A season full of heartaches for USC ended with heartbreak at home plate in the bottom of the tenth Tuesday night against Florida in round one of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, AL. Talmadge LeCroy could not hold the ball through the tag at the plate allowing Ty Evans to score from third on a sacrifice fly giving the Gators a 2-1 win over the Gamecocks.
The throw to the plate by Evan Stone clearly beat Evans, and LeCroy got the tag down on his legs, but the ball came free from his mitt, and home plate umpire Jeff Head made the safe call. His decision was upheld on review, and the Gamecocks walked off the field with their fifth straight SEC Tournament defeat. They finished the season 27-28, the program’s first losing record since 1996.
Leading up to the late inning dramatics was an old-fashioned pitching duel between the Gamecocks’ Will Sanders and the Gators’ Brandon Sproat. Sanders allowed one unearned run in the fourth, otherwise he kept Florida at bay until Cade Austin replaced him to start the eighth inning. Sanders scattered four hits over seven innings and struck out ten.
Sproat took a no-hitter into the seventh allowing only two base runners up to that point. Josiah Sightler broke up the no-no with a one-out single and went to second on a ground out. With two outs, Michael Braswell singled into short left field. Sightler, running on a bad ankle, was waved home by third base coach Scott Wingo and was easily gunned down by Wyatt Langford to end the inning.
The Gators took their 1-0 lead to the top of the ninth when the Gamecocks finally broke through. With one out, Braylen Wimmer and Sightler had back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. Sproat was lifted for Ryan Slater who got a ground ball to third from Andrew Eyster. The Gators got the force at second, but Eyster beat the throw to first allowing Wimmer to score the tying run. Eyster then stole second, his first steal of the season, but Braswell struck out to end the inning.
Austin set the Gators down in order in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings. The Gamecocks got a runner on via an error with two outs in the 10th but stranded him. That set the stage for the Florida fireworks in the bottom of the inning. Evans lined a one-out double to left, and pinch-hitter Kendrick Calilao followed with a single to center. The throw home by Stone sailed over the catcher but Evans was already being held at third by his coach. Colby Halter followed with the sacrifice fly to center that got Evans home with the winning run.
The Gamecocks will miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time under Kingston. They went to the tournament the two other times it’s been played during his time at USC.
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Gamecock fans can only hope that the ‘King of Excuses’ era is now over. If retained, apathy for the 2023 season will be even lower than it was in 2022.