COLUMBIA, S.C. — Thursday night was close to a must-win for South Carolina baseball.
But in need of some of their best baseball of the season — coach Chad Holbrook and players said as much Wednesday — the Gamecocks were stifled at the plate by Georgia’s Andrew Gist and could not overcome a four-run second inning from the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks (31-22, 12-16 SEC) fell 6-3 in the series opener, a win they sorely needed, but could not gain.
“It was a disappointing loss,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “Got two more big games to play and we will come ready to go tomorrow.”
Now, the Gamecocks need wins Friday and Saturday against Georgia to win the series — the likely outcome they need to keep their hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament alive.
“Everyone knows 15-15 is what everyone thinks,” pitcher Wil Crowe said. “Now we have to win tomorrow, win Sunday and play good in Hoover. I think we are going to do that. I still have all the belief in this team. I know all the guys do, too.”
The Gamecocks had only one runner reach base in the first six innings — a softly hit Carlos Cortes single to left in the fourth, after Gist retired 11 straight Gamecocks to open the game. South Carolina finally got on the board in the seventh, a Jonah Bride double to cap a tremendous at-bat scoring Justin Row from second.
South Carolina made a late push after falling behind 6-1 in the top of the ninth as Row drew a leadoff walk and Cortes doubled to right center. Alex Destino blasted a double off the left field wall to score the pair, pulling South Carolina within 6-3.
Wil Crowe made what presumably was his final appearance at Founders Park, giving up eight hits, but pitching around damage outside of the second inning. He allowed four runs, three earned and tied a season-high nine strikeouts in 6.2 innings. He departed in the seventh to a standing ovation from a grateful home crowd after 122 pitches.
Gist was dominant on the other side, allowing only three hits and matching a career-high eight innings. He struck out five and walked one – Row, who scored the first run for the Gamecocks.
“The story of the game was the Gist kid,” Holbrook said. “He pitched a heck of a game and we couldn’t get anything going against him offensively tonight. He was just terrific. … It was a beautiful performance by him.”
The Bulldogs did the bulk of their scoring in the second, putting together three straight singles against Crowe. The Gamecocks starter reached back and struck out Georgia’s Tucker Maxwell to get the second out, but a weakly hit infield single scored a run and Georgia’s Tucker Bradley drove in two more with a long, lazy double down the left field line.
Another run came home on a passed ball, as Georgia scored four runs in a span of three pitches.
“When they scored four runs there in the second, I don’t know if it deflated us, but it shocked us a tad,” Holbrook said. “We weren’t able to recover.”
The Bulldogs threatened against reliever John Parke in the eighth, but a Cortes to Row to Hunter Taylor relay cut down LJ Talley at the plate. They came back up in the ninth with three straight singles, the final being a run-scoring hit up the middle from Cam Shepherd to extend the lead to 5-1. Keegan McGovern drove home another run in the ninth, reaching out and lining a single to center for a 6-1 Georgia lead.
Afterward, Holbrook voiced his confidence to his team that they can come out and win the series — something they likely have to do if they want to avoid missing the postseason for the second time in three years.
“That I fully expect to win the series and I fully expect to play our tails off tomorrow. I fully expect Adam Hill to throw a great game,” Holbrook said of his postgame message to his team. “That’s what I expect. We will see if it happens.”
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
South Carolina and Georgia play the second game of the series at 7 p.m. ET Friday at Founders Park.