In a 1998 commercial, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux introduced the world to a phrase that has become something of a rally cry in baseball circles ever since: “Chicks dig the long ball.”
If that phrase is indeed true, the No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks shouldn’t have a problem finding a date anytime soon. They took advantage of a strong wind blowing out toward right field to smash five home runs in their 8-5 defeat of the No. 5 Gators on Sunday at Founders Park. With the win, the Gamecocks (16-6, 4-2 SEC) swept the Gators (16-8, 3-3) for the first time since 2006.
As they did in the first two games of the series, the Gators jumped in front early. Sterlin Thompson lined a no-doubter over the right field wall in the top of the second off of South Carolina starter Will Sanders for his first career homer.
South Carolina immediately answered. Wes Clarke, Andrew Eyster and Colin Burgess hit solo shots in the bottom of the inning off of Hunter Barco to give the Gamecocks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Brady Allen added a dinger of his own in the third inning. Clarke’s blast was well-struck, but the next three felt like routine flyballs that just got caught in the wind and never came down.
In the top of the fourth, Nathan Hickey reached via a fielding error by Clarke at first base for what should’ve been an easy out. Kirby McMullen made him pay by stroking a wind-aided home run of his own to straightaway center to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 4-3.
Barco bounced back from the home run derby that broke out in the second and third innings to hang a pair of zeroes in the fourth and fifth. He stuck out five batters and didn’t walk anyone in five innings of work.
Ben Specht replaced Barco to start the sixth, and the Gamecocks picked up right where they left off against him early Saturday morning when they walked off the Gators in the 14th inning. Specht drilled Eyster with a pitch, and he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jeff Heinrich. Brennan Milone walked, and Burgess flew out for the second out. George Callil doubled high off of the wall in left center field for two RBI, and Allen hit his second home run of the game to expand the South Carolina lead to 8-3.
The Gators added a couple of runs in the eighth inning on a double by Hickey, but it was far too late.
UF’s offensive woes continued. They produced only six hits and struck out 14 times. They struck out a total of 45 times over the three games and only generated 13 hits over the final 25 innings to finish with a .174 team batting average for the series.
Jud Fabian struck out three more times and finished the series 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts. Jacob Young, Kris Armstrong and Thompson all struck out twice. All nine starters struck out at least once. Everyone seemed to be way out of sorts, taking pitches right down the middle and chasing pitches out of the zone.
Things won’t get any easier for the Gators next week. They’ll host a Mercer team that has a 13-10 record on Tuesday before welcoming in No. 4 Ole Miss for a series that starts on Thursday. The Rebels are undefeated in conference play.