No. 1 Florida takes rubber game of series from No. 6 Gamecocks

Nolan Fontana’s two-out RBI triple in the top of the ninth inning scored two runners and despite a solo home run from LB Dantzler in the bottom of the ninth inning, No. 1 Florida held on to defeat No. 6 South Carolina 5-4 on Saturday afternoon in the rubber game of a three-game SEC baseball series.

Florida improves to 22-5 and 5-1 in the SEC while Carolina drops to 17-7 and 1-5 in league play. Saturday’s game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 fans at Carolina Stadium for a total of 24,726 for the weekend series, only the second time in Carolina Stadium history that all three games of a series were played in front of sellout crowds. The only other time was April 15-17, 2011 in the Vanderbilt series.

With the score deadlocked at 3-3, the Gamecocks looked to make a move on Florida in the bottom of the eighth inning. Carolina put two runners on with one out as Pankake drew a one-out walk and after a wild pitch, UF reliever Austin Maddox intentionally walked Christian Walker. With pinch hitter Michael Roth at the plate, another wild pitch from Maddox advanced the runners into scoring position. However, Carolina was unable to capitalize as both Roth and Grayson Greiner struck out ending the Gamecocks’ threat.

The Gators would answer in the top half of the ninth inning. Gamecock reliever Matt Price retired the first two batters of the frame, but he then walked Vickash Ramjit and hit Cody Dent with a pitch putting runners on first and second for Fontana. Price got ahead of Fontana with a 1-2 count but on the next pitch, Fontana roped a triple into the gap in right-center scoring both runners and giving the Gators a 5-3 lead.

South Carolina, who trailed 3-0 earlier in the game, looked to mount one more rally in the bottom of the ninth as LB Dantzler hit his fourth home run of the season to left-center cutting the deficit to one run. However, Maddox coaxed Adam Matthews into a foul out down the first base side and pinch hitter Brison Celek flew out to center field giving the Gators a one-run victory.

Maddox earned the victory and is now 2-0 on the year. He allowed one run on hit in 1.2 innings with one walk and two strikeouts. Price suffered the loss and is now 3-2 on the year. He allowed two runs on one hit in 2.1 innings with one walk and two strikeouts.

Florida broke out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Nolan Fontana led off the game with a single to center field. After a one out base hit by Preston Tucker advanced him to third base, he would score on Mike Zunino’s sacrifice fly to right field. Florida added on two more runs in the top of the third with a pair of home runs from Daniel Piggott and Mike Zunino. Piggott and Zunino both jumped on 2-2 pitches from Holmes. Holmes went three innings and allowed three runs on five hits, no walks, and two strikeouts.

The Gamecocks got some momentum going in the fourth inning starting with a leadoff single from Joey Pankake. Christian Walker reached base on a dropped fly by center fielder Daniel Pigott and the runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt from Kyle Martin. With two runners in scoring position, Grayson Griener singled to center field driving in Pankake and putting the Gamecocks on the board.

Erik Payne added a sacrifice fly to right field scoring Walker and cutting the Gators lead to 3-2. Tanner English doubled to left field in the bottom of the fifth and was driven in by Pankake’s second hit of the game tying the score at 3-3. Florida starter Jonathon Crawford left after five innings of work. He allowed three runs, one earned, on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

The middle innings featured solid work from Gamecock junior left-hander Tyler Webb. The southpaw reliever put up several goose eggs and left the game after 3.2 scoreless innings of work allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out a pair of batters to help keep the Gamecocks in the game.

Florida finished with eight hits and South Carolina tallied five for the afternoon. Joey Pankake led the Gamecocks with a 2-for-3 day at the plate with a run scored and a RBI. Fontana, Pigott and Casey Turgeon had two hits apiece to lead the Gators.

South Carolina returns to action on Tuesday night traveling to Charleston for a non-conference tilt vs. The Citadel. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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