Cougars upset powerhouse Florida in NCAA Baseball Tournament opener

Second overall seeded Florida was upset by the resilient Cougars on Friday night in Gainesville.  Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com.

Second overall seeded Florida was upset by the resilient Cougars on Friday night in Gainesville.
Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com.

In perhaps the biggest victory in College of Charleston baseball history, the Cougars upset the No. 2 overall seeded Florida Gators, 3-2, in the opening round game of the 2014 NCAA Baseball Tournament in Gainesville, Fla.

Facing the 2014 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, Logan Shore, on the mound and waiting out a three hour and 15 minute rain delay, Charleston showed no fear in the mighty Gators, using a hot first inning to strike early.

After a leadoff hit by Blake Butler, Brandon Murray launched a double into the right field gap, scoring Butler to give the Cougars the first run of the night.

Carl Wise followed Murray’s RBI double with a single, which set up Nick Pappas’ drive over the head of the Gators’ center fielder that scored Murray and Wise to extend the early lead to 3-0.

Charleston was poised for more runs, but Florida escaped the inning with good defensive plays, including pulling out the old “hidden ball” trick to record one of the inning’s outs.

The Cougars sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning with seven of them recording a hit. Charleston had hits in nine of its first 12 batters against Florida’s freshman standout pitcher. Shore lasted five innings and gave up ten hits, the most he has relinquished all season.

Despite the Cougars’ hot start at the plate, the game went in a strikingly different direction after the second inning, with Charleston managing just one hit between the third and ninth innings. Luckily, the Cougars had Taylor Clarke on the mound, who managed to escape multiple tough jams.

Clarke loaded the bases in the third inning with three consecutive Gators singles, but struck out two straight batters, including Florida’s star catcher, Taylor Gushue, to end the inning.

Charleston’s sophomore ace found himself in a similar position the following inning, loading the bases with a single and two walks. Clarke managed to work himself out the the inning with a fly-out to left field.

After a leadoff single and a walk in the fifth, Clarke was relieved by Eric Bauer, who got out of the inning with just one run scoring for the Gators. A base running error by Florida helped the Cougars out of the frame with a two-run lead still in tact.

Florida got another run in the sixth inning, a sacrifice fly, to close the Charleston lead to 3-2.

Bauer walked the leadoff man in the seventh, but the Cougars defense recorded a 6-4-3 double play to nullify the Gators’ threat.

With the Charleston offense silent, the ball was handed to the CAA’s top closer, Michael Hanzlik, in the bottom of the ninth. Nursing a one-run lead and working with little room for error, Hanzlik struck out two of three batters against the heart of Florida’s order to record his 15th and most important save of the season.

“I have to give Eric Bauer credit out of our bullpen and Michael Hanlik, our closer, did a phenomenal job,” head coach Monte Lee told ESPN after the game. “We got some double plays and some big outs to be able to hold onto the lead and I’m just really proud for our guys.”

Clarke failed to get a decision after lasting just 4.1 innings, but gave up just one run on six hits. Bauer won his sixth game of the season in 3.2 innings of long relief.

Charleston will now play Long Beach State on Saturday night at 7 p.m. A win for the Cougars against LBSU would push them into the Gainesville region title game with a chance to advance to the super regional round. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.com and locally on ESPN 910 radio.

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