Strong finish leads to Game 2 victory
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
Everything appeared to come together for South Carolina, Saturday.
It scored nine runs in its final three innings to earn an 11-3 victory over SEC opponent Kentucky.
The win was the second straight for the Gamecocks over Kentucky. While there is still work to be done, it placed them squarely in the running for the elusive 12th and final spot in the standings to earn an invitation to the Southeastern Conference tournament.
"I'm happy those kids can experience a good weekend finally,' said USC coach Mark Kingston. "They have been playing hard and they got to feel what it is like to win an SEC series. It's been a while."
The Gamecocks scored 11 of their 12 runs with two outs. It took some time for the bats to get going, however. During that period starting pitch Reid Morgan kept them in contention, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, while striking out eight in six innings. He didn't issue a walk.
While many of young Gamecocks had a big day, each of the three seniors – Chris Cullen, T.J. Hopkins and Jacob Olsen played parts in the win on Senior Day.
"Chris, T.J. and Olsen, they have kind of helped me throughout the way," said Morgan. "I've learned from them, being a junior college kid. They brought me under their wing and it feels great to get the win for them."
The Gamecocks were hitless through the first two innings, but broke out in a big way with two out in the third. Noah Campbell singled to right. Hopkins followed with a long home run to left, giving Carolina a 2-1 lead.
USC's advantage didn't last long as the Wildcats pushed across two in the fifth. The Gamecocks committed one error and several other miscues that helped the Kentucky cause.
With the bases loaded second baseman Elliott Curtis hit a line drive past second base to knock in both runs with one out. Starting pitcher Reid Morgan managed to avoid further damage.
The game took a turn in the sixth, thanks to the offense of right fielder Brady Allen and designated hitter Wes Clarke.
With two outs Allen homered to left to tie the game at three. Chris Cullen followed with a single to center. Clarke quickly homered, giving USC a 5-3 advantage.
Reliever Brett Kerry entered to start the seventh and put the Wildcats down in order. He allowed only one hit while striking out five and not allowing a walk in the final three innings.
Carolina blew the game open in the seventh, pushing five runs across the plate on five hits and a walk.
The Gamecocks coasted from there.
In addition to earning the series win, making it happen on senior day was special for everyone, especially the seniors.
"It's huge, huge for our confidence, huge for our momentum going forward," Cullen said of the win. "Things haven't been going our way as of late, but these past two night we've come out with one goal in mind to put it all together and win some ballgames. I think we've done a good job the last couple of nights. Now we've got to come out (Sunday) and get another win."
The second straight win in the series is a solid beginning for the Gamecocks in their fight with Kentucky and Alabama for the 12th and final spot in race to advance to the SEC Tournament. They improved their record to 26-24 overall and 7-19 in league play. The Wildcats dropped to 24-26 and 6-20 respectively.
Alabama entered Saturday 28-22 overall and 6-19 in SEC play following a Friday night 3-2 loss to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide travels to Georgia for its final series.
The Gamecocks end the regular season with a road series against Mississippi State. Kentucky will host Vanderbilt.
The teams complete the series Sunday at 11 am. Kentucky will start Zach Thompson (5-1, 2.08). The Gamecocks have not decided on a starter.
Kingston described Thompson as possibly the best college pitcher in the country
NOTE: Noah Campbell suffered a hip flexer during the game, although Kingston hopes he will be available to play Sunday.