By John Zenor/The Associated Press
HOOVER, Ala. — Chase Davidson had a two-run single in the first inning and three Georgia pitchers combined to contain South Carolina 4-2 Friday night and oust the top-seeded Gamecocks from the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Bulldogs (30-29) still need to beat Florida twice on Saturday to make the championship game, and have to win the first one to secure a winning record and be eligible for an NCAA regional.
“This group has been so tough all year,” Georgia coach Dave Perno said. “When they get pushed, they just seem to will something. We have got to get off to a good start. That’s the key.”
It worked against the Gamecocks (45-14), who never overcame a 3-0 first-inning deficit. The defending national champions still are expected to receive a national seed on Sunday. They allowed eight first-inning runs in three tournament games and only six after that.
“It’s uncharacteristic a little bit, but there’s been an error in there every time,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said.
In this one, neither team scored after the third.
Injured Georgia outfielder Johnathan Taylor is expected to be at Regions Park Saturday. He has only attended one Bulldogs game — Georgia Tech on April 26 at Atlanta’s Turner Field — since having neck surgery to stabilize his spine on March 7 after getting hurt in a collision with teammate Zach Cone.
Perno said ace pitcher Michael Palazzone will be available in relief.
Georgia starter Blake Dieterich (3-3) went a career-long 6-1/3 innings while reliever Bryan Benzor stranded runners in scoring position in the seventh and eighth. Closer Tyler Maloof got two straight groundouts and a strikeout in the ninth for his 17th save.
South Carolina loaded the bases with one out in both the first and third innings but Dieterich allowed single runs each time.
“It’s been awhile since Blake’s run out there,” Perno said. “He just didn’t have any rhythm. He looked very rigid. He was pushing his pitches.”
Davidson got things going with a two-run single in the first before South Carolina starter Colby Holmes (6-3) settled down. Two runners reached on an error for Georgia in the inning, including leadoff man Levi Hyams.
“You can’t let an error get you,” Tanner said. “It might have affected him but he battled back.”
Holmes went five innings and allowed four runs, three earned.
Evan Marzilli had RBI singles in both the second and third innings for the Gamecocks.
They stayed in the game when reliever Matt Price struck out Davidson to leave the bases loaded in the seventh.