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Carolina rallies to top Gators in CWS opener

RUDY JONES Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:03 PM

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OMAHA, Neb. -

Florida has been a popular pick to win college baseball's national championship since before the season.

Two-time defending national champion South Carolina showed Saturday night it's in no hurry to step down, roaring back from a two-run deficit with five runs in the fifth to top the Gators, 7-3, in front of 25,291 at TD Ameritrade Park to complete the first round of the College World Series.

"It was just a really well-played game by South Carolina," said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. "It wasn't one of our best, but you have to give credit where credit is due. I thought South Carolina just outplayed us."

UF's Brian Johnson (8-5), who was masterful in a complete-game win over the Gamecocks in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, couldn't get out of the fifth inning Saturday.

The Gators dropped into the losers bracket and will play Kent State at 5 p.m. Monday in an elimination game.

"We've got enough pitching to get through this tournament," O'Sullivan said. "Obviously, we'll just take it one game at a time and see what happens.

"Obviously, it's going to be tough (to come back out of the losers bracket), but it's been done before and I think if anyone can do it we can," said right-fielder Preston Tucker (Plant High), who doubled in the third inning to give Florida a 2-0 lead.

"We've got a great bullpen and we've got guys we trust. I think we've got a good shot if we go out there and pitch the way we know we can."

South Carolina, which has won 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament games, will play Arkansas at 9 p.m. EDT Monday. The Razorbacks beat Kent State, 8-1, earlier Saturday.

Florida (47-19) jumped on top in the third inning. Justin Shafer and Vikash Ramjit had consecutive singles. A pair of great defensive plays - pitcher Michael Roth's diving catch of a pop bunt and Chase Vergason's diving stop and flip for a forceout at second - put the Gamecocks (46-17) on the verge of escaping.

But freshman left fielder Tanner English took an initial step in on Tucker's fly ball and the ball went over English's head for a two-run double.

Johnson walked a tight rope over the first four innings, stranding seven runners before falling off in the fifth as the Gamecocks scored five runs.

Evan Marzilli doubled and took third on Christian Walker's single. Adam Matthews drew a walk and Erik Payne tripled to give Carolina a 3-2 lead. LB Dantzler followed with a double to deep center field to make the score 4-2 and drive Johnson from the mound in favor of Greg Larson. Vergason then singled to center to score Dantzler.

"We elected to let Brian pitch to Payne, and obviously Payne had a good at-bat and so did Dantzler," O'Sullivan said. "It's just one of those things. We had a two-run lead. Once again, you've got to take your hats off to South Carolina; they had some really good at-bats that inning."

It was a credit to Johnson's craftiness that the game was scoreless to that point. The Gamecocks stranded five runners over the first three innings.

Florida, which won two of three against South Carolina in the regular season and got another victory over the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament, got a run back in the fifth. Josh Tobias singled and Nolan Fontana was hit by a pitch. Roth (8-1) got Tucker to ground out, then Mike Zunino followed with a sacrifice fly.

The Gators knocked Roth from the game in the seventh. Ramjit and Tobias singled and moved up on Fontana's bunt. Left-hander Tyler Webb came in and got Tucker to fly out to shallow left. After Zunino was intentionally walked, Johnson, still the designated hitter, flied out to right on the first pitch.

South Carolina added two runs in the ninth on a walk, a couple of wild pitches and a pair of Florida errors.

"It was uncharacteristic," O'Sullivan said. "We just did not have a clean inning that inning."

Matt Price pitched the final two innings for the Gamecocks to get his 12th save of the season and SEC-record 42nd of his career. A diving catch by Marzilli in center field denied Daniel Pigott of a leadoff hit in the eighth inning to begin a 1-2-3 inning.

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