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Gamecocks drop Sunday baseball finale

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL

With the series victory already wrapped up, South Carolina needed a sweep Sunday to create essentially a two-game lead over Kentucky in the race to see which team would make the SEC Tournament.

They didn't get it with the Gamecocks dropping Sunday's finale 6-2 behind some sloppy defense.

Photo by Chris Gillespie
Photo by Chris Gillespie

“Poorly,” Mark Kingston said of his team's defensive effort. “We had guys with chances to make plays and just didn’t.”

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The Gamecocks committed two errors—both throwing errors, one from Jonah Beamon and another from Nick Neville—but left a few other plays to be made Sunday.

After tying the game, the Gamecocks gave up a run on a groundout in the fourth on a ball Chris Cullen had a chance to throw home but bobbled before Kentucky scored again on a squeeze bunt where Dylan Harley threw to first instead of home.

They'd give up another run in the sixth on a groundout where there was a potential play at the plate but Jacob Olson traded an out at first for a run.

“I think it just kind of happened. I don’t think we had any real issue with it. we just didn’t play clean in some innings and that’s going to happen," Olson said. "Going into next weekend we’ll keep playing and try to clean that up.”

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The Gamecocks (26-25, 7-20 SEC) are now tied with Kentucky for last place entering the final conference weekend of the year with it being a three-team race for the final SEC Tournament spot.

Alabama, who entered Sunday at 7-19, is another team vying for that 12th and final spot with a tiebreaker over South Carolina.

The Gamecocks, who wrapped up their home SEC slate with a series win this weekend, need a strong showing at Mississippi State next week to clinch that spot and hope this weekend can vault them to that.

“Two wins,” Olson said. “It's about keeping that momentum heading into next weekend is huge for us to try and get into the tournament. We’ll just keep rolling with that.”

Starter Daniel Lloyd (3-4, 8.28 ERA) did his job Sunday, giving up two runs in three-plus innings with one run coming after he left the game. Dylan Harley struggled after that out of the bullpen, giving up four runs on five hits and didn't get much help from his defense.

After that, Wesley Sweatt came in and shut things down, scattering two hits over 2.1 shutout innings with two strikeouts before Sawyer Bridges pitched a perfect ninth.

“They all competed," Kingston said. "I thought Wes, out of all the guys that pitched today, was the best. That’s a good sign. Now we have to see consistency out of our freshmen so we know what we’re going to get every time.”

Click for Sunday's box score

After putting up 16 runs on 23 hits the first two days of the series, the Gamecocks had just two on three hits Sunday against likely first-round pick Zack Thompson.

They'd get to him early, putting a run on the board in the third without a ball leaving the infield: hit by pitch, sacrifice bunt, Nick Neville bunt single and a RBI groundout.

After that they'd be held hitless until TJ Hopkins led the sixth off with a single and Olson drove him home. That was the last hit the Gamecocks had, putting men on the final three innings but not able to scratch across a run.

Thompson left after six innings, eight strikeouts and 88 pitches and Kingston said he didn't think his team competed poorly against the lefty.

“He had eight strikeouts in six inning," Kingston said. "Compared to how he’s pitched against most teams in the SEC, we had two earn runs in six innings. That’s a little bit better than average against him. I had no problem with how we competed against him.”

Also see: Live updates from Founders Park Sunday

Player of the game: In his final SEC game at Founders Park, Jacob Olson had a hit and drove in a run, capping a solid weekend at the plate for him.

Key moment: The Gamecocks got the leadoff runners on in the seventh and eighth but couldn't scratch anyone across. Olson missed a two-run homer in the eighth that would have brought the Gamecocks within two runs.

Up next: South Carolina's final home game of the year is Tuesday with the Gamecocks hosting USC Upstate at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.