CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It had been more than 20 years since South Carolina baseball played in a game quite like Tuesday night.
The Gamecocks allowed 20 runs against North Carolina on Tuesday night, the most since they allowed 30 to Arkansas on March 30, 1997, when college baseball still was in the “Gorilla Ball” era of college baseball where double-digit games were the norm.
South Carolina (21-11, 7-5 SEC) lost 20-5 Tuesday, a 15-run blowout at the hands of the Tar Heels for the second straight season at BB&T Ballpark.
“Obviously, threw some guys out there that were not ready to pitch against a team like that,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “When you pitch guys that aren’t ready to pitch against a team like that, the score can get away from you like that.”
South Carolina used 10 pitchers total, blitzing through Cody Morris, Colby Lee, John Parke and Graham Lawson before the end of the fourth inning. The Gamecocks would roll out Reed Scott, Sawyer Bridges, Brandon Murray, Tyler Haswell, Josh Reagan and Tyler Johnson from there, running through 10 of 13 available pitchers.
The first seven pitchers of the night gave up at least two runs each, as all nine starters recorded hits for North Carolina. The Gamecocks pitching staff walked 10, hit two batters and gave up 14 hits to a North Carolina lineup that scored 48 runs in a weekend series against Boston College.
“In a game like this, we thought some older guys might get in there and play catch and maybe get an out or two,” Holbrook said. “Parke threw some good pitches in there and gave us some outs. But outside of that, the other guys just couldn’t play catch and get any outs and throw the ball over the plate. It’s disappointing, especially from older guys. We’ve got enough guys to have a really strong and deep pitching staff.”
A year after suffering a 15-0 loss to the Tar Heels at the same ballpark, things got worse early and kept getting worse and worse for the Gamecocks.
A six-run fourth inning spelled disaster for the Gamecocks, who trailed 6-3 going into the frame and left facing a 12-3 deficit after the Tar Heels brought 10 to the plate in the inning.
A seven-run seventh inning was uglier yet, as South Carolina pitchers walked seven batters, hit another and threw 17 straight balls at one point. Thirteen Tar Heels came to the plate, 10 reached base and the Gamecocks went through four pitchers in the inning.
“Tonight is hard to take, especially for me,” Holbrook said. “I told the players after the game that they will get over and they will be ready for this weekend. It will be a different effect on me. …
“It’s my alma mater. We have a good team. It was disappointing to come here and play in this park the way we did. It hurts me. It was just one game, but it will linger for me. I’m a big boy and I’ll be fine.”
Second baseman LT Tolbert remained a bright spot offensively for the Gamecocks, blasting his third homer in the past four games. His two-run shot to right in the second brought the Gamecocks within 4-2 before UNC tacked on two more in the bottom of the second. Tolbert also drove in a run with a single to left in the fifth inning, as he had three RBIs in a game for the third time in the past five.
The biggest bright spot of the night for the Gamecocks was the return of Johnson, who recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth in his first action since March 4 against Clemson. The Gamecocks closer left that outing with arm soreness and had not pitched in a game since, but returned Tuesday and punched out one batter in his lone inning.
But by the time Johnson entered the game, it was far from a save situation and the game was well out of control for the Gamecocks, whose previous worst loss this season was a 5-1 defeat against Wright State on Feb. 26.
“I think you want to forget about these games quicker than other games,” Tolbert said. “I think the ones that are closer last with us longer. This one, we are just going to flush it. We are going to be ready to go Friday.”
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
South Carolina hosts Mississippi State for a three-game series at Founders Park, starting on Friday at 7 p.m.