For a team that's lived by the late-inning rally, it was time to die by it Saturday night.
Wasting chance after chance and blowing a three-run lead going into the eighth, No. 5 South Carolina fell 4-3 to No. 15 Florida in 13 innings to even the series at a game apiece.
The two teams will play the deciding game of the series Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Playing in front of the second sellout crowd (8,242) in as many nights, the Gamecocks built a 3-0 lead through six innings but watched Florida flip the script and rally in the final two innings of regulation to tie then pull it out in the 13th.
After Joey Pankake missed a chance to score the winning run in the bottom of the 12th when he grounded out to second with DC Arendas on third, the Gators opened the 13th with back-to-back singles against a tiring Joel Seddon (L, 1-1). With two on and one out Taylor Widener relived but hit the first batter he faced to load the bases and then surrendered a sacrifice fly RBI to Justin Shafer that scored what would be the winning when Marcus Mooney, Grayson Greiner and Kyle Martin went down in order in the bottom of the 13th.
"We've won our fair share of games like this," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "Baseball has a way of evening out.
Pankake said even going into extra innings, the Gamecocks felt like they'd win.
"When one of their players got on base (in the bottom of the eighth), I said, 'this is Carolina baseball, going to extra innings,'" said Pankake, who was 3-for-5 with an RBI. "It seems like we do it all the time.
"We had guys on it seemed like every inning. We played hard. I'm not mad at the way we played.
"We just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it. We're not going to get down. We're going to come back and play tomorrow and play the same way we played today. We wanted to win the series today, but we couldn't do it. We're going to hopefully win the series tomorrow."
The loss put the Gators (22-13, 8-6) and Gamecocks (28-6, 8-6) back into a tie for first place with tomorrow's winner taking sole possession of first for the next week.
On the field after the game, Holbrook said his message to his team was simple - win tomorrow and all is well.
"We're playing for first place at home tomorrow," he said. "You can bring this game and this loss with you to the park tomorrow and it'll turn into two losses if you choose to do that or you can come to the park ready to go."
"This league, if you don't pick yourself up off the mat it'll eat you up. It'll chew you up and spit you out. It's a difficult game. Every game is a flip of the coin. Every game is decided by a pitch here, a pitch there, one call here, one call there. That's just how it goes."
The Gamecocks opened the scoring with two runs in the fifth off Florida starter Austin Rhodes. DC Arendas led off the inning with an infield single that the second baseman couldn't make a play on, a sacrifice bunt from Tanner English moved him to second and he took third on a groundout to second from Gene Cone.
With two outs and a runner at third, Pankake got down 1-2 but battled back to make the count full before smashing the payoff pitch to the gap in right center for a RBI double. Mooney followed with a bouncing single through the middle that scored Pankake from second without a throw home.
USC added another run in the sixth when Elliott Caldwell singled and stole second then scored on a two-out double down the third-base line from English.
The Gators would tie the game when the Gators rallied for two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth.
Jack Wynkoop, who was in command the entire game while on the mound, allowed a bunt single to Buddy Reed to lead off the eighth and was taken out even though he was only at 86 pitches and had allowed just four hits and no runs coming into the inning. In relief of Wynkoop, Cody Mincey promptly allowed an RBI double to pinch hitter A.J. Puk to make the score 3-1. A grounder to second from Casey Turgeon got the first out of the inning, but Mincey then gave up an RBI-single to right from Richie Martin that chased him from the mound in favor of Seddon, who closed the inning out without allowing a run.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead with just three outs to get in the ninth, Seddon allowed a leadoff hit to pinch-hitter Zack Powers. Pinch runner Jason Lombardozzi then took second on a rare passed ball from Greiner when a pitch high popped in and out of his glove.
A sac bunt from Reed moved Lombardozzi to third with one out, and a batter laterleadoff hitter Casey Turgoen hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Lombardozzi easily and force extra innings.
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