Florida pitcher Jack Leftwich and South Carolina designated hitter Wes Clarke both desperately needed to reverse momentum.
Leftwich escaped the first three innings scoreless but loaded the bases twice. Clarke, the NCAA home run leader, failed to record a hit in conference play through 15 appearances.
In the fifth inning Saturday, both trends bucked. With two Gamecocks on base, Clarke crushed a fly ball over the right field wall to give South Carolina the lead and finally punish Leftwich.
Clarke’s home run proved the difference in the 4-1 loss, and South Carolina clinched the series as Florida’s offense sputtered and stagnated.
Following Friday’s 17-run bonanza, the Gators struck first in the top of the second inning. Freshman right fielder Sterlin Thompson laced a double to the right field corner to drive in the game’s first run.
Florida starter Jack Leftwich, who entered Saturday with a 1.71 ERA and 0.79 WHIP, never seemed steady on the mound. He hit four batters through the first three frames, after he beaned just one in his first 31.2 innings on the mound. South Carolina loaded the bases in the second and the third innings, but Leftwich escaped unscathed.
South Carolina starter Brannon Jordan loaded the bases again in the fourth but retired the side. Florida never saw multiple runners on base again Saturday as Jordan retired eight batters by strikeout in the first five innings, including the final out of each frame.
After he played with fire for four innings, Leftwich finally got burned. Clarke’s three-run homer, his 12th of the year, gave the Gamecocks a 3-1 lead.
Leftwich never made it out of the fifth inning. He struck his fifth and sixth batters of the afternoon before Franco Aleman took over on the mound. Leftwich hadn’t thrown fewer than five innings since a three-inning outing against Troy on Feb. 29, 2020, .
Aleman didn’t allow any of the seven Gamecocks he faced to reach base, but Florida’s bats couldn’t figure Jordan out.
Jordan went seven innings and finished the day with nine strikeouts, not allowing a run after Thompson’s early double.
Florida remained stagnant at the plate after Jordan left the mound. South Carolina’s Brett Kerry retired three straight Gators in the eighth inning before a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning forced the Gators’ hand.
Down 4-1, Florida stood three outs from losing the series.
Kerry retired three straight Gators again. When center fielder Brady Allena grabbed a deep fly ball off the wall for the final out, the Gamecocks clinched their first conference series against Florida since 2011.
Florida recorded only a single hit after the fourth inning as Jordan and Kerry retired eight straight batters to end the game.
The Gators, now 16-7 and 3-2 in the SEC, look to avoid the sweep Sunday at noon on SEC Network.
Contact Ryan Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley
Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.