37-20) the night before.

I honestly couldn't believe that two of the best teams in the SEC would be meeting in the loser's bracket to determine who would keep playing. In their regular season matchup, Florida had taken two out of three games from the Gamecocks in Columbia. Both those victories came by one run and one game required extra innings! Things went a little bit different today as the Gators defeated the Gamecocks 7-2 to knock them out of the SEC Tournament.

Freshman lefty A.J. Puk was given the task of stymieing a South Carolina offense that had not scored yet in the tournament. Puk pitched four innings and allowed just three hits, two earned runs, and struck out five batters. He would get a no decision in the contest.

The Gamecocks scored first with an RBI double in the second inning and a long 400+ foot home run to deep center field in the third. Then, the turning point of the game happened. With two outs in the bottom of the third inning, junior Casey Turgeon blasted a single between first and second. Sophomore Richie Martin came up to bat next and surprised me as he laid down a bunt. It looked like a wasted at-bat as South Carolina pitcher Jack Wynkoop prepared to make a play on the ball.

Then, the baseball gods struck. Wynkoop bobbled the ball and Martin made it safely to first. The Gators still had some life in them with two outs. Obviously frustrated from his error, Wynkoop hit Harrison Bader in the knee to load the bases for catcher Taylor Gushue, the team's RBI leader (46) and the best hitter in the Gator lineup. Gushue delivered in crunch time and notched his 47th and 48th RBIs of the season as he smoked a single up the middle. With runners on first and third and the game tied with still two outs, first baseman Braden Mattsen caught everyone off guard with a bunt that scored Harrison Bader. The Gators took a 3-2 lead and knocked Wynkoop out of the game.

After the Gators took the lead, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan let Puk go for one more inning before bringing in the lefty Bobby Poyner for relief in the fifth inning. Poyner was fantastic in his five innings of relief as he gave up no runs on just two hits to earn his fifth win of the year. The Gators gave Poyner some insurance runs to work with as they kept tacking on runs throughout the game.

In the bottom of the fourth, Casey Turgeon knocked in Jordan Shafer with an RBI single and then Richie Martin followed suit with an RBI single that scored Josh Tobias to stretch the Gator lead to three runs. In the bottom of the sixth, the Gators struck again as junior Josh Tobias crushed a home run to lead off the inning and make the score 6-2.

In the bottom of the eighth, Casey Turgeon struck again with his third hit of the day as he knocked home Harrison Bader with an RBI double to make it 7-2 Florida and all but secure the win. Turgeon is my offensive player of the game as he went 3-5 with two RBI's and one run scored. His most important hit, in my opinion, was his first one as it started the two out rally and got the Gator offense going.

Defensively, the Gators limited their mistakes and made just one error in the game. That one error came from a fly ball in the top of the 7th inning that shortstop Richie Martin dropped. Martin's error would not prove detrimental at all as the next batter hit a fly ball to centerfield Harrison Bader, who caught it and proceeded to throw a strike to nail South Carolina's Gene Cone at the plate. This was one of three double plays turned by the Gators on the day.

Still very much alive in the SEC Tournament, the #1 seeded Florida Gators (38-20) will face the loser of tonight's #9 Kentucky/#5 Mississippi State game tomorrow at a time to be determined. South Carolina (42-16) has been eliminated from the SEC Tournament and will head back to Columbia awaiting its draw in the NCAA Tournament. A second place finish in the SEC East division behind the Florida Gators in the regular season should warrant enough of a case for South Carolina to host a regional despite an early SEC Tournament exit.

*Stats accredited to

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