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May 22, 2014

MSU mercy-rules Gamecocks in Hoover

Coach Chad Holbrook


HOOVER, Ala. - No. 15 South Carolina's best-case scenario coming to Hoover was to win a game, maybe two, and secure a national seed.

The worst-case scenario? Fall flat on its face and continue a long pattern of embarrassment in Hoover.

Welcome to the worst-case scenario - at least for now.

Playing at a stadium where the Gamecocks haven't won more than a game since 2007 and facing a red-hot Mississippi State team that had won eight of 10, USC mustered a season-low two hits and were treated to the cruelest fate in tournament baseball - getting mercy-ruled in a humiliating 12-0 loss that was halted after seven innings and was every bit as bad as it looked.

"It's been a long time since I've had my tail kicked like that," said USC coach Chad Holbrook. "They obviously played a great game and we didn't.

"(Our team is) embarrassed. They should be.

"We usually handle adversity around here pretty well, but we didn't handle it well today, and I was disappointed."

With the loss, the Gamecocks (42-15) fall into the losers bracket of the 2014 SEC Tournament and will play No. 1 seed Florida, which lost to Kentucky earlier Wednesday, at approximately 12:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) in an elimination game. Mississippi State advances to play Kentucky at approximately 8:30 p.m.

After getting down 4-0 through six and squandering chances right and left, the wheels came off for USC in the top of the seventh when Mississippi State blew the game open with a eight-run inning during which 14 Bulldogs came to the plate; eight hits were recorded, including a three-run home run from Brett Pirtle; two errors were committed; a batter was hit; two more were walked; four different USC pitchers were used and about everything that could go wrong for the Gamecocks did. When the dust settled after a Wes Rea strikeout, Mississippi State had a 12-0 lead and with the 10-run rule in effect after six innings,the Bulldogs needed just three outs to end the game early, which they got in order.

"We didn't look very good," said Grayson Greiner, whose double was one of only two USC hits. "This isn't how we play baseball.

"For a while there, we looked like the Bad News Bears a little bit."

Facing starter Jordan Montgomery (L, 7-5), Mississippi State (37-20) opened the scoring with a run in the top of the second on a controversial walk from first baseman Wes Rea on what the television replay suggested was a swing he checked too late on a 3-2 count. Rea moved to second on a fielder's choice, then came around to score on consecutive singles before a double-play ended the inning with the Bulldogs ahead 1-0.

USC blew a chance to tie the game when Greiner led off the bottom of the second with a double but was thrown out trying to take third on a grounder to the left side from Joey Pankake. Pankake reached third on a single by DC Arendas and long fly to right from Tanner English to threaten again, but Connor Bright, in the lineup and playing right field for the first time since April 25, grounded out to second.

Montgomery got into trouble again in the third, loading the bases on a single and two walks, then was made to pay on a grounder to short scored one run and a single through the left side scored another to make the tally 3-0 Bulldogs.

It became 4-0 in the fourth when Mississippi State got a runner to second on a walk and a fielder's choice then scored on a single to right center that chased Montgomery from the game. Reliever Taylor Widener got out of the inning with a fly out to center, but the damage was done, as was Montgomery's night.

In the first four innings as the Bulldogs built a 4-0 lead, Mississippi State was 4-of-7 (.571) with runners in scoring position while the Gamecocks were 0-for-5 for the game. For the game, MSU finished 7-12 (.583) with runners in scoring position.

"The first few innings set the tone for us," Holbrook said. "We couldn't cover first base, Jordan couldn't get over and cover first base, Grayson made a base-running mistake out there, I don't know what he was doing out there, and on top of that, Joey couldn't hit behind him.

"From a fundamentals standpoint, it wasn't very good and it set the tone for the rest of the game."

Holbrook said even though the game was ugly, there were two upsides to the result.

"If there's anything that's a saving grace it's that it's one game," Holbrook said. "We'll get a chance to play Florida tomorrow, the conference champion, and what a great opportunity tomorrow.

"The other great thing is that we don't have to wait long to get back out on the field. If we had to wait a long time after that beat-down, it would be a long (time).

"The sun will come up tomorrow, we'll get to play a great team and we have an opportunity in front of us."

Holbrook said it won't be difficult to motivate his players after the embarrassing baseball they played Tuesday.

"I hope like heck after you get your tail kicked like that that you'll want to play. If they don't want to play tomorrow, I don't have the right kind of kids in there, and I know I have the right kind of kids.

"We got our tail kicked tonight but it's one game. We're not going to let that take away from the opportunity we have tomorrow."

As for the 10-run rule being exercised, Holbrook took some comfort in that the Gamecocks weren't the only team it affected Tuesday. Vanderbilt, the No. 6 team in the RPI, also was run-ruled against LSU.

"It can happen to anybody (the 10-run rule)," Holbrook said. "It happened to us and Vandy today. I'm a little bit at a loss for words. I didn't expect this. I thought we were ready to play today and we had a bounce in our step. But we didn't get off to a good start, it snowballed on us and we couldn't stop them."

Box Score

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