The Florida Gators came into this weekend’s series with South Carolina needing to win two games to maintain their hopes of hosting a first-round regional in the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
Well, the mission has been accomplished, thanks to Florida’s 8-3 victory Saturday at McKethan Stadium (which followed a 9-4 victory Friday night), and now it’s up to the NCAA Baseball Committee if the Gators will be a first-round host.
“This is big time,” redshirt senior Brandon McArthur said after the Gators improved to 30-14 overall and 12-8 in the SEC East Division. “It was a heated battle. They kept coming back on us. It’s really big to get this series in our favor.”
Freshman Anthony DeSclafani got the start on the mound for the Gators. He gave up one run to South Carolina on a Nick Ebert sacrifice fly in the first inning, but the Gators didn’t waste time responding.
Leadoff hitter Avery Barnes, who went 3-for-4, tied the game with a home run on the fifth pitch delivered by USC starter Nolan Belcher (2-3).
“I got a 3-1 fastball right down the middle,” Barnes said of his seventh home run of the season. “I don’t usually (hit home runs), but I try to get on base any way I can.”
Daniel Pigott then reached first base on a throwing error by South Carolina third baseman Andrew Crisp. Preston Tucker followed by doubling down the left-field line, bringing in Pigott and giving the Gators a 2-1 lead after the first inning.
Florida tacked on another run in the second inning when Teddy Foster hit fourth home run of the season, and second in two days, to push the Gator lead to 3-1.
DeSclafani then settled in. Between the second and fifth innings, the right-hander faced the minimum twelve batters. Whit Merrifield reached on a single but was erased by catcher Buddy Munroe threw him out trying to steal.
But DeSciafani ran into trouble in the sixth inning when Bobby Haney lined a leadoff single into center field. After Merrifield struck out looking, DeAngelo Mack doubled to deep right center, moving Haney to third. Ebert singled to left, scoring both runs and taking DeSclafani out of the game.
DeSclafani ended the day throwing 5.1 innings, allowing three runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Tony Davis (5-0) pitched two innings, allowing one hit and one walk while fanning three and Billy Bullock worked the last 1.2 innings, allowing one hit while earning his seventh save of the season.
“(DeSciafani) didn’t get off to a good start, but he was very sharp,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He settled down and gave us an opportunity to score some runs.”
The game didn’t stay tied 3-3 for long. In the bottom of the sixth, McArthur reached on an infield single and went to second when Munroe walked. Foster hit a possible double-play ground ball to second but the relay from shortstop Bobby Haney threw the relay away, allowing McArthur to score the go-ahead run.
The Gators then broke the game open with three runs in the seventh inning. Barnes started the rally with a single, Daniel Pigott walked and Tucker reached on an infield hit to load the bases. After Josh Adams lined out, Matt den Dekker grounded to first, scoring Barnes. McArthur then delivered a double down the left-field line that scored Daniel Pigott and Tucker for a 7-3 lead.
“That swing (by McArthur) gave us the cushion,” O’Sullivan said. “It was two outs and two strikes, and those at-bats extend innings.”
The Gators tacked on a run in the eighth inning when Tucker grounded out to the pitcher, scoring Mike Mooney, who had reached on a walk. Tucker, who had three hits, ended the day with two RBI, pushing his total on the season to 57, which is five shy of the school record held by Brad Wilkerson.
The Gators go for the sweep Sunday at 1 p.m.