GAINESVILLE, Fla. - No. 1-seed Florida dropped the opening game of the 2021 NCAA Gainesville Regional to No. 4-seed South Florida, 5-3, on Friday evening.
The Gators (38-21, 17-13) out-hit the Bulls (29-27, 14-14) by an eight-to-six margin, but left six runners on base to South Florida's five.
Nathan Hickey drove in two of the three runs for Florida, finishing 2-for-3 with one double and one walk.
South Florida struck first, plating one run apiece in the second and third innings to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
Florida starter Tommy Mace blanked the Bulls in the first, but South Florida used a Nelson Rivera RBI double in the second and Riley Hogan solo home run in the third to push a pair of early runs across.
The Gators responded in the bottom of the third with a lone run of their own. Mac Guscette led off the inning with a single through the left side before being replaced on the basepaths by Jacob Young on a fielder's choice to second. Young then came around to score on an RBI double by Hickey, making it a 2-1 game heading into the fourth.
With Florida breaking into the scoring column in the third, Mace stepped up to produce a scoreless frame in the fourth. The right-hander struck out back-to-back batters to end the inning, increasing his total to three strikeouts through his first four innings of work.
In the top of the fifth, South Florida extended its lead back to two runs as Carmine Lane hit a solo home run to left field.
Much like the third inning, Florida responded immediately in the bottom half of the fifth with the duo of Guscette and Hickey once again leading the charge. Guscette drilled an inning-opening double off the left-field wall and later came in to score on a single through the left side by Hickey, bringing the score to 3-2.
Following a two-hour and 18-minute weather delay prior to the start of the sixth inning, play resumed with reliever Christian Scott relieving Mace on the hill. Although Scott struck out three in the sixth, South Florida scratched across an unearned run to make it 4-2.
In the seventh, the Bulls proceeded to to increase their lead to 5-2 with an RBI single through the left side by Hogan.
Florida did not go quietly, as Kris Armstrong sent a solo shot over the right field wall to make it 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth. The long ball marked Armstrong's eighth home run and 18th extra-base hit of the campaign.
The Gators managed to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a two-out double by Colby Halter, but Florida was ultimately unable to complete the comeback as the game ended with a 5-3 final tally.
Mace received the loss, pitching five innings of three-run ball on four hits and one walk while striking out four. Appearing in relief, Trey Van Der Weide contributed 2.2 innings of scoreless baseball, scatterings one hit and one walk with one strikeout.
South Florida starting pitcher Jack Jasiak lasted four innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts. Reliever Dylan Burns earned the win, tossing three innings and allowing one earned run on one hit while striking out three. Orion Kerkering was credited with the save after throwing a scoreless ninth with one hit allowed and two strikeouts.
- Despite the loss, the Gators have won 17 of their last 21 games at home including 11 of their last 14.
- Hickey drove in two runs for the Gators, marking his first multi-RBI game since May 8 at Kentucky. Overall, the performance represented Hickey's 16th multi-RBI game of the season and 18th of his career.
- Florida is now 79-47 all-time at NCAA Regionals.
QUOTES FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O'SULLIVAN
On the team's energy and effort level...
"Yeah, it was kind of a weird game and it was pretty much unexpected because we had a good week of practice coming off a good week in Hoover. Bottom line is we got beat. You know, congratulations to USF, they certainly earned it. They made some good pitches when they needed to and had some quality at-bats. So as far as we are concerned, I don't think you can point to one thing that caused us to lose the game. I think it was multiple things..."
On the starting pitching for tomorrow...
"The game just got over, so we need to figure out who we are playing first. Once we figure out who we are going to play, we will make a decision."
On the ups and downs of the season...
"I thought we have gotten better as the season has gone on. I think there were two different seasons. I think the first half we were not very good and then I think we were 11-4 in the second half going into the Arkansas series. I believe that is right, in terms of conference play, so I do think we got better. But you know, it's been a little inconsistent, but we did get better. We have had a really hard time of maintaining momentum and it's our job to get these guys going. We are in the postseason, so you got to play your best baseball at this time of the year and obviously we did not do that today."
Florida takes on the loser of Miami-South Alabama on Saturday, June 5 at 12 p.m. ET with television coverage still to be determined.