Buddy Reed stood just 90 feet away from another ninth inning comeback, but Friday’s ninth inning magic couldn’t be replicated on Saturday as the Florida Gators (37-7, 14-6 SEC) fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks (34-9, 15-5 SEC) 2-1.
Fans at Founder’s Park were treated to a pitching duel between projected first round pick A.J. Puk and Brandon Webb. South Carolina’s freshmen retired the first four batters he faces, while Puk worked around a leadoff double to keep South Carolina scoreless in the first frame.
Buddy Reed opened the scoring with a solo home run to right field, his fourth of the season, but South Carolina answered back. Dom Thompson-Williams doubled down the left field line to start the second and scored two batter later on a Hunter Taylor single to center field.
Webb and Puk continued to match and one-up each other over the next six innings. After Reed’s home run, Webb sat down five in a row before giving up a single. Puk would allow just one hit after the leadoff double in the second, but did walk three.
With the game knotted at one, Puk gave up a two-out double to Madison Stokes before inducing a ground out to get out of the inning. Puk let out a scream as the raucous Columbia crowd found their seats, discouraged. Puk came out in the seventh but needed to have a trainer check out his left throwing hand while warming up. Puk was pulled from the game by Kevin O’Sullivan and the Florida trainers and was seen icing his hand in the dugout, his final line of six innings pitched, 10 strikeouts, one earned run and 101 pitches would not factor into the decision.
Kirby Snead replaced Puk and punched out the first batter he faced and a ground out to short brought Gene Cone to the plate with two outs. Cone deposited a 2-2 fastball into the right field bleachers, the first home run Snead had allowed in 30 innings pitched this season.
Webb continued to tangle up the Gator bats. The freshman threw into the eighth before he was chased by back-to-back singles, but he struck out seven on his way to earning his ninth win.
The 2-1 Carolina lead carried into the ninth inning and Pete Alonso’s lead off single had Florida feeling déjà vu. Buddy Reed beat out what could have been a devastating double play ball, and promptly stole second. Reed advanced to third on a Jonathan India grounder to short, giving Ryan Larson, who pinch ran in the seventh, a chance to be the hero on Saturday. Larson fell behind 0-2 but battled back to even the count, 2-2. Larson laced a fastball down the line in right field, coming up a few feet short of what would have been extra bases and the tying run. The ball fell foul and Larson swung through a high fastball for strike three on the next pitch.
The rubber match between Gamecocks and Gators will be at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Florida will throw Alex Faedo (8-1, 3.32) vs Adam Hill (6-0, 2.57).