Gamecocks drop opener in extras
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
South Carolina was one out away from taking home a season-opening win, but Liberty's Will Wagner had other ideas.
With the Gamecocks up one in the ninth, the second baseman hit a game-tying home run off closer Sawyer Bridges and the Flames would score on a wild pitch in the 11th as the Gamecocks fell 6-5 on opening day.
“It was a fastball that really backed up into that guy’s swing. He had a great night and made one bad pitch and he paid for it,” Mark Kingston said of Bridges’ pitch. “I’m disappointed for him because he competed so hard out there. It’s just one bad pitch sometimes that can get you when you’re the closer, you make that one bad pitch it can cost you. Tonight it did, but next time we get a chance with him out there we’ll feel just as confident.”
That was Bridges first opportunity this season as the Gamecocks’ closer and, outside of the one pitch, he didn’t allow a hit and struck out six of the nine batters he faced over 2.2 innings.
He would come back out and pitch a scoreless 10th inning, mowing through the bottom of the order with two strikeouts.
The Gamecocks would waste a two-out Jacob Olson double in the 10th inning with Brady Allen striking out to end the inning, and John Gilreath came in to pitch the 11th.
A fielding error put a runner on first that quickly moved up to third on a passed ball and groundout. That’s when Gilreath (0-1) spiked a pitch to the plate that scored the winning run.
“It was just a pitch that bounced in a place we couldn’t block it,” Kingston said. “We can’t have that; we can’t have that with a guy at third base. He needs to learn from that and understand that’s not acceptable.”
The Gamecock pitchers struck out 17 batters Friday and the offense out-hit the Flames 10-8.
TJ Hopkins looked like he clinched the win in the eighth inning, blasting a solo home run to straightaway center to give the Gamecocks a one-run lead but they couldn’t capitalize on momentum.
They’d put a runner in scoring position in two of the final three innings but couldn’t scratch a run across.
The top of the Gamecock lineup of Hopkins, Noah Campbell and Andrew Eyster combined to go 2-for-16 with 10 strikeouts and left four on base.
“We have to be better than that. We train really hard to limit striking out as much as possible. We just have to be better than that,” Hopkins said. “The first pitcher was locating really well and threw three pitches for a strike. The last pitcher had three or four types of breaking balls and he kept hitters off balance.”
Starter Carmen Mlodzinski didn’t have his best stuff as the team’s opening day starter, going just 4.1 innings and having to pitch out of trouble constantly.
He put at least one base runner on in every inning he pitched but it only bit him once; in the third when he gave up a three-run double to tie the game after Brady Allen hit a three-run shot the inning before.
The sophomore finished giving up six hits and had three walks and strikeouts apiece. Of his 96 pitches, only 57 were strikes.
“He didn’t have that swing and miss pitch,” Kingston said. “Four innings, three strikeouts compared to what the other guys did for us, it wasn’t good enough. He can be better than that and needs to be better than that.”
Allen’s home run came in his first collegiate at-bat, hitting a ball over 330 feet to the stands in left field for a three-run shot.
Despite striking out with a runner in scoring position late, Allen reached base three times and finished with two hits.
“I mean we work very hard to have these types of games,” he said. “The coaching staff, the players have been very welcoming to me: working on stuff every day, helping me out if I need help. It’s not too shocking; he gave me a good pitch and I put a good swing on it.”
Up next: Game two of the series is Saturday starting at 3 p.m. Freshman lefty Dylan Harley is expected to start for the Gamecocks. The game will not be streamed.