COLUMBIA - It had to look familiar, watching an improbable comeback from the steps of Carolina Stadium's home dugout.
After cornering the market on late-inning magic this season, South Carolina held a three-run lead in the eighth. With its two top relievers available, the game was in good hands.
Then it started to turn. It didn't take much. A couple sacrifices here. A passed ball there. No. 15 Florida fought and clawed, just as the Gamecocks are known to do.
First, the Gators pushed across one run in the ninth inning to send the game to extras. Then, they tied the series and SEC standings, beating the No. 5 Gamecocks 4-3 in 13 innings before an announced sellout of 8,242.
"It's a tough loss. We just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it," third baseman Joey Pankake said. "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.
"This is Carolina baseball, going to extra innings. Seems like we do it all the time."
The loss ruined a gem from South Carolina starting pitcher Jack Wynkoop. The sophomore allowed five hits, including a bunt single to open the eighth inning.
Holbrook pulled Wynkoop after the bunt single. He had thrown only 86 pitches and still looked strong, but the coach turned to a bullpen that has locked down the late innings all season.
This time, the bullpen wasn't able to hold.
"A lot," Holbrook said when asked if he thought about leaving Wynkoop in the game with the low pitch count. "But, I just felt at that time, that the strength of our team has been our bullpen. I wanted to turn it over to them. I can rest easy tonight making that call."
Holbrook called upon Cody Mincey in the eighth inning. The junior allowed two runs - one that was credited to Wynkoop - before being pulled after getting only one out.
In the ninth, junior closer Joel Seddon allowed his first run of the season. He had pitched 19 scoreless innings entering the game. Seddon lasted five innings - a marathon effort for a closer - before Florida outfielder Justin Shafer's sacrifice fly scored outfielder Harrison Bader for the winning run.
The loss sets up the ultimate rubber match 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Carolina Stadium. The winner will have sole possession of first place in the SEC East. Holbrook said there wasn't time to dwell on Saturday's loss.
"We've won our fair share of games like this, and baseball has a way of evening out," Holbrook said. "We're playing for first place at home tomorrow, and 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 and understand baseball has a way of evening out. We're in our home park with a pretty darn good pitcher on the mound, playing a good team with a chance to be in first place tomorrow.
"I'll be anxious to see how they respond. It'll tell us a little bit about us tomorrow, how they respond."
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