Jordan Butler

Pitcher Jordan Butler hit a walk-off homer to earn a series win over South Carolina.

 

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan wouldn’t go as far as to say Saturday’s game against South Carolina was a must-win. But for all intents and purposes, it was.

The Florida baseball team dropped a Friday night game to the Gamecocks 6-3 to even up the series at one apiece. With the loss, the Gators fell four games below .500 in the SEC.

UF only came out victorious once in its first four conference series and was swept twice.

Pitcher Jordan Butler may have single handedly kept the Gators afloat in the SEC with his late-game heroics. He hit his first two career home runs on Sunday, the second of which was a walk-off three-run homer with two outs to secure a 6-4 win to take the series.

Florida’s pitching has been lackluster so far this season. It was down a weekend starter for the second series in a row as sophomore Jack Leftwich continues to recover from a blister on his throwing hand. The fact the Gators survived a weekend series in the SEC not only without Leftwich, but without a dominant pitching performance from any of its starters was encouraging for O’Sullivan’s staff. Up to this point, UF was buoyed in its only conference-series win by a complete game from sophomore Tommy Mace.

Mace rebounded against South Carolina after getting shelled a week prior at Ole Miss, earning his sixth win of the season. He went six innings on Thursday, which gave his predominantly freshman bullpen some wiggle room.

The offense took advantage of the strong start and had its third-highest scoring outing in SEC play against the Gamecocks in a 9-5 win.

The rest of the pitching staff was not as sharp, namely freshman Christian Scott. He allowed four home runs and six earned runs on Friday, but it was enough for the Gators to take the series.

UF’s offense looked good against South Carolina, as it has most of the year. The Gators had 31 hits this weekend, drew 13 walks and struck out only 16 times.

What changed against the Gamecocks was Florida’s lineup. O’Sullivan experimented with  Brady McConnell, who leads the team with a .374 batting average and a .426 on-base percentage, hitting first. He responded well to the change. The sophomore went 3 for 12 with four RBIs on the weekend. McConnell replaced freshman Jacob Young in the leadoff spot, who is slumping. He is hitting 2 for 16 in the past two weeks.

Junior Austin Langworthy, who has been hitting better recently after a massive slump to start the season, hit second all weekend long, replacing McConnell in that role.

Designated hitter and team captain Nelson Maldonado was noticeably absent from the lineup on Saturday, as he has the third-highest batting average on the team (.328). Butler took his spot at DH while Maldonado deals with a sore shoulder.

The series win should be more of a relief than a celebration for Florida (24-14, 6-9 SEC), which still has ground to make up in the conference standings and has road series at No. 9 LSU and No. 2 Georgia in the next two weeks.

Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood and contact him at [email protected].

Kyle Wood covers baseball and has been with the Florida Alligator since Fall 2018. He previously covered men's and women's tennis.