At the end of yesterday's Elite Eight game, I felt very much like the rest of the Gator Nation. I couldn't even think of writing, I didn't watch a bit of sports, and a basically was in a pissed-off mood for the rest of the night.
But then I glanced at the score of the No. 1 Gators (22-2, 5-1) baseball team and saw that they had won Saturday's game, taking two out of three from the sixth-ranked and two-time defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5). I realized I should be proud of our basketball team and move on to baseball, where we have the most loaded team in college baseball. Now that basketball season is officially over for Florida, we can focus our full attention on our spring sports. Baseball is going to be front and center this spring and we have a team this year that it's College World Series or bust.
With the way things have gone early on, I'd put my money on CWS.
In the rubber match between the Gators and Gamecocks, Florida used good pitching from starter Jonathon Crawford (five innings pitched, four hits, three runs, one earned run, and two strikeouts), Stephen Rodriguez (2 1/3 innings of perfect baseball), and a mediocre outing by Austin Maddox (3-0) standings (1 2/3 innings pitched, one hit, one run, one walk, and one strikeout) to get past South Carolina, 5-4. For the Gamecocks, Matt Price (3-2), who had been so good against the Gators last year and this year, took the loss, pitching 2 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits. UF improved to 5-4 in Columbia against SC under head coach Kevin O'Sullivan.
Florida started things off in the first when Mike Zunino sacrificed home Nolan Fontana to give the Gators a 1-0 lead. Florida was back at it in the third, with Daniel Pigott and Zunino each hitting a solo homer to put the Gators up 3-0. Zunino, the team leader in home runs with nine, is also the team leader in sac flies with five.
South Carolina cut into the lead in the bottom of the fourth, with an RBI single by Grayson Greiner and a sac fly by Erik Payne to put the game at 3-2. The Gamecocks came back the next inning with another run to knot the game up at three. A two-out, RBI single by Joey Pankake tied the game.
Things got interesting in the ninth with the game still at 3-3. In the top of the ninth, Florida scored two runs and one hit. That hit was a bases clearing, two RBI triple by Fontana to put the Gators up 5-3. South Carolina came back in the bottom of the ninth against the usually unhittable Maddox to threaten the Gators lead. The Gamecocks LB Dantzler provided some fireworks and nail biting for the fans when he cranked a solo shot to put SC within a run at 5-4. But Maddox shut the door on the next two batters to claim the series for Florida.
The Gators are back in action Tuesday night against fourth ranked, in-state rival Florida State (19-2, 6-0). The game will be played at the Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville and start at 7 p.m. Florida took game one from the Seminoles, 9-2, in Gainesville.