Gamecocks falter late in lopsided loss
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
STARKVILLE, MISS.—Knowing a win goes a long way to help their SEC Tournament chances, the Gamecocks found themselves on the cusp of that Friday night against Mississippi State.
They got the help they needed—Alabama and Kentucky both lost in blowout fashion—and a win would have given South Carolina pole position for the final tournament slot heading into the final day of the regular season.
That didn’t happen, though, with the Gamecocks wasting an opportunity, dropping the game and the series with an 11-2 loss.
“It was a good game again for seven innings but you have to have the depth to be able to go nine innings in this league at a very high level,” Mark Kingston said. “We just didn’t do that tonight. We get one more chance tomorrow.”
South Carolina’s path to the SEC Tournament is extremely simple now, needing a win and an Alabama loss to clinch the No. 12 seed in the tournament.
They also need a win to avoid just their fourth losing season since 1963.
“It’s a must-win,” TJ Hopkins said. “We just have to come out, play as hard as we can and the chips will fall where they fall.”
It started off great for the Gamecocks (27-27, 7-22 SEC), loading the bases with one out in the third and plating a couple of runs on wild pitches in the inning to take a 2-0 lead.
Mississippi State tied it in the fourth on a RBI single and groundout before exploding for four runs in the seventh off starter Reid Morgan.
It all spiraled quickly for the righty, who gave up a tie-breaking homer to Josh Hatcher to leadoff the inning before surrendering three more runs before recording the third out.
In potentially his final start at South Carolina, Morgan (4-6, 3.80 ERA) finished allowing six runs, three earned, over seven innings, scattering eight hits and striking out four. It’s another quality start for him but it’s his sixth dropped decision in his last seven starts.
“They’re a team that lives off momentum. They get a ball in the air, it carries and it’s over the fence and they build off that,” he said. “They get the fans behind them. Working out of it is just a big part of showing who I am and not letting things like that get to me.”
His defense wouldn’t help him out, committing three errors in the seventh inning with Chris Cullen misfielding a ground ball, Luke Berryhill firing low on a stolen base that allowed a runner to advance and Jacob Olson airmailing a throw to first to plate a run.
“It’s frustrating,” Morgan said. “You’re always thinking in your head what you can do to get out of it and hope the guys get through it. It’s baseball. You can’t dwell on one play. You have to work through that adversity.”
The Gamecocks surrendered 11 unanswered runs, nine over a two-inning span with three pitchers combined to give up five runs, all earned on three hits. They've now been outscored 35-9 through 18 innings this weekend.
Now, they’ll have to refocus all of their attention to trying to win one game and get some help to get into the conference tournament.
“There’s no pressure to put on them at this point,” Kingston said. “It’s just come in and execute; make plays, throw strikes, get a big hit. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about. Putting pressure on these guys isn’t going to help them. You come out and try to play your best baseball.”
For the seniors, Saturday could be their final game at South Carolina, but they’re hoping they can parlay a solid showing into a few more games in Hoover next week.
“For me,” Hopkins said, “I try to play as hard as I can but in things like this you feel a little more focused.”
Key moment: After Morgan gave up a homer, the Gamecock defense committed three errors to plate another run as the seventh began to spiral.
Up next: The Gamecocks try and get that much-needed and elusive win Saturday at 2 p.m. with no starting pitcher announced yet. It will be televised on SEC Network Plus.