OMAHA, Neb. – Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan says his team knows how to bounce back from heartbreak.
The Gators failed to cash in two opportunities to win late, then committed two throwing errors that led to their 2-1, 11-inning loss to defending national champion South Carolina in Game 1 of the College World Series finals on Monday night.
Game 2 in the best-of-three series between the Southeastern Conference rivals is Tuesday night.
"Bottom line: South Carolina is the champ for a reason. They made the plays when they needed to," O'Sullivan said. "This thing is a long way from over. This is a series. We're disappointed tonight. But when we come out tomorrow night, we'll be ready to go."
In a finish that looked a lot like their 13-inning win over Virginia on Friday, the Gamecocks (54-14) performed defensive magic late, throwing out two runners at the plate in the bottom of the ninth and another in the 10th.
Christian Walker, cleared to play with a broken wrist bone a half-hour before first pitch, scored the go-ahead run in the 11th. He singled up the middle and stole second as Florida catcher Mike Zunino's throw sailed into center field. Walker took off for third and was awarded home after Bryson Smith's throw from the outfield bounced away from Cody Dent and into the stands.
O'Sullivan said the game reminded him of the Gators' 4-3 loss to Mississippi State in the second game of super regionals. Florida lost on a ninth-inning homer but came back to beat the Bulldogs the next day and advance to Omaha.
"We'll (fall back) on that experience," O'Sullivan said. "We've got a really good pitcher going in Karsten Whitson, and Brian Johnson is available. All of our relievers were used short stints tonight, so we'll do everything we need to do to hopefully win."
The Gators are playing for the school's first national title in baseball.
Walker didn't know until right before game time whether he would be able to play. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner didn't put Walker into the lineup until after he saw Walker hit five home runs in batting practice. Walker is batting .355 to lead the Gamecocks.
"I knew it was going to take a lot of pain for me not to play," Walker said. "For the last half of yesterday, I didn't think I was going to be able to."
The Gamecocks won their 15th consecutive NCAA tournament game and 10th in a row in the CWS, both tied for the longest streaks all-time.
"The most frustrating thing is that we had opportunities to win this game and the team that beat us was ourselves," Florida's Brian Johnson said.
John Taylor (8-1) got the win and Matt Price, pitching two days after throwing 95 pitches in 5 2-3 innings against Virginia, earned his 19th save. Nick Maronde (0-1) took the loss — the first in 47 games for Florida (53-18) in which it had led after the seventh inning.
Taylor walked Zunino leading off the ninth, and Brian Johnson ripped a single after initially trying to move Zunino over with a sacrifice. Taylor intentionally walked Josh Adams to load the bases and set up forces all around.
Tyler Thompson's grounder sent second baseman Scott Wingo diving to his right to make the stop. Wingo got up and threw home, with catcher Robert Beary picking up the low throw in time to get Zunino.
Then Daniel Pigott sent a soft grounder to Wingo. Wingo threw home again, and Beary went to first to finish the double play.
Dent singled leading off the 10th against Taylor and moved up on Nolan Fontana's sacrifice bunt. Taylor intentionally walked the left-handed Preston Tucker to get a righty-righty matchup against the slumping Zunino.
Zunino drove a hot grounder into left for what looked like the game-winning hit. But Jake Williams picked it up and came up throwing. Beary caught the ball on a line in plenty of time, then shuffled to his right to tag out Dent and start a celebration in the Gamecocks' dugout.
The loss spoiled a brilliant performance by Florida starter Hudson Randall, who has allowed one run or less in 10 of 19 starts this season. He left with two out in the eighth after having allowed three hits.
Randall retired 10 straight hitters from the fourth to seventh innings and 18 of 19 during one stretch before the Gamecocks got to him, tying it on Wingo's single up the middle.
Wingo slapped Randall's 2-2 pitch right back at the pitcher to break an 0-for-9 slump. Randall swiped at the ball with his glove and then pumped his right fist in frustration as it rolled into center field and Peter Mooney scored.
Randall said the ball tipped his glove.
"I just didn't get it down in time," he said.