Thursday May 20, 2010No. 4 Baseball Edges No. 6 South Carolina, 3-2
Junior left-hander Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) closed the contest with two scoreless innings as No. 4 Florida (39-12/21-7 SEC) posted a thrilling 3-2 victory over No. 6 South Carolina (42-12/20-8 SEC) on Thursday night in the opener of a three-game series that will decide the Southeastern Conference champion. The showdown between Eastern Division rivals at Carolina Stadium was played in front of 8,188 fans, the third-highest total in the facility’s existence. The Gators tied the school’s single-season record with their 21st victory in league play and raised their winning streak to six games.
Senior Jeff Barfield (Perry, Ga.) (4-0) earned the win after yielding one run over 2.2 innings with a season-high four strikeouts, while freshman Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) came in and registered three outs in the seventh after junior Whit Merrifield had a leadoff single. Chapman picked up his ninth save by working the final two innings, not surrendering any hits or runs and totaling a pair of strikeouts. With the Gamecocks down to their final strike, Merrifield sent a towering fly ball to right field that curved foul. Chapman then finished off the game by having Merrifield pop out to junior second baseman Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) in foul territory to help Florida take a one-game lead in the conference standings and improve to 8-3 in one-run games.
The Gators broke the ice with a pair of runs on three hits in the third inning off senior Blake Cooper (10-1). Sophomore Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (1-for-3) led off with a homer into the home bullpen in right center field for his second round-tripper, first since March 30 versus Florida State in Jacksonville. After Cooper retired the next two batters, sophomore Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (3-for-5) collected his second hit of the game with a double into left field. Sophomore Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-3) followed with an RBI single up the middle to drive in Pigott.
South Carolina mounted a two-out rally to load the bases in the home part of the inning but came away empty-handed. Sophomore Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) registered the first two outs before issuing a walk to Merrifield. A wild pitch advanced the runner to second and sophomore Jackie Bradley, Jr., earned a free pass. Freshman Christian Walker had an infield hit to fill the bags before Panteliodis had junior Parker Bangs fly out to center field to end the frame.
UF boosted its lead to 3-0 in the fourth on an RBI grounder by Adams. Senior Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) raised his hitting streak to 14 games with a leadoff single into left field and freshman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) roped his third double to the wall in right field before Adams’ grounder to shortstop plated den Dekker.
The Gamecocks closed to within 3-1 in the bottom of the stanza and had the bases loaded with one down before Barfield came out of the bullpen and registered consecutive strikeouts. Sophomore Adam Matthews (2-for-3) legged out a bunt single with one down and went to third on a base-hit by senior Kyle Enders. Senior Bobby Haney put the hosts on the board with an RBI single into right field and junior Scott Wingo laid down a bunt single to load the bases and prompt a pitching change. Barfield replaced Panteliodis (3.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R) and struck out both Merrifield and Bradley, Jr., to keep the Gators ahead.
Senior Jeffery Jones clubbed a pinch-hit homer off Barfield with one out in the fifth for a 3-2 deficit. It was his eighth dinger and cleared the wall in right center field.
In the seventh, freshman Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) drew a two-out walk and Pigott matched his season high with his third hit to end the night for Cooper (6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 K). With runners on the corners, sophomore Michael Roth had Tucker fly out to shallow left field.
After Merrifield opened the bottom of the frame with a single into center, Rodriguez was summoned to take over for Barfield. The southpaw fanned Bradley, Jr. and freshman catcher Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) nailed Merrifield attempting to steal second. The left-handed reliever then had Walker ground out to preserve the one-run advantage.
Roth (1.0 IP) set down the first couple of Gators in the eighth and junior Jose Mata was called into the game. The sidearm specialist had sophomore pinch hitter Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) fly out to retire the side.
Chapman came on the hill to begin the home part of the inning and Adams made a tremendous stop on a grounder at second base by junior pinch hitter Robert Beary and threw over to first base for initial out. The southpaw whiffed junior Adrian Morales but then walked Matthews on a 3-2 pitch. Chapman had Enders ground out to Adams to close the inning.
Mata (0.2 IP) struck out Adams to open the ninth and was replaced by sophomore Steven Neff. Although senior pinch hitter Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) delivered a bloop single into right field, Neff rebounded to have Zunino fly out. After Fontana earned his second walk, South Carolina brought junior John Taylor to the mound. The righty had Daniel Pigott pop up to strand the runners and keep the Gamecocks down by a run entering the final stanza.
Each team finished with nine hits and neither committed any errors. In a meeting of right-handers on Friday, UF will send freshman Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (6-3, 2.96) to the bump against junior Sam Dyson (5-4, 3.79). The game will be at 7 p.m. and be shown in Gainesville on WLUF-TV, channel 6 on Cox Communications’ cable system.
· Florida also won the first game in Columbia in its last visit, a 9-3 triumph on May 2, 2008.
· In SEC play, UF was 21-6 in 1988 and 21-8 in 1998.
· The Gators improved their road record to 11-9 and are 8-5 in conference play.
· Kevin Chapman’s nine saves tie him for eighth on UF’s single-season chart with Connor Falkenbach (2005), Keith Ramsey (2001) and Danny Wheeler (1995).
· Daniel Pigott singled in the first and doubled in the third for his eighth multiple-hit game of the season. He added a single in the seventh to match his season best of three hits in an outing, set at USF on April 21.
· Alex Panteliodis’ 3.1-inning stint was his shortest start of the season and marked the first time that he did not work at least five innings.