This was a big weekend for South Carolina baseball.
They were coming off their first SEC series sweep in years at the hands of Kentucky. They lost to Wofford in extra innings on Wednesday. ESPN was in town for Thursday night SEC baseball.
And so were the #1 ranked Florida Gators.
It was imperative that South Carolina put up a good showing and erase the memories of those close losses to the Kentucky Wildcats.
There was plenty to take away from this weekend but, in the end, the Gamecocks fell short in their bid to win the series to Florida and lost two games out of three. Here's a recap of each game for the series:
- Thursday - Michael Roth and Hudson Randall went toe to toe in Thursday night's series opener and both pitchers didn't disappoint. Roth held the Gators to two runs as did Randall and this appeared to be a pitcher's duel that would go down to the wire. Insert Austin Maddox in the seventh inning and that's when things got crazy for the Gamecocks. USC exploded for four runs in the seventh inning and then added three more in the eight to build up a 9-2 lead and would finish off the Gators 9-3 for the win. The big surprise here was Matt Price came in from the bullpen for his first relief appearance for the year and he was dominant. He picked up the win giving up no hits in 2.1 innings of work. Adam Matthews hit a big home run for the Gamecocks early in this one and Kyle Martin and Erik Payne both delivered crucial hits in the seventh to give USC the permanent lead.
- Friday - The Gamecocks hoped to continue the momentum from Thursday's win into Friday and that sophomore Forrest Koumas would recapture his 2011 magic as a starter. This didn't happen as Koumas walked five batters and gave up six runs to Florida in 1.0 inning of work. USC would fail to overcome this lead and would eventually fall to Florida 8-2. The Gamecock relief pitchers did well but the damage was done in the first two innings and USC didn't have an answer. Lone bright spot for USC was Christian Walker, who hit his third home run of the season.
- Saturday - The series tied at one game a piece and both South Carolina and Florida wanted to win this series finale. It was quite a game as both teams showcased all they could but it was one mistake made by pitcher Matt Price in the top of the ninth that ended it for the Gamecocks. Florida's Nolan Fontana hit a two-out RBI triple that put the Florida Gators out front 5-3 and they would hang on to win 5-4 when USC added an LB Dantzler home run in the bottom of the ninth. The Gamecocks looked like they would take the lead in the bottom of the eight when they had two runners on with one out but Florida got out of the jam and made them pay. Tyler Webb pitched well in relief and Matt Price did so as well until the big hit in the top of ninth.
It was a tough series for the Gamecocks against Florida. There's a reason why the Gators are number one in the nation and it shows. Top to bottom, there is a ton of talent on Florida's roster and the big difference just seems to be experience right now. South Carolina is in the midst of replacing its entire infield and that group is still learning and growing at a unit.
The big move of the weekend was putting Matt Price back in the bullpen. It worked out perfectly for USC on Thursday night as Price came into the tied ball game and flipped the energy to the Gamecocks' side. He's been great as a starting pitcher this year but there is something about him coming in from the bullpen that makes things click for the Gamecocks. Forrest Koumas will need to work back to last year's form if they are to make this move stick.
South Carolina showed enough to me this weekend that this is a team that should still be considered dangerous in the SEC. They had two close losses to Kentucky that could have went the other way. They have a close loss to Florida on Saturday and the extra innings loss to Wofford as well. Add a few runs to those games and this Gamecock team is still sitting pretty. The bad news is there is work to do. USC is in last place in the SEC East at 1-5 in conference play and travel to the always tough Vanderbilt Commodores next weekend. It'll be important for South Carolina to win this series if they hope to make a run at the SEC Tournament.
It's not quite time to panic if you are South Carolina but you certainly want to get things headed in the right direction sooner than later.