LEXINGTON, Ky. - No. 1 South Carolina blew chances early, late and in between lost its coach in a 2-1 loss to unranked Kentucky Saturday that cost USC the weekend series.
The Gamecocks fell to 18-3, 2-3 in the SEC, while Kentucky improved to 17-6, 3-2. Jack Wynkoop (4-1) took the loss, while the Wildcats' Chandler Shepherd (5-0) got the win. Head coach Chad Holbrook was ejected in the top of the fifth inning for arguing a call at second base and watched the rest of the game from the team bus in the parking lot of Cliff Hagan Stadium.
"Kentucky's a good team, they're very good here playing at home," Holbrook said. "They made the plays and the pitches and got the hits when they needed to and we came out on the short end of the stick."
Kentucky scored runs in the second and third innings and held on as Wynkoop settled in and cruised until handing it over to Cody Mincey in the eighth. Meanwhile the Gamecocks stranded five runners through the first two innings and were held scoreless until the eighth behind a solid effort from UK starter Chandler Shepherd (W, 5-0). Shepherd threw 116 pitches and allowed six hits and one run when Grayson Greiner hit a sacrifice fly to score Joey Pankake.
"(Shepherd) threw very good," Holbrook said. "His numbers are very good. His breaking ball is very good and he kept us off balance, You have to tip your cap to him, he made some big pitches.
USC had a chance to tie it in the ninth when DC Arendas led off with a double then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Tanner English, but a strikeout from Marcus Mooney and grounder to second from Max Schrock ended the threat and the game.
"We had the right guy at the plate with Mooney, who makes contact most of the time," Holbrook said. "Give credit to Kentucky's pitcher, he threw some good sliders in there and Mooney chased a couple of them."
South Carolina had one run on seven hits, while Kentucky had two runs on six hits. The Gamecocks left 10 runners on base to Kentucky's four and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Only DC Arendas (2-for-4) had more than a single hit for USC.
"We have to win some games on offense sometimes," Holbrook said. "Sometimes our pitching staff is our pacifier, our security blanket. That's not good enough.
"We have to swing the bats some, we have to score. We have to get some big hits. We can't try to win games 3-2 all the time or we'll have our share of these type of losses. That's what occurred today."
"I thought we did a good job early in the game and had some runners in scoring position and some scoring opportunities and we couldn't get that big hit. When you have your opportunities and don't cash in on them, the result will be what it is, you'll get beat on the road. We had our opportunities, we just didn't take advantage of them.
Holbrook was tossed from the game in the top of the fifth, his first ejection as a Gamecock either as an assistant or head coach. It came after Tanner English reached first on a clean single to left and Marcus Mooney hit a chopper to short. English clearly beat the shortstop's throw to the second baseman but was called out. That sent Holbrook charging out of the dugout to argue the call and it took all of 20 seconds for second base umpire Todd Henderson to throw him out and exile Holbrook to the team bus parked just outside the front gate in the lot behind first base.
"I've seen (the replay on TV)," Holbrook said. "I'm not able to comment on it. You go on the road, you have to win the game. Nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to make your breaks. The call went against us, but umpiring is hard. It's hard to play this game, it's hard to coach, it's hard to umpire.
"The call didn't go our way, and it had an impact on the game unfortunately in a one-run game, so tight.
I don't argue unless I think he's safe. It's an emotional game. I know when the shortstop, on a three- or four-hopper moving to his right that the fastest player in the country had a chance to beat it out."
Now, USC's focus turns not to winning the series but avoiding the sweep.
"It's one game at a time," Holbrook said. "You're not going to win them all on the road in this league. Win, lose or draw tomorrow, I'm not going to let a weekend series in March dictate our season. We have a long way to go here.
"You hold your own at home and try to fight like crazy and get a game or two on the road, and that's what we're going to try to do. It's the only choice we've got tomorrow, and if not, we'll get on the bus and regroup."
NEXT UP: The Gamecocks face Kentucky at 1 p.m. in the final game of the series. Wil Crowe is scheduled to pitch for USC.