No. 6 South Carolina baseball defended its home turf in a marquee series this weekend, sweeping No. 3 Florida and improving to 24-1 at Founder's Park despite a growing injury list plaguing the pitching staff and infield.
The Gamecocks hosted the Gators for game one on Thursday night, run-ruling the visitors 13-3 in seven innings.
Junior pitcher Will Sanders started on the mound for South Carolina and pitched six full innings, his longest outing in over a month. Sanders faced 26 batters and threw 89 pitches, recording 10 strikeouts while giving up three runs on three hits.
Freshman outfielder Ethan Petry matched Florida's first inning score with a solo home run in the bottom of the frame, his 19th and the team’s 89th of the season.
In the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs and the game tied 3-3, Gator pitchers walked five straight Gamecock batters, ultimately allowing five runs to score before the third out.
“We’re a power team, and we will take our walks. That we'll grind pitchers,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “We try to get pitchers out of the game as early as we can.”
Sophomore infielder Michael Braswell went 3-3 in his at-bats with a trio of doubles and scored two of 13 runs for South Carolina.
“Our goal was to shrink the strike zone and hit hitters' pitches,” Braswell said. “We did damage on them.”
Another five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Gamecocks ended the game via the SEC's 10-run rule, South Carolina's sixth abbreviated win of the year.
On Friday, the Gamecocks used early offense to pull out a 5-2 win in what became a defense-heavy second game of the series.
Junior pitcher Jack Mahoney started for South Carolina and allowed two runs. The first came on a one-run home run from Florida sophomore pitcher and first baseman Jac Caglianone, and the Gators’ only other run scored with a wild pitch in the top of the fifth inning.
Florida junior pitcher Hurston Waldrep allowed all five earned runs by the Gamecocks, with the first two coming on a two-run home run from sophomore catcher Cole Messina.
Petry knocked in the other three with a home run of his own in the bottom of the second inning, which would be all the scoring South Carolina needed for the night.
Mahoney was pulled after five innings and 91 pitches, finishing with a line of five hits and two runs allowed with three strikeouts.
Sophomore pitcher Eli Jones came on in relief in the sixth inning and threw 49 total pitches, allowing three hits and no runs while striking out four Gators.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Chris Veach closed the game for the Gamecocks. Veach was able to utilize his changeup effectively against the game's final three batters, including striking out two.
“You just can't see it out of (Veach's) hand,” Petry said. “It just goes in another dimension.”
South Carolina completed the three-game series sweep against Flordia on Saturday with a 7-5 win.
Sophomore pitcher Matthew Becker made his sixth start of the season for the Gamecocks and pitched five innings, which is the furthest he's gone in any appearance this season. Becker faced 18 batters, struck out six and gave up only one walk, two hits and two runs.
"He stepped up big time for us," Kingston said. "The fact that he was that poised throughout the outing was really big progress for him because sometimes he lets the emotions get the little bit of the best of him. That did not happen today. On a big stage, with a huge crowd, with a chance to sweep a series, I was so proud of him."
While Becker kept the Gator's offensive success to a minimum, the Gamecocks continued to showcase their own power and depth at the plate.
Senior outfielder Dylan Brewer struck first with a lead-off ground-rule double in the first inning. Senior infielder Braylen Wimmer immediately brought him home with a two-run home run to left field to put the Gamecocks up two early.
"It's big to get it going early like that," Wimmer said. "Obviously, that builds momentum for us, and it will give confidence to the rest of the lineup hopefully."
South Carolina kept things tough for Florida's pitching staff, forcing Caglianone to throw 38 pitches in just the first inning and exit prematurely.
The Gators made its first call to the bullpen in the fourth inning after senior catcher Jonathan French took a lead-off walk. Brewer advanced French to second with his third hit of the day, putting two runners on for Petry's next at-bat.
Petry doubled to center field and scored both runners, surpassing Justin Smoak for the Gamecocks' freshman record for RBIs with 64, just a week after breaking Smoak's freshman home run record. Petry's RBI double also put South Carolina up 5-1 over the Gators.
Becker stepped out in the sixth inning for redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks, who lasted three innings in relief.
After a clean first two innings, the Gator offense began to put pressure on the Gamecock's lead when Hicks gave up three hits in the eighth inning. He was able to escape the jam, however, only allowing two runs to preserve a narrow South Carolina advantage.
Brewer, who finished the day 4-5 with three runs, started the Gamecocks' campaign for insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth with a double down the left field line. Messina added to the lead by knocking in Brewer a few at-bats later.
Veach came in to close for South Carolina in the ninth inning for the second straight game. Despite giving up a run off of a throwing error, he was able to get the job done and clinch the SEC series sweep for the Gamecocks.
"Like I said, we've almost expected it," Wimmer said. "We've known we're a top three team in the country, and we're gonna be that on Monday, so we didn't shy away from it, and we went out and handled business."
The Gamecocks (34-6, 13-4 SEC) host the Auburn Tigers next weekend at home in each teams' seventh SEC series. The first game is on Friday with first pitch set for 7 p.m.