Late home runs sink Gamecocks

Alex Destino hit a two-run homer in the first inning Friday for sixth-ranked South Carolina against No. 1 Florida. (File)

Florida’s mastery of South Carolina continued, and in dramatic fashion Friday night at Founders Park.

Gators third baseman Jonathan India hit one ninth-inning homer to tie the game, and outfielder Nick Horvath added another to win it as No. 1 Florida came from behind to stun sixth-ranked South Carolina 5-4 before a crowd of 7,948 left mostly silent at the end.

“It’s difficult right now,” said Gamecocks head coach Chad Holbrook. “... They’re a resilient group. Hopefully they’ll come to the park (Saturday) with the right frame of mind. They’ve been a group that’s handled adversity all season long. I’d expect nothing less than our best effort.”

The Gators beat South Carolina for the 13th time in their last 16 meetings dating back to USC’s last series victory over Florida, which came in the championship round of the 2011 College World Series. Florida (37-6, 14-5 SEC) also knotted the Gamecocks (33-9, 14-5) for first in the SEC.

“I don’t think anybody in that dugout thought we had this game won,” said Gamecocks outfielder Alex Destino, who spotted USC a 2-0 lead with a two-run homer in the first. “... You’ve just got to tip your hat to what they did. That was impressive.”

USC freshman catcher Chris Cullen had two doubles and his first homer, tying a career-best with three hits on the night. Outfielder Gene Cone doubled in the seventh to extend his school-record hitting streak to 28 games, one shy of the longest in Division I this season.

Both of Florida’s ninth-inning homers came off USC closer Josh Reagan, who entered the game as the SEC leader in saves with 11, and having allowed just one earned run all season.

“We’re going to live and die with him. He’s our closer,” said Gamecocks starter Clarke Schmidt, who allowed one earned run in 61/3 innings. “It’s a tough way to lose, but he’ll be back. He’s a confident kid, and I still have faith in him every time he goes out there.”

Holbrook said he considered leaving in reliever Tyler Johnson, who retired the only five batters he faced before handing the game off to Reagan in the ninth. “I thought about it. What went into it was the numbers,” Holbrook said.

“Reagan’s been our guy, and the splits from a batting average standpoint, where we were in the order, said go to a lefthander. So I played the numbers. In baseball sometimes you play the numbers and it works. It didn’t work tonight.”

USC had plenty to rue in a game it led 3-0 in the fifth, and in which it chased Gators starter Logan Shore — unbeaten and coming off a two-hit, complete-game victory over Georgia— after 42/3 innings, marking his second-shortest stint of the year. A two-out error by first baseman L.T. Tolbert opened the door for Florida’s first runs of the game, a two-run homer by J.J. Schwarz in the sixth.

And the Gamecocks left the bases loaded in the fifth and two men on in the sixth, squandering golden scoring opportunities against one of the best staffs in baseball.

In Saturday’s 7 p.m. game they try to rebound against Gators lefty A.J. Puk, considered by some the top pick in this year’s Major League draft.

“Great teams make you pay when you don’t execute. When we made a mistake, they made us pay for it,” Holbrook said. “... Certainly the opportunity was there to win the game, and we didn’t capitalize on it offensively or defensively.”