College of Charleston (42-17) scored three runs in the first inning and then held on to a 3-2 win over No. 8 Florida (40-22) to advance in the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
The Gators were the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked eighth in the Coaches Poll heading into Friday night. It marked the fourth time in CofC’s six NCAA trips that College of Charleston has won the first game of a regional, although it was Charleston’s first time doing it as a four seed against the host.
The red-hot Cougars have won four games in a row and 11 of the last 13 after sweeping through the CAA conference tournament.
Friday night’s win ranks among the pantheon of big wins in program history as head coach Monte Lee improved to 4-4 in NCAA Tournament games and he now has 13 wins against ranked opponents.
College of Charleston was one of three four seeds to defeat top-seeded hosts on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Eight upsets by seeding occurred on the first day of play.
Going up against the SEC Rookie of the Year in Logan Shore, the Cougars pounded out three runs on seven hits in the first inning. Brandon Murray knocked an RBI double that scored Blake Butler and then Nick Pappas drove in two more runs with a double to center field.
Although CofC would not score again, the Cougars chased Shore (7-4) after five innings with 10 hits allowed, the most hits that any team has gotten off the freshman this season. Florida’s Justin Shafer kept The College from adding any insurance runs with four perfect innings of relief, but CofC’s damage had already been done.
“There were a couple of big keys to the game, obviously scoring three runs in the first was a huge difference in the ball game,” Lee said. “They definitely made it tough on us in the middle innings. Taylor Clarke wasn’t as sharp as he usually is, but I will give him credit. He had bases loaded with one out and got back-to-back punch outs to get out of the fourth inning. They had a couple of innings where they scored single runs back-to-back and put some pressure on us, but Eric Bauer came in and did a fantastic job of throwing strikes and getting some big outs. We made some pretty big defensive plays to get out of some innings as well.
Charleston starter Taylor Clarke did not get a decision as he lasted just 4.1 innings, allowing one run on six hits. Although Clarke struggled with baserunners in his final three innings, he did work out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam with back-to-back strikeouts in the third inning, and then left the bases loaded again in the fourth inning.
Florida got the first two runners on in the fifth inning when Braden Mattson hit a long fly to the left field wall. CofC’s Morgan Phillips nearly made a spectacular catch at the wall, but the collision knocked the ball loose. With runners holding to see if a catch was made, Mattson crossed the path of Taylor Gushue at first and was called out. Pinch-hitter Mike Fahrman hit an RBI groundout, but reliever Eric Bauer came on to get out of the inning with no further damage.
Bauer (6-2) earned his sixth win as he took the Cougars all the way to ninth inning to set up closer Michael Hanzlik. The Gators added a run in the sixth off a sacrifice fly RBI from Richie Martin, but Bauer finished with a walk and a strikeout and only allowed three hits. Charleston turned a huge double play in the eighth inning to erase a leadoff runner.
With the game on the line and a slim 3-2 lead, the senior Hanzlik came on in the ninth inning. He pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts to complete his 15th save of the season, tying the CofC single-season record.
“Hanzlik was as sharp as he’s been all year in one of the biggest games in the history of our program,” Lee said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our bullpen. Bauer and Hanzlik were phenomenal.”
The close win was the 12th one-run victory for Charleston as the Cougars improved to 28-2 when scoring first and 34-2 when leading after the sixth inning.
College of Charleston will face Long Beach State tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the winner’s bracket, while Florida faces North Carolina in an elimination game at 1 p.m.