HOOVER, Ala. With one swing in the third inning of South Carolina's 7-2 loss to No. 7 Florida Thursday afternoon, junior first baseman Kyle Martin doubled South Carolina's total offensive production in the entire SEC Baseball Tournament and accomplished a feat rare amongst college players: homering at cavernous Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Gamecocks had a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed Gators when Martin strode to the plate with one out in the top of the third, and looked like they'd bounced back well from an embarrassing 12-0 loss to Mississippi State Wednesday night in their tournament opener.
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Martin, facing a fellow lefty in freshman A.J. Puk, watched two pitches go by before pouncing on one he liked. The barrel-chested junior blasted Puk's 2-0 fast ball to straightaway center, where the line drive kept carrying until it cleared the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark.
"It was nice," said Martin of his fifth homer of the season, which landed just right of the 405' sign on the center field wall. "I hadn't had one in a while.
"It was a 2-0 fastball up and in, and I just stayed over and ended up getting a hold of it. It just carried out."
Apart from being the last run South Carolina would muster in Hoover, it would also turn out to be the only hit of the day for Martin, who batted .350 (7-for-20) in four games against the Gators this season with three runs scored and two RBIs.
INJURY UPDATE. A day after re-inserting Max Schrock and Connor Bright, who missed much of the latter half of the season with injury, back into the lineup, USC head coach Chad Holbrook held them out Thursday afternoon against Florida.
Holbrook rested Schrock (who played DH against Mississippi State) and Bright (who played right field) against Florida, electing instead to play freshman Jordan Gore (.210 batting average) in the DH spot and redshirt junior Patrick Harrington (.169) in left field.
Gore and Harrington went a combined 0-for-4 with a strikeout. The decision came out of a desire to have both players healthy for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, Holbrook said.
"I'm going to handle them with care," Holbrook said about the week ahead. "I just like it was too important for them to be healthy. I'm not liking what I'm seeing when they play one day, and then they can't walk the next."
In a more important game, both Schrock and Bright would have played, said Holbrook.
"But the only chance I have to get (Schrock) where he can play consecutive days is to rest him, and that was the decision I made," Holbrook said. "Connor was sore too. Connor could have played today, and I needed to get him some at-bats, and I wanted to play him."
Neither will practice much this weekend, said Holbrook, adding that he'll decide Wednesday whether they are going to be ready for the NCAA Regional.
"I can't keep bringing our players to the park not knowing who's going to play," Holbrook said. "We've done that enough.
"If they can answer the bell Wednesday, I'll let the media know they're in. And if they can't, we'll let the media know they're out. We're going to go with the guys that have found a way to win some games down the stretch."
A BIT OF ENGLISH. Tanner English was USC's best hitter Thursday afternoon, collecting two hits and an RBI in four at-bats. English batted .353 (6-for-17) with a run scored and two RBIs in South Carolina's four games against the Gators this season.
A MILESTONE FOR PANKAKE. Junior third baseman Joey Pankake tallied his 200th career hit with a second-inning double against Florida, becoming the 36th South Carolina player to reach that milestone. The junior went 1-for-4 with a run scored in the loss.
NEXT UP. South Carolina now have to wait until Sunday night to see where it's placed in the NCAA Tournament. The 16 NCAA Tournament Regional sites will be announced Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN's family of networks.
In the meantime, the Gamecocks will practice over the weekend.
"Let's go back and get ready, get prepared and practice," Holbrook said. "I'm going to practice their butts off, and hopefully we can get healthy.
"I can make them so mad at me over the next few days that maybe they'll take it out on somebody else here in a week or so."
South Carolina is expected to host one of the Regionals. But after a poor showing in the SEC Tournament and No. 10 Ole Miss's 7-2 victory over No. 19 Vanderbilt earlier Thursday, an NCAA Tournament national seed - and the right to host a Super Regional - appears unlikely.
But the Gamecocks still have plenty to play for, Holbrook said, noting that South Carolina has reached the College World Series - and won it -without a national seed in the past.
"What we work for - what we pride ourselves in here at South Carolina - is in front of us," Holbrook said. "It's not behind us. And we have some exciting times and exciting moments and obviously some very important games in front of us."
TROUBLE ON THE ROAD. With the loss, the Gamecocks dropped to 10-11 while away from home on the season. That sharply contrasts with South Carolina's 32-5 record at Carolina Stadium this season.
YANKEE GREYS. South Carolina has struggled in the "Yankee grey" uniforms this season, falling to 5-6 while wearing them with the loss to Florida. Oddly enough, those were the same uniforms the Gamecocks wore when they beat the Gators 2-1 in game one of the College World Series Finals, which USC would go on to sweep.
HOW THEY STAND NOW. The Gamecocks still own a 43-38 lead in the all-time series against Florida, but the Gators have held the upper hand of late, taking six of the last seven games.
Florida swept South Carolina in Gainesville last season and took two of three from the Gamecocks in Carolina Stadium in the regular season series this season. With the victory, the Gators improved to 3-4 all-time against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.
OTHER NOTES. Since winning the 2004 SEC Tournament, South Carolina is 8-20 in Hoover.
The Gamecocks have lost five straight games in Hoover, dating back to 2012.
Florida improved to 15-8 against ranked opponents this season, giving the Gators more top-25 victories than any other SEC team.
South Carolina fell to 28-4 this season in games where it scored first. The Gamecocks took a 2-0 lead in the third inning before surrendering seven unanswered runs.
UPDATED TOURNAMENT BRACKET.
(All times Central)
Tuesday, May 20
Game 1 Vanderbilt 3, Tennessee 2.
Game 2 Arkansas 4, Texas A&M 0.
Game 3 Kentucky 7, Alabama 1.
Game 4 Mississippi State 5, Georgia 4.
Wednesday, May 21
Game 5 LSU 11, Vanderbilt 1.
Game 6 Arkansas 2, Ole Miss 1.
Game 7 Kentucky 4, Florida 2.
Game 8 Mississippi State 12, South Carolina 0.
Thursday, May 22
Game 9 Ole Miss 7, Vanderbilt 2.
Game 10 Florida 7, South Carolina 2.
Game 11 LSU 7, Arkansas 2
Game 12 Kentucky 7, Mississippi State 6
Friday, May 23
Game 13 3:00 p.m. Ole Miss vs. Arkansas [CSS]
Game 14 TBD Florida vs. Mississippi State[CSS]
Saturday, May 24
Game 15 Noon Winner Game 13 vs. Winner Game 11 [ESPNEWS]
Game 16 TBD Winner Game 14 vs. Winner Game 12 [ESPNEWS]
Sunday, May 25
Game 17 3:30 p.m. Winner Game 15 vs. Winner Game 16 [ESPN2]
[SPSO] - SportSouth; [CSS] - Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast;
All games available in HD and on WatchESPN and/or ESPN3
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