USC-Florida finale gets rained out

Allen Sharpe/Spurs and Feathers South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook and Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan await word on the status of Sunday's game in Columbia. Sunday's series finale was canceled due to thunderstorms in the vicinity of Founders Park

COLUMBIA — South Carolina finished its biggest series of the season in first place in the SEC standings — without getting to complete its final game against the No. 1 team in the nation.

Thunderstorms interrupted Sunday’s finale against Florida in the middle of the third inning, washing out what was supposed to be the deciding contest of the three-game set at Founders Park. The scoreless game was canceled and will not be made up, leaving the sixth-ranked Gamecocks with a split and a one-game lead in the SEC.

“Our kids competed hard and didn’t shy away,” said USC coach Chad Holbrook. “They believed they were going to win. They believed they were the favorite. I know on paper you’re not, but as a competitor, you always want that belief, and I sensed that in our dugout this weekend. I loved their response to the magnitude of each and every pitch.”

The weather prematurely ended a series that lived up to billing, with the Gators winning a one-run game Friday and the Gamecocks doing the same on Saturday. Sunday’s starting pitchers had combined to allow one hit until lightning within eight miles of the stadium led officials to clear the field and order spectators to seek shelter.

Players and coaches were preparing to resume play when thunder and lightning in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark led to another delay, this one accompanied by very heavy rain. The game was also an hour late in starting due to lightning in the area.

“It was an important game, and we wanted to play nine innings. And I’ll tell you, if we had a window at any time today where we think we could have played nine innings, we’d have played them,” said Holbrook, whose team next plays Wednesday against USC Upstate.

“But I think both coaches didn’t want to play a shortened game in a game of this magnitude. In a situation like this, you have to have all parties agree. And all parties agreed.”

Since statistics did not count, Gene Cone’s USC-record 29-game hitting streak remains intact, despite him going 0 for 1 before the weather intervened. The cancellation denied the Gamecocks a chance at their first series victory over Florida since the championship round of the 2011 College World Series, but left them a game up in the SEC.

South Carolina (34-9, 15-5 SEC) leads Florida (37-7, 14-6) by one game, with No. 2 Texas A&M a half-game behind the Gators. The Gamecocks have nine conference games remaining in their quest for a fourth SEC title, and first since 2011.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great position where every game, every pitch is going to be of utmost importance,” Holbrook said. “Yeah, I would have definitely signed up for this at the start of the year. You tell me you’ve got nine games left, you control your own destiny, would you take that scenario? Absolutely.”

USC has one home SEC series left, against Texas A&M, in between road sets at Kentucky and Alabama. “We are in a decent position to compete for a championship,” Holbrook said. “With nine games to go, that’s all I can ask of our team.”