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Florida outfielder Ty Evans. [Photo by Maura Schaeffer/FloridaGators.com]

Gators Can’t Complete Comeback In 9-8 Loss To South Carolina

The Saturday afternoon showdown between the Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks followed a script that the former squad has become all too familiar with: falling behind early on in the day, showing inconsistent signs of life at the plate as the game goes on, and running out of gas before reaching the finish line.

The Gators dropped game two of their weekend series with the Gamecocks in a 9-8 defeat on Saturday night. Florida has now lost six games in a row, marking the program’s longest losing streak in over a decade.

Juniors Jac Caglianone and Ty Evans knocked out a pair of long balls early in the afternoon to get the Gators on the board. Caglianone belted out a two-RBI home run in the first inning, while Evans chipped in with a solo shot in the second. Evans went on to finish the afternoon 4-for-4 in the batter’s box, including two RBIs and two runs scored.

After four consecutive scoreless frames for UF, the Gamecocks took a 9-3 lead. Florida went on to score five unanswered runs in the final three innings, but could not complete the comeback.

In his first appearance on the mound since 2022 due to various injuries, redshirt sophomore Pierce Coppola struggled to keep up with the Gamecocks. Coppola only lasted 1 1/3 innings, finishing with a line of three hits, one walk, four runs and three strikeouts.

“I didn’t know what to except with Pierce coming to the mound today,” UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I was hoping that would motivate us a bit, because they’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get back to where he is… But it’s at a point now where somebody is going to have to come up and have a big at-bat in a crucial spot.”

Offensive Fireworks All Over The Diamond To Start

South Carolina immediately got to pounding away at the plate to open up the afternoon. After junior Cole Messina led off the first inning with a four-pitch walk, sophomore Ethan Petry blasted a moon shot over the right field wall to give the Gamecocks an early 2-0 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Gators drove in two quick runs of their own to even things up in the bottom of the frame. Evans led off the inning with a nine-pitch at-bat that saw him cruise to first base on a walk. With the table now set for a tie ballgame, Jac Caglianone pulled no punches in his following at-bat.

On just the second pitch he saw, Caglianone mashed a ball well beyond the right field berm and onto Ballpark Way. As Caglianone cruised around the bases and greeted the dugout with a smile, Florida had tied this game right back up at 2-2.

Nevertheless, the Gamecocks remained unshaken entering the top of the second inning. After designated hitter Dalton Reeves landed on first via a hit-by-pitch, shortstop Will Tippett knocked a double into right field and off the bullpen wall to put two runners in scoring position for the Gamecocks.

O’Sullivan immediately pulled the plug on Coppola from there, but the damage had already been done. As soon as freshman right-hander Liam Peterson took to the bump, Messina took him deep on a two-RBI double into deep center field. Messina went on to score on an RBI single from right fielder Ethan Petry later in the inning, giving the Gamecocks a 5-2 lead.

South Carolina Hits The Gas Pedal

Coming back out with a brand-new three-run deficit, the Gators got to work in the batter’s box in the bottom of the second inning. With two outs on the board and no runners on base, Evans let his bat rip and cracked a ball deep into left field.

The knock initially looked to be foul-bound, but the ball slowly trailed back into fair play. Eventually, it squeezed just past the foul pole and landed in the left berm, giving Evans his eighth home run of the 2024 campaign.

As the afternoon went on, Peterson did everything in his power to keep the Gators afloat. The Gamecocks gave him multiple scares, including a bases-loaded jam with just one out in the fourth inning. Nevertheless, Peterson kept his cool and racked up back-to-back outs with ease to keep South Carolina off the board.

By the fifth inning, however, the freshman right-hander had started to run out of gas. Peterson surrendered back-to-back walks to lead off the top of the frame, prompting O’Sullivan to replace him on the mound with Blake Purnell. The junior right-hander got the situation back under wraps, but not before surrendering a bases-loaded walk to extend South Carolina’s lead to 6-3.

The Gators Struggle To Stay Afloat

While the Gamecocks continued to tighten their grasp on the lead, the Gators could not get anything going at the plate. After Evans’ second inning solo shot, Florida failed to drive in a single run in the following four frames.

After their offense cooled down a bit in the game’s middle innings, the Gamecocks went for the kill shot in the top of the seventh. South Carolina junior Talmadge LeCroy led off the frame by reaching first on a hit-by-pitch. Reeves immediately followed up with a long ball that landed in the heart of Dizney Groove.

Apparently still not satisfied, sophomore Will Tippett drilled a double into right field to put a runner right back into scoring position for the Gamecocks. Messina went on to bring him home on a ground ball double past Caglianone at first base. By the time the dust had settled in the frame, South Carolina’s lead had grown to 9-3.

Florida Answers The Wake-Up Call

Florida finally broke its offensive dryspell in the bottom of the seventh inning. After freshman Hayden Yost knocked in a leadoff single, Evans belted a double down the left field line to put a runner on third for the Gators. Shelton went on to score Yost on a sacrifice fly later in the inning.

Having found their footing offensively, the Gators got right back to cooking at the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning. Florida loaded the bases with no outs via a pair of walks and a single down the left field line from sophomore Luke Heyman. With one out on the board and three ducks on the pond, sophomore Brody Donay took to the plate for his first at-bat of the afternoon.

Facing a 2-2 count, Donay drilled a ball down the middle and right past the South Carolina second baseman. Heyman and sophomore  Ashton Wilson scored on the play with ease, while redshirt sophomore Michael Robertson landed at third base. Robertson went on to score via a wild pitch on the subsequent play.

Florida’s offensive onslaught was now in full effect. Facing a full count in the next at-bat, Evans belted a single into center field to drive Donay in. In the blink of an eye, Florida’s deficit had shrunk from five runs to just one.

South Carolina Holds On For The Win

But alas, a comeback was not in the cards for the Gators. Florida lined out and flew out, respectively, in its next two at-bats to leave the tying run stranded at first. UF freshman right-hander Luke McNeillie kept the Gamecocks at bay in the top of the ninth inning with a three up, three down frame. Nevertheless, it proved to be too little, too late.

Florida struck out twice in the bottom of the ninth before a ground out to first all but sealed the ballgame. South Carolina had narrowly avoided falling victim to the comeback, and the Gamecocks officially clinched the series win against the N0. 24 Gators.

In his post-game remarks, O’Sullivan expressed his frustrations with the team’s recent struggles. O’Sullivan believes that the main issues his squad has faced in recent weeks are solvable, but they haven’t been able to tackle them head-on this season.

“On March 6, I had a meeting right here with the team… The very things that I talked about on March 6 are the very things that are still going on right now,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m not going to say there was pushback, but at that point in the season, I don’t think there was a need on their end… there wasn’t much urgency, because we hadn’t gotten to the meat of the schedule.”

Up Next

UF catcher Tanner Garrison exited Saturday’s matchup with an apparent shoulder injury in the eighth inning. Garrison swung at a pitch and immediately recoiled in pain, dropping his bat as he hopped away from the plate. O’Sullivan noted that Garrison was receiving x-rays in his post-game remarks, and his status for the remainder of the weekend remains uncertain.

Florida and South Carolina will return to Condron Ballpark on Sunday afternoon for the weekend series finale. Caglianone will take to the bump for the Gators, while junior left-hander Matthew Becker is expected to start for the Gamecocks. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network, with first pitch set for noon.

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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