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May 22, 2014

Gamecocks fizzle in Hoover

HOOVER, Ala. - Misery, thy name is Hoover.

No. 15 South Carolina's nightmare scenario - 0-2 and barbecue - became a painful reality Wednesday afternoon with a disappointing 6-2 elimination-game loss to No. 7 Florida that in all likelihood cost the Gamecocks a shot at a coveted national seed for the NCAA Tournament.

How bad were the Gamecocks at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium this week? USC had more errors (3) than runs (2) over two games and just seven total hits for the tournament. For comparison, USC had seven or more hits in 48 of 56 games before Wednesday. In the two losses, the Gamecocks gave up 26 hits and 19 runs.

If South Carolina hoped to make a statement in Hoover for a national seed, it did.

Just not the one it wanted.

"It was obviously a disappointing performance by our team," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "Up to this point I've been extremely proud of my team. We've handled adversity, we've fought, we've scratched and clawed and found a way to go 42-14 in the regular season.

"But these last two days, they didn't do much to make me proud, and maybe I didn't have them prepared. We'll go back to Columbia and get prepared for next week.

Holbrook wouldn't say for sure whether a national seed was definitively off the table after USC's unimpressive showing in Hoover.

"You never know," Holbrook said. "Sometimes the committees take a long look at what you do in your conference tournament, sometimes it looks like they ignore it.

"So it depends on year to year, committee to committee, I think."

A day after getting humiliated in every phase of the game by Mississippi State that was mercy-ruled, South Carolina (42-16) got off to a promising start in the second inning with back-to-back doubles - one scorched to left, one blooped to right - from Joey Pankake and Tanner English in the second inning sandwiched around a groundout that got the Gamecocks ahead 1-0 and was their first run of the 2014 SEC Tournament.

USC added another run in the third when with one out Kyle Martin blasted a 2-0 pitch from A.J. Puk to the deepest part of the part, straightaway center field, directly over the 405' marker to put the Gamecocks ahead 2-0 and give starter Jack Wynkoop (L, 7-5) a bit of a cushion.

It didn't last.

After retiring the first two batters of the third, Wynkoop allowed an infield single then misplayed a bunt attempt by Florida's Richie Martin to put runners at first and second. Wynkoop then hit Harrison Bader to load the bases, surrendered a single to Taylor Gushue through the middle to score two then Florida's Braden Mattson executed a squeeze bunt for a single when Wynkoop couldn't make a play to add another run to the board and chase Wynkoop from the mound. Cody Mincey stopped the bleeding with a strikeout, but the Gators held a 3-2 lead and had firmly grabbed the game's momentum.

"I felt like we had a lot to play for today and for some reason we didn't handle adversity very well there in the third inning," Holbrook said. "We had some energy in the dugout there when things were going well and we were up 2-0, but Florida kind of scratched and clawed and got back in it and took the lead and we didn't do much after that.

"It was disappointing."

Having faced just the one batter in the third, Mincey wore out suddenly in the fourth, walking the first two batters before getting relieved by Joel Seddon, who retired the first batter but then gave up consecutive RBI singles to put Florida ahead 5-2 through four.

A Josh Tobias home run to left, his third of the year, made it 6-2, which is where it stood until the Gators added one more run in the bottom of the eighth for the final tally as the Gators moved to 38-20 and will play the loser of the Mississippi State-Kentucky game tomorrow evening.

Offensively, USC's struggles from Wednesday continued. A day after going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, USC went 1-for-7 (.143) Thursday. Florida went 5-for-12 (.417). For the tournament, the Gamecocks were 1-12 (.083) with men at second or beyond and hit just .171 (7-41) as a team.

Now, South Carolina's fate is out of its hands as it waits on the NCAA to announce regional sites on Sunday, of which Columbia certainly will be one, and field and seeds on Monday.

"We'll see what happens on Sunday night and Monday," Holbrook said. "It's out of our control. I felt like this was an important game because we were playing a team with a very high RPI and a team that won the regular season.

"We got off to a good start, but the first sign of adversity, we don't handle it the way South Carolina usually handles it.

"Two days of baseball here, and we didn't play very well. The result is we got what we deserved."

He'll get no argument from junior center fielder Tanner English, who finished the game 2-for-4 to lead South Carolina offensively .

"When things didn't go our way, it didn't seem like there was a fire under out butts," English said. "It showed and it came back to bite us."

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