Crawford spoils Belcher's eight frames, Gators trip Gamecocks in pitchers' duel
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida threw out South Carolina sophomore TJ Costen as he was diving back to third base for the final out to seal a 3-2 victory on Thursday. With Costen on second base and two down, senior Chase Vergason (2-for-4) punched a single into right field off of Gator sophomore Johnny Magliozzi.
As Costen was coming around third base, he slipped as the relay throw came in from redshirt freshman right fielder Cory Reid to sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue. Gushue then fired a bullet to sophomore Josh Tobias, who prevented Costen from reaching the bag to secure UF’s third consecutive triumph – all against ranked opponents. The Gators (17-18/6-7 SEC) also snapped the eighth-ranked Gamecocks’ (27-8,8-5 SEC) winning streak at four games.
“Every win is important,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’re off to a good start in this series with [Jonathon] Crawford – it was really good to see him pitch into the seventh. We scratched at the plate and [Nolan] Belcher did a really nice job keeping us off balance. He’s been doing that all year long. He pitched a heck of a ballgame [Thursday], but Jonathon [Crawford] matched him pitch-for-pitch. Other than the hiccup in the top of the third, Crawford was really sharp [Thursday]. He pitched off of his fastball and I thought he did a really nice job and hung in there pretty well.”
The Gators used three hits and took advantage of a throwing error to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Sophomore Justin Shafer (2-for-4) and senior Vickash Ramjit (2-for-3, two runs) opened the frame with consecutive singles against senior Nolan Belcher (5-3). Tobias attempted to sacrifice his teammates with a bunt, but an errant throw by freshman third baseman George Iskenderian allowed Shafer to score, Ramjit to occupy third and Tobias to reach second base. Belcher had freshman Harrison Bader ground out, holding the runners, and sophomore Mike Fahrman delivered a single into right field to bring across with Ramjit with the second run. Belcher stranded the runners with consecutive pop-ups.
South Carolina countered with a pair of runs in the third to even the contest at two. Junior Jonathon Crawford (2-5) plunked sophomore Tanner English to start the frame and junior Graham Saiko sliced a single into left field. Vergason laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance his teammates and Crawford struck out sophomore Joey Pankake for the second out. However, a wild pitch enabled English to come across and senior LB Dantzler roped an RBI single into right field to bring home Saiko with the equalizer.
Helped by a throwing error, UF seized a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Ramjit led off with his second hit of the night and took third when Bader singled through the left side with one down on a hit-and-run. Bader moved into scoring position with his team-leading seventh stolen base and Ramjit scored when sophomore Grayson Greiner’s relay throw went into the outfield. A grounder by Fahrman nudged Bader to third with two out and Belcher snagged a liner by senior Cody Dent to complete the inning.
The Gamecocks threatened in the sixth, as sophomore Connor Bright (2-for-4) and Greiner (2-for-4) collected consecutive singles. Crawford responded by having junior Brison Celek fly out to center field and Iskenderian go down looking on strikes to keep the Gators in front.
Saiko drew a one-out walk in the seventh and Vergason hit into shallow left field. Crawford had Pankake fly out to right field, advancing Saiko to third base and prompting a pitching change. Junior Daniel Gibson replaced Crawford (6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 5 K, 2 BB) and had Dantzler ground out to maintain the 3-2 score.
Greiner singled up the middle with one down in the eighth but was erased trying to steal second base on a perfect strike by Gushue. Harris had Celek pop up to Dent to retire the side.
Costen earned a free pass to begin the ninth and Harris (1.0 IP, 1 H) was replaced by Magliozzi. English advanced Costen to second base with a bunt and Magliozzi had Saiko ground out to short, setting the stage for the game’s final play. Belcher went the distance for the Gamecocks in the defeat, while USC held a 9-7 advantage in hits. Magliozzi picked up his seventh save for the Orange and Blue, although Gushue’s career-long 10-game hitting streak ended with a 0-for-4 performance.