Just like in 2010, South Carolina couldn’t win the SEC Championship on the final weekend of the season but there’s still plenty of baseball left to play. LSU scored two runs in the top of the 10th inning to take their piece of the championship with a 3-2 win over the Gamecocks.
Junior Colby Holmes
The winner of Saturday’s game at a sold out Carolina Stadium would garner at least a piece of the title. A South Carolina win would be an outright championship wile if the Tigers (42-14, 19-11) were to steal a victory, they would have at least a share.
Nine innings couldn’t decide the outcome as the teams were tied at one apiece, but a pair of walks by freshman Evan Beal came around to score in the 10th after junior Tyler Webb gave up back-to-back singles against the only two hitters he faced.
South Carolina tried to mount a comeback in the bottom half of the inning but senior Adam Matthews, who had another quality day at the plate to close the regular season, was stranded on first base with no one out as the game’s tying run.
“We tried to get in a situation where we had a shot there one way or the other,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “We tried to make a run at them. I’m proud of our team for hanging in there.”
While South Carolina lost its chance for the overall SEC title, hope still remained to win the division and a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. It would take losses by Florida and Kentucky for that to happen, but it wasn’t out of the question. Florida dropped the series finale to Auburn and Kentucky currently trails Mississippi State.
Just as it did the first two games, LSU was able to push across a run in the top of the first inning. Arby Fields knocked a line drive double off the top of the right field wall with one out off of South Carolina starter Colby Holmes.
Fields moved to second base on a passed ball, which was only his second of the year by freshman Grayson Greiner, but also his second in as many days. Three-hole hitter Mason Katz knocked an RBI groundout to give the Tigers another early lead.
“It’s disappointing that we lost,” junior Evan Marzilli said. “We put forth a good effort, but just came up a little short. We have to put that behind us now and get ready for the postseason.”
South Carolina had some productive at-bats in the first two innings putting runners on base and then reached LSU starter Ryan Eades the second time through the order. Junior Evan Marzilli began the bottom of the third with a triple to the gap in left center. The very next pitch, he came home on a sacrifice fly to right by senior Adam Matthews.
Matthews was moved up to the two-hole in the batting order on Friday night and responded with a three-hit day. He was back in the same position in the order in the SEC champion-deciding game and knotted the score at one apiece after three innings of play.
The Gamecocks continued to threaten putting at least one runner on base in each inning against Eades. The big hit, however, just wouldn’t come. South Carolina left runners stranded in scoring position in the second, fourth, and fifth innings without scoring.
“They were spotting up and did a good job,” Dantzler said. “We were out and front and couldn’t get enough hits to win.”
The visitors couldn’t get anything going off of Holmes after the first inning, the right-hander, who threw about 15 pitches in Tuesday’s rainout against Upstate, had not made a start since April 22.
Holmes retired 11 straight hitters until the top of the fifth inning when catcher Tyler Moore singled to right field. Moore, however, was stranded at second base when Holmes struck out Tyler Hanover to get out of the inning.
“Everything was working today,” Holmes said. “Fastball was down for strikes and slider was real good.”
Holmes exceeded Tanner’s expectations for his start going 6.2 innings without allowing an earned run. The right-hander allowed four hits and didn’t walk any Bulldogs while striking out three in the game.
“What Colby did was encouraging for me,” Tanner said. “I anticipated getting three or four innings out of him, based on his performance early in the week. He said, ‘I feel good.’ I thought he was pretty good. He had some efficient innings and got us deep in the game.”
Holmes didn’t leave with the lead, but he kept his team in position to win. South Carolina just couldn’t scratch out any runs off of the Tigers middle relief. Brent Bonvillain and Chris Cotton combined to go 3.2 innings allowing only one runner, which came on a walk, and four strikeouts
It wasn’t until the 10th that the Gamecocks’ bullpen began to fall apart. After two-plus innings of quality relief, Beal walked his only two batters of the game before giving way to Webb. The southpaw was touched up for two singles, one by pinch hitter Jackson Slaid and the next by Katz, to go into the lead.
“It wasn’t anything from a stamina point, really,” Beal said of his walks. “I just wasn’t spotting it in the later innings. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
South Carolina had a chance in the bottom of the inning when Marzilli was gifted a double when Jared Foster misplayed a fly ball to center field. He moved to third on a single by Matthews. Junior Christian Walker hit a line drive on the screws, but Foster was there for the catch in center and it was only good for a sacrifice fly.
A little bit to either direction and Walker could have been looking at a game-tying double. Instead, LB Dantzler and Greiner popped out to end the game.
“We definitely started getting excited,” Dantzler said. “We hit some balls hard. We just missed and few and that’s just how it goes. We just have to bounce back and play well in Hoover, I guess.”
As many times as the Gamecocks have staged late-game comebacks, it felt like another was forthcoming. LSU, however, was able to dog pile on the field at Carolina Stadium with at least a share of the conference title.
“You always have to have confidence you’re going to come back,” Marzilli said. “We always think we can. Today we just came up a little bit short.”
With the loss, Beal drops to 3-4 on the season. South Carolina will now sit and wait on the rest of the conference to finish up their games and find out which seed it will be for the SEC Tournament.