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April 26, 2014

USC falls to Alabama 2-1

Widener and Wynkoop

Mooney & Greiner

When Tanner English singled sharply to left with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Grayson Greiner knew he'd need all the speed he possessed in his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to beat the throw and tie the game.

It wasn't enough.

Greiner was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, No. 11 South Carolina wouldn't threaten again and No. 8 Alabama claimed a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 to even the SEC series at a game apiece.

Trailing 2-1 and with only four hits off Alabama starter Justin Kamplain (W, 4-2), USC took advantage of two walks to get Greiner at second and Elliott Caldwell at first with two outs. Against Alabama's ace closer Thomas Burrows (S, 9), against whom batters this season were hitting just .105, English drove a low single to right that a charging Casey Hughston plucked and fired to catcher Wade Wass just as Greiner was trying to slide in. A few inches either way or a faster runner on the paths and the game is tied, but Saturday it just wasn't to be.

"With two outs on second, I was going on the swing," Greiner said. "Tanner hit the ball pretty hard to left, so I was thinking score unless (third base coach Sammy) Espo(sito) stopped me and he had me sent (home). I was just trying to score.

"It was a good play by their catcher and a good throw by their left fielder. We were trying to be aggressive and tie the game up right then."

USC coach Chad Holbrook said he had no second thoughts about sending Greiner home even knowing Greiner isn't the fastest runner on the team.

"Here's how we play around here; when there are two outs and we get a hit, nine times out of 10 we're sending the runner," Holbrook said. "We make guys throw us out and we try to win the game. Tanner hit the ball right at him, Grayson is a catcher and he's not the fleetest of foot.

"That might have been our best chance to score that inning and we took it. I've coached third base and it's not easy. If we make an error, we're going to make it trying to win the game, that's how we play here. (Hughston) made a decent throw. It could have been a foot off to the left and he would have been safe. That was our chance and we took it, it just didn't work out."

Saturday's game was a pitching duel between Kamplainand USC's Jack Wynkoop (L, 5-3), both of whom threw 6.1 innings, with Wynkoop allowing 7 hits to Kamplain's four.

The difference was that one of Wynkoop's hits was a solo home run in the first that staked Alabama (29-14, 13-7) to an early lead before Wynkoop's second run in the seventh proved the game-winner as Crimson Tide reliever Thomas Burrows allowed just one hit - the single to English that sent Greiner to his doom at the plate - and controlled the Gamecocks (33-11, 11-9) the rest of the way.

"My last inning was tough," Wynkoop said of the top of the seventh when he allowed a leadoff double, sac bunt, hit a batter then surrendered consecutive singles to chase him from the mound. "That's what happens when you make mistake pitches in this league and that is kind of how I felt overall today. I made some quality pitches but made a mistake here or there and good teams will find ways to make those mistake pitches count for runs."

For as strong in relief as Burrows was, Taylor Widener was equally impressive for USC, working out of the one-out, bases-loaded jam he inherited from Wynkoop in the seventh with a popup in foul ground to first and a grounder to third to end the inning and throwing 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings to keep the Gamecocks within one. At the plate, Widener also was the only Gamecock with more than one hit (2-for-4).

"I was expecting (Widener) to be equally as good as a hitter offensively as a pitcher.," Holbrook said. "He's gifted with a great arm. He's only going to get better on the mound and the more opportunities I give him offensively, the more he'll produce for us offensively, too. He stayed in there and battled his tail off against left-handed pitchers, it was impressive."

Overall USC collected just five hits to Auburn's seven and couldn't capitalize on three Alabama errors, including one in the bottom of the ninth that put the tying run at first with two out before Elliott Caldwell grounded out weakly to second to end the game.

"It was a disappointing loss," Holbrook said. "Jack and Taylor deserved a better fate. They pitched their hearts out for us. We played our hearts out but didn't do enough offensively. We 've got to scor3e more than one run against a team like Alabama that is so offensive and physical.

"But their pitchers did a really good job. Kamplain and Burrows are really good, as their numbers indicate.

"We had a couple opportunities to score there, we just couldn't quite catch it. A tough loss, but I have no fault on our players. They played as hard as they could and tries as hard as they could, we just came up short."

The Gamecocks only run of the game came in the third. DC Arendas led off with a double down the left-field line, then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from English. Shortstop Marcus Mooney then drilled a line drive to the wall in left that was plenty deep to score Arendas.

"When I came up in that situation I'm just going to hit it hard in the outfield somewhere," Mooney said. "Maybe I can get a double and end up in scoring position, and the worst case is they catch it and we still get the run in, and that is what ended up happening."

The loss snapped a five game winning streak for USC and put the Gamecocks in danger of dropping a crucial home series if it can't win tomorrow when it throws Wil Crowe against Alabama's Tucker Hawley, a replacement for suspended Sunday starter Jon Keller who has only thrown two innings all year. First pitch is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.

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