Gamecocks drop series opener behind 'fluky' start from Morgan
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
GAINESVILLE, FLA.—In South Carolina’s stretched-thin pitching staff, there have been few workhorses the Gamecocks have consistently relied on to start the year.
They gave the ball to one of those in arguably the team's best pitcher through 33 games in Reid Morgan trying to get off to a good start against Florida, but the junior faltered for really the first time as a Gamecock.
The junior was uncharacteristic in his first series-opening start, giving up seven runs—six in one inning—as the Gamecocks dropped their fifth-straight series opener, a 9-5 loss to the Gators.
“What I said to the team is this guy’s had your back all year and had a tough inning tonight so you need to have his back,” Mark Kingston said.
It looked like a typical start for Reid Morgan early, who motored through two no-hit innings and didn't allow a ball to leave the infield.
That's when he'd hit trouble, giving up six runs on six hits as the Gators sent 10 runners to the plate in the third inning.
After issuing two leadoff walks, Morgan (3-2, 3.47 ERA) recorded the first out of the inning on a strikeout before giving up five straight hits that included a three-run blast from Brady McConnell.
After the Gamecocks (20-14, 3-10 SEC) got a run back in the fifth on a George Callil sacrifice fly, the Gators immediately got the run back the same inning on a Cory Acton RBI double.
Morgan finished his outing after five innings giving up a season-high seven runs, all earned, on nine hits. He'd walk a season-high three batters. It was the first time in nine starts he issued more free passes than had strikeouts.
It's his shortest outing since going just four innings against Georgia.
“It was just a fluky thing. He obviously has plus command and for that one inning he walked the two guys and wasn’t close and threw a bunch of balls right in the middle of the plate like he never does. It’s just one of those fluke things."
Offensively South Carolina struggled to put up runs consistently before the ninth inning, scoring just three times—once on a sac fly and twice on back-to-back wild pitches—through seven innings.
They had opportunities, putting two on with no outs in the second inning and loading the bases with two outs in the fourth but couldn’t scrape across any runs. They’d strand eight runners and hit 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
With Kingston opting to play more old school and less power-happy baseball entering weekend, he said he was pleased with his team’s eight walks to eight strikeouts but said there needs to be more offensive production.
“We hit some balls hard and we made a run there at the end. That’s their best pitcher out there tonight and that’s their closer so they gave us their best shot tonight and we battled,” he said. “We had more walks, free batters than strikeouts. So progress is being made there but it’s not good enough.”
They did make a run in the ninth, working two leadoff walks before Ian Jenkins roped a pinch-hit double down the line that scored a run before TJ Hopkins looked like he hit a game-changing three-run homer that died in left and turned into just a sacrifice fly.
Luke Berryhill struck out to end the game the next at-bat.
“I think the whole dugout thought it was gone,” Kingston said. “Looking at the flags now they’re blowing in hard tonight for the first time and he took a great at-bat with two strikes and he drove that ball. We all thought it was a three run homer and we were going to make it interesting there.”
Player of the game: Ian Jenkins came in cold and hit a RBI double down the left field line, almost sparking a ninth-inning rally.
Key moment: South Carolina put two runners in scoring position and got a runner to third with two outs in the third but couldn't scrape him across. The next half-inning Florida scored six runs to take a lead it would never give up.
Up next: South Carolina tries to even the series and avoid losing five straight SEC series with game two scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network Plus. Cam Tringali (1-0, 3.03 ERA) is scheduled to start.