COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina baseball needed something to go right Saturday to salvage a win out of it series against Vanderbilt. Really, the Gamecocks just needed something to go right in general after a flurry of close, late losses recently.
They got a whole lot of right on the right arm of starting pitcher Adam Hill. The sophomore was as good as he has been this season, throwing six innings of no-hit baseball and tying a career-high 11 strikeouts in South Carolina’s 6-1 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon at Founders Park.
“Our kids willed our way to this win today,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “It was a big win for us. I just told the team, ‘You are going to look back at that No. 7 win in the league and say that was an awfully big one because our backs were against the wall.’ …
“Hopefully, they will take a deep breath and continue to evolve into a championship-caliber team.”
LT Tolbert provided all the offense that the Gamecocks (21-10, 7-5 SEC) and Hill needed in the second inning, blasting a three-run homer to right field for the second time in three games. But the afternoon belonged to Hill, who relied heavily on his fastball to shut down a Vanderbilt team that took the first two games of the series from the Gamecocks.
“I had a little bit of extra life today,” Hill said. “My command was a little erratic because I was getting a little bit of run than I usually do. I was throwing it in there and it was working for me, so I just kept throwing it.”
Hill said he approached the game as he usually does, with a mentality of pounding fastballs and working in his offspeed pitches. He also said he didn’t notice he was throwing a no-hitter until around the seventh inning.
Hill (2-3, 2.2.3 ERA) struck out three in the first inning, setting the tone for what was to come. He struck out a pair in the third before ringing up the side in the fifth, as he logged strikeouts on five of the final eight outs he recorded. The sophomore came out for the seventh inning with 106 pitches, but walked the leadoff hitter, spelling the end of his afternoon after 6 innings, 11 strikeouts and five walks.
Reliever Josh Reagan gave up a pair of singles to the first two batters he faced, bringing around Vanderbilt’s Will Toffey to account for the Commodores lone run. Reagan allowed three hits in the final three innings to record the save a week after a difficult loss when the senior allowed a walk-off homer at Auburn.
“I was really proud of Reagan because of what happened to him last week,” Holbrook said. “Then he came in for a big spot in — up to this point — our most important game of the year considering what happened the last couple days. He got some awfully big outs for us.”
USC tacked on a pair of insurances runs in the bottom of the seventh, padding the lead for the bullpen.
Chris Cullen led off the second inning with an infield pop-up that fell safely on the between a handful of Commodores. Carlos Cortes followed up by creaming a pitch to right field, putting two runners on. Tolbert got South Carolina on the board when he ripped a 2-0 fastball to right and into the stands for a 3-0 lead.
“We knew that we had to come out here today and fight,” Tolbert said. “The last thing we wanted to do was get swept. We just came out with a chip on shoulder and wanted to prove something and get a win under our belt.”
This time, the Gamecocks had enough in the tank to hold the three-run lead a night after they couldn’t hang on to a 3-0 third-inning lead. USC added another run in the third with good situational play. TJ Hopkins doubled to right-center leading off the inning. Jonah Bride bunted Hopkins to third and Alex Destino brought him home on a sac fly on the next two pitches to extend the lead to 4-0.
“There was a lot of reason for us to throw this game away and almost give it away mentally,” Destino said. “We came to the field, it was a quick turnaround. The vibes were great today. During batting practice, everybody was excited, which was good. Coach Holbrook was very upbeat the whole day.”
The Gamecocks put the first two aboard in the seventh, as Madison Stokes worked a walk and Matt Williams lined a double to left center. Hopkins greeted Vanderbilt reliever Penn Murfee’s first pitch rudely, crushing it up the middle for an RBI single. Destino brought in the final run of the day for the Gamecocks on a groundout to second.
Now, the Gamecocks head into a big week with a nonconference clash against North Carolina and a conference series against Mississippi State, with Holbrook hoping Saturday launches USC to more positive moments moving forward.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Holbrook said. “I did tell them I have a good feeling we will look back in late May and June and say that Sunday against Vanderbilt was the biggest win of the year. We will see what happens.
“It feels awfully good to win this one today when we didn’t feel that good coming to the park today.”
Player of the game
The sophomore righty was highly effective, getting the Gamecocks a win in the series that they needed to get.
Solid ovation for Adam Hill, who departs with six innings of no-hit baseball to his name. pic.twitter.com/yAMfyIYq7V
— Mike Wilson (@ByMikeWilson) April 8, 2017
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
The Gamecocks face North Carolina at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte at 7 p.m. Tuesday.