HOOVER, Ala. — Mike Tyson famously said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. For 3-seed Kentucky playing against upset-minded South Carolina, a punch in the face was exactly the jolt it needed.
Upset-minded South Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening innings of Wednesday afternoon’s matinee against 4-seed Kentucky. It probably should have been more. The Gamecocks left five men on base through the first three innings alone.
But after withstanding the Gamecocks’ run, Kentucky went to work. The first two batters in the bottom of the third inning singled. First baseman Evan White drove Connor Heady home on a groundout to cut the lead to 2-1.
Then, South Carolina committed its second of four errors on the sloppy day. Right fielder Tristan Pompey scored after the mistake.
Designated hitter Kole Cottam hit a thunderous home run over the centerfield wall in the fourth inning. Kentucky never looked back in a dominant 7-2 victory.
“Being able to take that [error] was big for us,” White said. “It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Unquestionably, it did. South Carolina committed two more errors over the course of the game. USC also reached base eight times in the first three innings; the rest of the game, the Gamecocks only reached base three more times.
Once Kentucky saw an opportunity to put the game away, the Wildcats pounced. South Carolina actually had more hits than the Wildcats in the end, but UK made plays when it counted.
UK manager Nick Mingione pulled starter Brad Schaenzer after three inconsistent innings, and the bullpen delivered an exceptional game.
Between left-hander Zach Logue and right-hander Chris Machamer, the relievers held South Carolina to just three hits and no runs. Logue also struck out four of the nine batters he faced.
“What a privilege to have Zach Logue,” Mingione said. “We told he that we were going to experiment with him in a couple different roles this weekend. I thought he did a great job punching the strike zone and attacking their hitters.”
South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook knows that his team had opportunities against one of the best teams in the nation.
“When we get a chance to extend the lead, we have to take that chance,” Holbrook said. “You have to make it happen, and Kentucky made the plays.”
Now, 3-seed Kentucky will face off against the winner of 2-seed LSU and 10-seed Missouri with a loss to spare the race for an SEC tournament championship this weekend. The margin of error just became a little wider.