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South Carolina's season ends in Hoover

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL

HOOVER, ALA.—It was quiet as South Carolina players broke from their huddle with one last, “Family!” chant before walking back to their dugout to pack up belongings and get to the bus.

Most players were walking around quietly, giving each other hugs or sitting on the bench next to each other, thinking back on the last three hours as another season came to an end in at the Hoover Met Tuesday night.

Mark Kingston || Photo by Katie Dugan
Mark Kingston || Photo by Katie Dugan

“It’s just weird it’s actually over. I was wondering what it would feel like when it actually was but I didn’t think it would come this soon. With the way we were hitting at the end at Mississippi State, I thought we’d roll in here hot,” Luke Berryhill said, pausing. “It’s obviously a little disappointment.”

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After holding on for a dramatic 10-8 win Saturday to get into the SEC Tournament, South Carolina’s follow up performance wasn’t as enthralling from view of the visiting team’s dugout.

The Gamecocks dropped Tuesday’s game to No. 5-seeded LSU 8-6, ending a season marred with struggle and more losing than most every team the Gamecocks (28-28, 8-23 SEC) have had since joining the SEC in 1992.

It’s the fewest SEC wins in school history and the .500 mark is the worst since they went 25-28 in 1996. But, despite the tough series after tough series, which culminated in Tuesday’s loss, Kingston was never disappointed in his team’s effort.

“The results on the scoreboard weren’t what we wanted most of the year but what I told them is they kept their self-respect, their attitude and never waivered. They played hard, but they didn’t well enough often enough” he said. “They never embarrassed themselves and never didn’t give 100 percent. The lesson they learned this year that they’ll take with them the rest of their lives is no matter how tough it is, you don’t give in. They didn’t give in but we just didn’t play good enough baseball on a lot of days.”

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Through the first two innings it looked like South Carolina would continue that offensive output they had in game three against Mississippi State, jumping out to a four-run lead after hanging a five-spot on the Tigers in the second inning.

They’d chase LSU starter Cole Henry after just 1.2 innings with Chris Cullen cracking a two-run double to left-center before Andrew Eyster and Berryhill both had RBI base hits of their own.

For Cullen, the double turned into the final hit of his career with the senior playing his last game, ending a four-year career in Columbia.

“This sucks, I’m not going to lie. I don’t think it’s officially hit me yet. I’ve had a great four years here,” Cullen said. “I’ve regretted nothing, I’ve enjoyed all my teammates and all the experiences I’ve had. It just hasn’t hit me yet. I want to keep playing, that’s for sure.”

Click for Tuesday's box score

Starter Cam Tringali, on limited rest and a strict pitch count, gave his team enough through three innings, giving up three runs on four hits before turning it over to the bullpen that ultimately gave up the lead.

That's when LSU mounted its comeback, scoring five unanswered runs—two in the fifth before the go-ahead three-run fourth—capping it with a two-run sixth.

It was death by a thousand cuts with the Gamecocks throwing three wild pitches, hitting a batter and walking a batter as well.

Wes Sweatt pitched the best out of any bullpen arm, scattering two hits and striking out three in 3.1 scoreless innings.

South Carolina's bullpen combined to give up five runs on five in the five innings after Tringali left, pitching the majority freshmen as they seemed to run out of gas towards the end.

“It’s the most baseball they’ve ever played in their life. In high school they don’t pitch this many games. The season’s been very long. We start in January when they get back from classes and now we’re into late May,” Kingston said. “That’s long for these freshmen. Obviously the majority of the innings we’ve been pitching lately have been freshmen. They’ll grow from it; we’ll be better from it. It’s just not a lot of fun going through it right now.”

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The Gamecocks couldn’t muster much in terms of run production outside the second inning, getting one more run—a sac fly from TJ Hopkins—and couldn’t really figure out the Tigers’ bullpen.

They’d finish with six runs on eight hits but stranded nine batters.

“Shoot, they were throwing every pitch they had for strikes. They were locating away really well,” Berryhill said. “If you’re living half a foot off the plate and he’s calling it and you keep hitting it, it’s tough to do that. That last dude, I think he was sitting 94 or 95. It’s just a lot of velo to catch up to. Sometimes you have to tip your cap.”