Potent Cocks’ bats surge past Gators

Columbia, S.C. – Play with fire, get burned.

The Florida pitching staff wasn’t able to put out any fires on Sunday against a powerful South Carolina offense.

“The bottom line is that we just didn’t pitch good today,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We got too many balls up in the zone, too many pitches. We worked deep in the count.

Each team had a dozen hits but the Gamecocks won the game 9-6 as the No. 22-ranked Gators had three runners picked off.

No. 12-ranked South Carolina got leadoff hits in three innings, two of which saw a total of seven runs scored.

“We didn’t get the leadoff hitter,” O’Sullivan said. “We did not get the leadoff hitter today at all. When you don’t get the leadoff hitter against a good potent lineup like they’ve got, they’ve got a chance to hurt you all the time with one swing and that’s exactly what happened today.”

South Carolina (33-15, 13-11) overcame a Gator lead by scoring four runs in the fifth inning, then added two more in the sixth to continue its dominance over UF in Columbia.

Florida won Friday’s game 9-3 while South Carolina won Saturday’s contest 6-5. Florida (28-18, 13-11) has won only one series in South Carolina since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992. The Gamecocks have now won eight of the past nine series overall against the Gators.

Florida junior left fielder Avery Barnes had three singles and scored a run in the loss. Barnes batted 8-for-13 and scored five runs in the series.

“We’re disappointed,” Barnes said. “We really wanted to come out and play well today. But, this weekend is over and now it’s time for us to focus on our next game. We have to do our best to keep battling, keep moving on.”

Barnes led off the game and swung at the first pitch he saw from South Carolina starting pitcher Blake Cooper. He grounded out to third base, ending his streak of leadoff hits in the first two games of the series.

“We played pretty well today,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately it just didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. We just have to keep working hard and come out and play the next time it’s time to go.”

Josh Adams was hit in the shoulder by the first pitch from Cooper, but home plate umpire David Savage ruled that Adams was over the plate when he was hit. Adams hit a ground ball to the right side, where Scott Wingo made a nice sliding play and threw Adams out.

Cole Figueroa walked and Brandon McArthur walked on four pitches. Cooper couldn’t get his curve ball or changeup to drop into the strike zone to either batter, prompting a visit from SC coach Ray Tanner. The following pitch to Matt den Dekker curved into the strike zone, then den Dekker struck out looking at an inside fastball to strand both runners on base and end the top of the first inning.

South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens walked to lead off the game for the Gamecocks. Whit Merrifield followed with a bunt hit to third base, where Adams was starting in place of senior Jon Townsend. Adams charged the ball, but could not field it in time to make a throw. USC All-American first baseman Justin Smoak grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Havens. Smoak’s grounder to first base appeared to be a double-play ball, but Florida shortstop Figueroa’s throw sailed wide of first base, enabling Havens to score and Smoak to advance to second base.

“We struggled pitching in the first (inning), walked the leadoff man,” O’Sullivan said. “We had a miscommunication at first base on a double-play ball. Then we got a ball up to Disher. It’s just one of those things.”

SC catcher Phil Disher hit a line-drive home run to left field to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead. James Darnell popped out and Harley Lail struck out to end the first inning.

Florida designated hitter Bryson Barber struck out to lead off the second inning. Right fielder Riley Cooper, making his third consecutive and fifth overall start of the season, walked. Cooper, in a sign of things to come, was picked off at first base before second baseman Clayton Pisani grounded out. USC third baseman James Darnell made an impressive play to charge to slow-roller.

Keating settled down in the second inning, getting SC center fielder Andrew Crisp to pop out to shortstop. Keating struck out designated hitter DeAngelo Mack, then walked Scott Wingo. Keating stranded Wingo by getting Haves to pop up to third base and end the second inning.

Three Gators batters grounded out in the third inning, with only Barnes reaching via a single and increasing his stolen base total to 22 on the season.

In the bottom of the third inning, Keating got SC leadoff hitter Merrifield to line out to shortstop. Smoak walked and Darnell lined out to center field.

Disher blasted the ball off of the right field wall 325 feet away, but a nice defensive play by Cooper held Disher at first base and Smoak at third. Keating was visited on the mound by O’Sullivan before getting Lail to line out to third base to end the third inning.

The Gators put on a power display of their own in the fourth inning. Matt den Dekker singled to right field and scored on a two-run home run by Barber.

“He threw me a fastball, kind of in, so I just swung and got a hold of it,” Barber said.

Barber was in the starting lineup only 14 times prior to the game.

“I just do whatever I have to do to help my team win,” Barber said. “Whether it’s starting or coming off of the bench, whatever it takes, I just want to help this team get there.”

The Florida dugout was energized by Barber’s blast, his third HR of the season.

“Everybody has to try and bring (energy),” Barber said. “Whatever I can do to help, I’m going to do. Riley followed it up with another home run, so that was pretty big also.”

Cooper batted after Barber and crushed a solo HR to left field to tie the game 3-3. Pisani struck out after the home run. Florida catcher Buddy Munroe walked, then got his first stolen base of the season when he caught the SC catcher not paying attention. Florida loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning after Barnes was hit by a pitch and Adams walked, prompting South Carolina coach Ray Tanner to replace Blake Cooper with Nick Godwin to face Figueroa.

Blake Cooper allowed five walks, four hits and three runs in 3.2 innings.

Godwin got Figueroa to ground out to shortstop and leave the bases loaded in the fourth.

Keating allowed a pair of hits in the fourth inning, but a well-executed double play by Pisani and Figueroa retired the side without any damage.

The Gators took a 5-3 lead in the fifth inning, but gave up three outs on the base paths.

McArthur singled to center field on a full count and den Dekker walked. An RBI single to center field by Barber drove in McArthur and advanced den Dekker to third base.

Barber didn’t get to spend much time on base. Godwin appeared to balk, but threw to first base to get Barber out. O’Sullivan questioned home plate umpire David Savage about the non-call but was ignored.

“(Godwin) had a good pickoff move, but we had to continue to run,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the thing that has been helping us all weekend. We’ve been putting pressure on them on the bases. Those calls just didn’t go our way. We’ll have to watch the tape to see what it looked like, but it looked like from our angle like the front foot moved.”

Florida had all nine starters reach base during the game as seven had at least one hit and seven had one walk.

“We feel that everybody in our lineup can produce,” Barber said. “We have to do better getting runs across. We squandered a few runners with base running mistakes. We have to get better in that aspect (of the game). We have to squeeze more runs out on Sundays.”

Cooper followed with a single past the shortstop to drive in den Dekker, but his visit to first base was short-lived as well. Godwin turned and threw to first base, where Cooper was picked off for the second time in the game. O’Sullivan ran to tell first base umpire Steve Manders that a balk should have been called.

“They disagreed,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought on the first (pickoff), the front foot (of the pitcher) came up. I thought it was a balk move. On the second one, I didn’t think he gained any ground. I thought he was just spinning. Obviously, they disagreed. There’s nothing you can do.”

With the bases empty, Pisani singled past the shortstop. His time on base ran short when he was caught stealing on a delayed steal to end the fifth inning with no batters making an out.

“If you are aggressive on the base paths, you’re going to get thrown out or picked off on occasion,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s just the way it is. If you play conservatively and you don’t steal as much, you don’t get thrown out as much. We were a bit more aggressive this weekend and I though we ran the bases good. Today we ran across a guy that had a pretty good pickoff move. It’s a simple as that.”

As the teams switched sides between the inning, a vocal South Carolina fan taunted O’Sullivan by calling him “Leggett,” the name of Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett. O’Sullivan was an assistant coach at the Gamecocks’ bitter rival from 1999-2007, including his time as Associate Head Coach from 2002-2007.

Merrifield led off the fifth inning with a single off of Keating and was driven in on a two-run home run to left field by Smoak that tied the game 5-5. It was Smoak’s 19th home run of the season.

Kyle Mullaney was summoned to replace Keating, who allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks.

Mullaney got Darnell to ground out to shortstop, but Disher continued his torrid hitting on the afternoon and belted a double off of the right field wall. Lail hit a single past Adams at third base, advancing Disher. A sacrifice fly scored Disher and gave the Gamecocks a 6-5 lead. Lail stole second base and scored on an RBI single past first base by Mack. Mullaney hit Wingo with a pitch before being replaced in favor of tony Davis with a 2-1 count on Havens.

Davis got Havens to pop out to second base to end the inning with South Carolina leading 7-5.

Mullaney (0-4) allowed two runs and three hits in 0.2 innings and was charged with the loss, but O’Sullivan said he felt confident bringing him in at the time.

“Kyle was fresh,” O’Sullivan said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t his day. We gave up a four spot after we scored two. The rebound runs were the thing that has been getting us all weekend. We’d score a couple and give up a couple.”

The Gators scored a run in the top of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Figueroa. Barnes scored after reaching base on an infield single to second base. A single by Adams advanced Barnes to third base.

The Gamecocks countered with a two-run home run by Darnell, his 15th of the year, in the sixth inning after Smoak walked to take a 9-6 lead. Disher singled to center field for his fourth hit of the game, prompting O’Sullivan to replace Davis with Clint Franklin.

“We had J.K. still available, Adam Allen was available,” O’Sullivan said. “I though Clint pitched good.”

Franklin silenced the SC bats, pitching 2.2 innings without surrendering a hit or run. He struck out one batter and allowed two walks.

The Gators and Gamecocks both went down 1-2-3 in the seventh inning, by far the shortest inning of the game which last three hours and nineteen minutes.

Florida appeared to put together a rally in the eighth inning when Townsend was hit by a pitch while pinch-hitting. The home plate umpire missed Godwin’s pitch hitting Townsend in the hand, prompting O’Sullivan to have Townsend take off his batting glove and show the ball mark. Tanner’s protests were denied.

Barnes hit his third single of the game to advance Townsend to second base with one out, but Adams lined out to second base and Barnes was doubled off on the play to end the inning.

“I thought, offensively, we played well all weekend except in the second half of (Saturday’s) ballgame,” O’Sullivan said. “We battled our tails off, but you have to do everything right if you’re going to win on the road. We didn’t play good defense yesterday and today we didn’t pitch. It’s as simple as that. When you don’t do all three phases well on the road it’s going to be hard to win any series, especially against a good club like South Carolina.”

Franklin got out of a jam in the eighth by intentionally walking Disher and striking out Lail to end the inning with two USC runners on base.

The Gators were able to bring the tying run to the plate in the top of the ninth inning. With two outs, den Dekker hit a double to right-center field. Barber walked on a full count, Godwin’s final pitch of the game.

Parker Bangs earned his second save of the season by getting Cooper to strike out looking.

After striking out, Cooper got into an exchange with some South Carolina fans that had taunted him all weekend about his batting average. Cooper entered the weekend batting .091 with one hit in 12 at bats. Cooper finished the weekend with three hits in ten at bats – including two home runs, four RBIs and three HBP – to improve his average to .182 on the season.

Godwin (5-2) earned the win by pitching five innings and holding the Gators to three runs on eight hits and two walks.

A crowd of 4,904 was on hand for the Gators’ final game at Sarge Frye Field. The Gamecocks will move to a new stadium for the 2009 stadium.

The Gators will next host Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium.

“We just have to come out and play hard,” Barnes said. “Baseball’s a funny game. It can go many ways at different times. We go to Alabama next week, but we have Bethune during the midweek, so we’re going to go ahead and focus on Bethune-Cookman right now. After that, we’ll try to get ready for Alabama. But for right now, our next focus is Bethune-Cookman. We know what we have ahead of us. We still have some games to play and we still have a lot to play for, so we’re going to come out and play hard every day.”