No. 1 South Carolina's first SEC contest turned into a slugfest, and No. 21 Ole Miss delivered the knockout blow Friday night at Carolina Stadium.
Facing a worn-out Jordan Montgomery with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning, Ole Miss leadoff man Auston Bousfield cranked a grand slam over the left field wall to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead. The Rebels (17-2) needed only to hold on from there to hand South Carolina (16-1) its first loss of the season, using four relievers to shut out the Gamecocks through the final five innings.
Montgomery (3-1) gave up just two runs through the first five innings, but began to wear down in the sixth. Struggling to locate his pitches, the junior left-hander gave up a double to Brantley Bell, hit Sikes Orvis with a pitch, and issued a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Colby Bortles to load the bases. On a 2-0 count, Montgomery left a fastball - his 117th pitch of the game - high in the zone, and Bousfield hammered it into the left field bleachers.
"It's just baseball," Montgomery said. "One pitch. I didn't hit my spot, or missed my spot. He took advantage of it. That's why we love the game, hate the game."
USC head coach Chad Holbrook said he contemplated turning the reins over to reliever Cody Mincey with Montgomery's pitch count climbing in the sixth, but instead trusted his ace to dig himself out of a hole, something he'd done countless times before in his three-year career.
"I like Jordan. He's our guy," Holbrook said, adding that he would leave him out there in that situation again in the future.
"He's gotten a lot of big outs in those situations," Holbrook said. "I felt good about it. It just didn't go our way."
Led by a 4-5 performance by sophomore Max Schrock, the Gamecocks outhit Ole Miss 10-8. But South Carolina struggled at the plate with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 men on base, including three apiece in the first and second innings.
"We battled and we competed, just couldn't get that big hit out there when we needed it," Holbrook said.
Ole Miss manufactured a run off Montgomery in the top of the first inning to snap USC's scoreless inning streak at 42, but Schrock, playing through a second-degree ankle sprain, answered with a solo shot over the right field wall to tie it at 1-1 in the bottom of the frame.
Later that inning, the Gamecocks loaded the bases for DC Arendas, but the sophomore infielder struck out looking to end the inning. South Carolina loaded the bases with two outs again in the second inning for Kyle Martin, but the barrel-chested junior first baseman flew out to the warning track in right field.
"We felt very comfortable with the hitters we had up in that spot, and we just couldn't get a big hit," Holbrook said.
The Gamecocks began to reverse that trend in the fourth inning, plating a run when Schrock laced a single up the middle to score Tanner English from third. Two batters later, Martin hit into a bases-loaded fielder's choice, but an Ole Miss error allowed a run to score.
South Carolina pushed the lead to 4-1 when Connor Bright hit an RBI sac fly to center field, but the Gamecocks botched another scoring opportunity when Joey Pankake was caught trying to reach third on the play, ending the inning.
The Gamecocks wouldn't score another run, and it cost them the game.
"I knew that four runs against that type of offensive team - I didn't feel good about that being enough," Holbrook said. "As good as we've pitched all year, I didn't feel good that four runs was going to hold up, and ultimately I was right on that deal."
The Gamecocks now find themselves looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season, and they'll have to do it Saturday in a double-header against their toughest opponent yet.
"We've got to pick ourselves back up off the mat in this league," Holbrook said. "We've got 18 innings tomorrow against a really good Ole Miss team. We'll find out a lot about our team tomorrow and the way we respond."
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