Maybe we should all be used to this by now. There's nothing ordinary about this South Carolina team or how it's strung together more than a year of NCAA tournament wins. Call it luck, or clutch, or even something slightly magical -- whatever it is, it's made this South Carolina team hard to meet.
In a way, it started before the game, with the saga of Christian Walker's fractured hamate bone. Might it force him to sit out and require the Gamecocks to turn to star pitcher Michael Roth for emergency duty? Printed line-up cards reportedly listed that exact situation -- until Walker was announced shortly before gametime as the team's starter at first base.
But the Gators would take the lead first, with a leadoff walk to Tyler Thompson in the third inning. A groundout and a wild pitch quickly turned that walk into Thompson running at third with one out. Cody Dent drove in Thompson with a sacrifice fly.
The 1-0 lead held until the eighth inning, with Hudson Randall mowing down South Carolina batter after South Carolina batter. Then the Gamecocks' special ability to win kicked in. Hudson walked Peter Mooney to start the eighth. Mooney eventually wound up on third with two outs. That's when Scott Wingo came to the plate, and anyone familiar with South Carolina baseball kind of knew what would happen next -- Wingo singled and Mooney scored. 1-1.
But Florida looked like it would finally get the better of the Gamecocks in the ninth. Mike Zunino walked to begin the inning. Brian Johnson singled to advance Zunino to third. The Gamecocks intentionally walked Josh Adams to load the bases and set up the force out at home. But it also loaded the bases with no outs.
Then, Tyler Thompson sharply cracked a ball up the middle -- which Wingo snared on the dive and threw home, getting the out only when Robert Beary picked the ball nicely. Daniel Pigott then got up and hit another ball to Wingo, who shot it back to Beary, who threw to Walker at first to get the out. (Replay showed that Pigott probably should have been safe, requiring at least one more episode of heroism from the Gamecocks -- and maybe one too many.)
The game would get too close for South Carolina's comfort once more. In the tenth, Zunino singled with Dent on second. Dent rounded third as Jake Williams picked up the ball and fired it to Beary, who caught it up the line and then lunged at Dent -- tagging him before he reached the plate to end the inning.
The 11th, though, was where things got even odder. Walker singled with one out. In a game he was not even supposed to be playing in, Walker then tried to steal second. Zunino air-mailed the throw to center field, allowing Walker to move to third. Bryson Smith picked up the ball and could have tossed it into the infield. Instead, Smith threw it wide to third, and Walker trotted in with the go-ahead run.
But Florida still had to bat in the 11th. And South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner decided to call Matt Price, a closer who on Friday had thrown 95 pitches in a 13-inning win against Virginia to get to the finals. Price gave up a leadoff single and then shut down the Gators offense for the save.
The series is, of course, far from over. A 1-0 lead can be commanding in a three-game series, but it's also fleeting. A win from Florida will even things up, setting up a winner-take-all game on Wednesday.
You have to think the Gamecocks would take that. They've gotten this far with their backs to the wall; why stop now?