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Gators waste late opportunities in 4-2 loss to South Carolina

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Brady Singer pitches during Florida's 4-2 loss to South Carolina on April 21, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.

GAINESVILLE

Ryan Larson ripped an eighth-inning pitch deep to the outfield on late Friday night and started rounding the bases.

The stage was set: Two outs, bases loaded, the 12th-ranked Gators trailing by three runs.

He just needed the ball to clear the fence.

But with the wind blowing in and Larson’s ball carrying to center field -- where home runs go to die -- South Carolina’s TJ Hopkins caught the ball on the warning track to end the threat.

One inning later, the Gamecocks closed out a 4-2 win at McKethan Stadium to even the series.

Florida (26-13, 9-8 SEC) trailed the game from start to finish after a shaky first inning from sophomore pitcher Brady Singer.

Singer, arguably Florida’s best weekend starter to this point of the season, opened the game by hitting Hopkins on the second pitch and then gave up a two-run home run down the right-field line to South Carolina’s Carlos Cortes. It was the first home run Singer had given up in his UF career, ending a streak that lasted 33 games and 108 1/3 innings.

“It’s frustrating sometimes,” Singer said of the first inning. “It’s baseball. You don’t have your best stuff every game. It’s just one of those nights where I didn’t have my best stuff and my command was a little shaky.”

Singer (4-3, 2.16 ERA) settled down after that first frame and at one point retired 11 of the 12 batters he faced before giving up another run in the sixth.

His final line: 5 1/3 innings, a season-high three earned runs allowed, six hits, five strikeouts and two walks.

“He battled,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the mark of a good pitcher. He was not at his best tonight, [but] he still gave us a chance to win.”

South Carolina’s Wil Crowe did the same for the Gamecocks (24-14, 9-8 SEC).

The 6-2 righty was efficient in his seven innings on the mound, scattering just six hits while not allowing a walk. His lone blemish came in the second inning when he allowed three consecutive one-out singles, capped by Keenan Bell’s RBI hit through the left side that scored JJ Schwarz. Crowe retired the side over the next three innings and did not allow a Florida runner to get in scoring position before being pulled in the eighth.

“He just mixed pretty well,” catcher Mark Kolozsvary said. “He has a good arm.”

With the exception of a fourth run coming home in the seventh, Florida’s bullpen held its own, with the freshman duo of Kirby McMullen and Tyler Dyson working clean eighth and ninth innings to give the Gators a chance to rally.

And Florida almost executed in the eighth.

Trailing 4-1, the Gators loaded the bases on a Keenan Bell single, a Kolozsvary double and a Deacon Liput walk to put the winning run at the plate with no outs.

And then Dalton Guthrie popped out to shortstop.

And then Austin Langworthy struck out swinging.

And then Larson’s hard hit landed about 5 feet shy of clearing the fences.

“Maybe most nights, it’s a home run,” O’Sullivan said. “But the wind was not blowing out. We just have to do a better job in those situations and not try to do too much.”

UF tacked a second run in the ninth when South Carolina closer Tyler Johnson was called for a balk with runners on the corners, bringing Nelson Maldonado home, JJ Schwarz to second and the tying run in the batter’s box with no outs.

Johnson forced three straight outs to end the threat.

The series finale is set for Saturday at noon. Florida’s Jackson Kowar (6-0, 3.51 ERA) will face South Carolina’s Adam Hill (2-3, 2.14 ERA).

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