South Carolina has a lot of freshmen playing pivotal roles but it was the veterans who saved the day in a 5-4 victory that kept the hopes of an SEC championship alive. After dropping the opener on Friday afternoon, the Gamecocks (39-14, 18-10) rallied from a three-run deficit in game two behind two juniors and a senior to even the series at a game apiece.
Junior Christian Walker was 1-for-3 with a three-run home run in Friday night's 5-4 victory over LSU
After four innings in game two, and 14 total inning on the day, it appeared as though any kind of hope for a championship was slipping away. The Gamecocks couldn’t get anything going at the plate and LSU was able to put up runs when it needed to.
Junior Christian Walker and senior Adam Matthews gave South Carolina some life at the plate and then with the lead, junior Matt Price pitched three quality innings to quiet the Tigers (41-14, 18-11) down the stretch.
“We were fighting up there,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said, “but it was hard to get anything.”
South Carolina couldn’t get anything going off of Nola until the bottom of the sixth inning when Walker lifted a three-run home run deep over the left field wall. The home run injected some life into the crowd and some confidence in the bats.
“Nola came out of the blocks tonight and had a little bit extra,” Tanner said. “It was impressive.“
Price inherited a jam in the seventh inning and pitched out of trouble and pitched out of his own mess in the eighth. After dominating the ninth inning, the Gamecocks were back in championship hunt.
Just like it did in the first game, LSU was able to jump out to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Sophomore Forrest Koumas, making second start in three weeks, retired the first two hitters of the inning but the next four reached base, which included an RBI single by Tyler Moore.
The Tigers doubled their lead off of Koumas in the third when Raph Rhymes, who singled with one out, came home from third base on a squeeze bunt by Alex Edward.
Junior Matt Price picked up his 10th save of the season working three innings
Facing a 2-0 deficit, South Carolina couldn’t mound any kind of rally off of LSU freshman Aaron Nola. The right-hander, just like Kevin Gausman in game one, kept the Gamecocks off balance pounding the zone with a low-90s fastball and breaking pitches for strikes.
The only Gamecock with a hit in the first two innings was Matthews, who had a pair of singles. The bats finally came to life in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to Walker’s three-run blast. Freshman Tanner English bounced a single through the left side and junior Evan Marzilli hit a soft single to shallow left.
Both hits were fairly meek, but Walker got the crowd and his team back into it hitting one of his longest home runs of his career.
“Up until that point, I really hadn’t done much,” Walker said. “I made an error early in the game that gave them momentum. I was looking for something to generate some momentum and put some runs on the board. I got a good pitch to hit and it found the barrel.”
LSU had a great chance to answer in the top of the seventh inning when freshman Evan Beal entered and proceeded to walk the first two hitters of the inning. That’s when Tanner called on Price.
“After he walked those two guys, we had an opportunity to win,” Tanner said. “You have to get your guy in there and give yourself a chance to win.”
South Carolina came back in the bottom of the seventh with another run but it should have been more. With a runner on second, Matthews launched a towering fly ball to left field. Raph Rhymes leaped and couldn’t make the catch as the ball bounced back to shallow left field.
The ball appeared to hit the metal rail, which would be a home run. The umpires, however, ruled the ball hit off the top of the wall, so instead of a 6-3 lead, Matthews had to settle for an RBI double and the Gamecocks had a 5-3 lead through seven innings.
“The way I’m playing this year, I’ll take a double,” Matthews said.
That run would prove to be valuable as LSU wouldn’t go away quietly. The Tigers scored a run in the top of the eighth inning on an RBI single by Rhymes to shallow right. Price had some tough luck in the inning giving up three hits, but only one of them was hit hard.
“I think sometimes he puts men on base just to do it,” senior Michael Roth joked. “He came in and saved Beal. He decided to put some more men on base so he could K some more guys. We always like seeing him come out of the pen in the last couple of innings.”
After the Gamecocks went quietly in the bottom of the eighth, Price came back in the top of the ninth to slam the door for his 10th save of the season rather emphatically. He struck out two in the final inning giving him seven on the night.
Tanner said that Price would “probably” be out for Saturday after allowing one earned run on three hits over three innings. He struck out seven on 45 pitches.
Shortly after South Carolina finished up its win, Mississippi State knocked off Kentucky 4-3 in Starkville, Miss. to claim the series. With the Bulldogs’ win, that put the Gamecocks back in control of their own destiny with one game to play.
If the Gamecocks beat LSU on Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPNU, then it will win their second straight SEC Championship. Should LSU win, the Tigers will claim at least a share of the title.