The night was two outs away from being ideal for Florida senior left-hander Stephen Locke, but it ended splendidly for his Gators baseball teammates.
Locke pitched 8.1 innings and left after surrendering a pair of solo home runs. By that time, however, his teammates had staked him to a big lead on their way to a 9-4 Southeastern Conference victory over South Carolina at McKethan Stadium.
“Unfortunately I fell behind those guys (Whit Merrifield and Nick Ebert) and they’re good hitters,” Locke (3-0) said after allowing six hits while fanning six while lowering his ERA to 2.97. “I had to throw them fastballs and they make you pay.”
Heading into the ninth inning, Locke had only allowed two runs, both unearned because of Florida errors. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan took him out after the two homers and Billy Bullock got the final two outs, one with a strikeout, on nine pitches after Locke had thrown 122.
“That’s what veterans do,” O’Sullivan said. “He (Locke) gave us what he could tonight and had an opportunity for the complete game.”
Locke walked a career-high four batters on the night, but three of free passes came in the first three innings and a pair of Florida errors (the Gators had three on the night) and South Carolina had a 2-1 lead after three innings.
“He wasn’t sharp in the first three innings and he had a slow tempo,” O’Sullivan said. “After that he shut them down and did what No. 1s do. He held them scoreless for those middle innings and gave us a chance to score runs.”
The Florida offense managed 13 hits off three South Carolina pitchers, with starter Stan Dyson taking the loss, dropping to 6-3 after pitching seven innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on nine hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
O’Sullivan shuffled his lineup, moving Matt den Dekker, who had been the leadoff batter, to the No. 5 spot. Avery Barnes moved from No. 3 to leadoff and Preston Tucker and Josh Adams each moved up a spot to No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.
Barnes reached base three times with two hits and a walk. Tucker went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and Mike Mooney went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored three runs. Teddy Foster had his fourth home run of the season, a 2-run shot in the sixth inning.
Florida took a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning without the ball leaving the infield. Teddy Foster and Mike Mooney led off the fifth inning by fighting back from 1-2 counts to earn walks. Barnes then dragged a bunt into the area vacated by second baseman Scott Wingo and Foster came around to score, tying the game at 2-2.
Daniel Pigott then dropped down a sacrifice bunt to third base, moving the runners to second and third with one out. Tucker followed by chopping an infield single off home plate and Mooney raced home with the go-ahead run. Adams then squeezed home Barnes.
“We’ve got some guys that can run,” O’Sullivan said. “You can’t just sit back and bang against a guy like Dyson. You’ve got to create other ways to score. It was one of those innings where things went our way.”
Florida tacked on two more runs in the sixth inning on a Foster home run to right field that scored Jonathan Pigott, who had singled. “I thought I just missed it and then it looked like the right fielder lost it,” Foster said. “But I’ll take it.”
The home run gave the Gators a 6-2 lead after six innings and the Florida head coach thought it was the biggest swing of the game.
“That home run really settled everybody down,” O’Sullivan said.
Florida added three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning with two out. Mooney doubled to left and South Carolina reliever Parker Bangs then walked Barnes intentionally. O’Sullivan then sent Tyler Thompson up to pinch hit for Daniel Pigott and Thompson delivered with an RBI single that scored Mooney and moved Barnes to third.
South Carolina brought in left-hander Will Casey to pitch to the left-handed Tucker, who singled into right field to score Barnes and move Thompson to third. Thompson scored when Casey threw a pickoff throw wide of first base.
The teams meet Saturday at 4 p.m. Freshman right-hander Anthony DeSciafani (4-1, 2.75 ERA) will get the start for the Gators against South Carolina freshman left-hander Nolan Belcher (2-2, 4.25 ERA).