Eyster's homer powers Gamecocks to midweek win
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
Mark Kingston wasn’t going to sit idly by and let the Gamecock offense continue to struggle like it had been to start SEC play.
The offense—which was built around speed and power—had to be retooled after going 5-10 over their last 15 games.
There was a gradual realization for Kingston and the rest of the coaching staff things needed to change some and, after two straight wins, early returns have been fairly positive.
“It’s become very clear we have to find better ways to manufacture runs. I think our team knows that and are on board with that,” Kingston said. “I told them be prepared to scrap, be prepared to play old school baseball. If we can drive the ball out of the ballpark we will, but if we have to do other things, we’ll have to try other things. I think it was a gradual realization that we can’t sit back and wait for that home run.”
The Gamecocks took care of business Tuesday night, coming from behind and holding on to beat Charlotte 5-4 thanks to a few clutch hits over the course of the game.
After falling behind 3-1 and putting up just one run on one hit through the first four innings, they had six hits over the last four innings and outscored the 49ers 4-1 over that span.
A team that came into Tuesday’s game averaging 9.7 strikeouts and 4.1 walks per game walked six times and had three strikeouts. It was the first time since Feb. 16 they had more walks than strikeouts in a game.
“We tried hit-and-runs, we tried steals, we tried safety squeezes, we tried homers,” Kingston said. “We just have to try different ways to score runs. That’s part of the evolution of a team through the season. If that’s how we have to try and win games, that’s how we’ll try and win games.”
After back-to-back RBI singles from Jonah Beamon and Noah Campbell tied the game at three in the fifth, Andrew Eyster hit a go-ahead homer the following inning to give the Gamecocks (20-13, 3-9 SEC) a lead they’d never look back from.
“It was a 2-0 pitch and he left one kind of middle-out over the plate. It was 2-0 so I knew I was going to get something good to hit. I tried to stay through and drive it up the middle. It felt good after going out last weekend and struggling. It felt good to have a good game today.”
Campbell tied the game the inning before, lacing a single into the outfield for a RBI hit, his 14th of the season. The Gamecocks’ leadoff man had his seventh multi-hit day of the year finishing 2-for-4 with a triple.
“He hasn’t had the kind of year he’s wanted. I think he’s hit the ball harder than maybe his stats show. He hits the ball hard; he hit the ball hard a couple times tonight right at guys,” Kingston said. “He hasn’t had the best luck this season for whatever reason. We keep putting him up there at the top of our lineup because he’s the best option, and we need him to do well.”
After the Gamecocks tied it and before Eyster’s bomb, Sawyer Bridges kept Charlotte at bay, pitching a clean inning; he’d strike out the side on 14 pitches, working around a two-out double and throwing the hardest he has all year.
It comes after Bridges (2-0, 5.40 ERA) last pitched March 24 against Tennessee in a save he ultimately blew.
“I’m glad we got the win. I knew in a three-three ballgame it was nice to not screw up a game for us, honestly,” he said. “I’m happy I was able to hold up my end tonight and need to do that going forward.”
John Gilreath tossed two perfect innings as well, his first outing since March 5 he didn’t allow an earned run. Wes Sweatt came in after him and gave up a run in the ninth before picking up his first-career save.
“He threw 16 pitches over two innings and that’s outstanding. He threw strikes, he threw multiple pitches for strikes and he looked pretty composed out there. We have so many young guys that are all looking for that one outing to kind of let the light go on,” Kingston said of Gilreath. “Maybe tonight the light went on for him.”
Player of the game: Noah Campbell had two hits, including a triple, and drove in a run.
Key moment: After the first two batters of the inning reached, Chris Cullen laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move both runners up, which proved to be the game-tying runs.
Up next: South Carolina travels to Gainesville to start a three-game series Thursday against the Gators. First pitch Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.