COLUMBIA, S.C. — Chad Holbrook sat in the South Carolina baseball dugout Saturday evening staring at a stat sheet that showed another ugly truth.
The Gamecocks couldn’t escape the bad breaks that seem to haunt them, small mistakes that have big consequences and the close losses that have been a staple of this season.
The Gamecocks fell victim to a three-run ninth inning from Mississippi State in a 5-4 loss to the Bulldogs in another frustrating, close, late-game loss.
“It’s getting frustrating,” shortstop LT Tolbert said. “We have to keep playing. We have to keep playing. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to try and make things happen.”
South Carolina (21-13, 7-7 SEC) now has lost three straight weekend series after dropping a pair to Auburn and Vanderbilt in the previous two weekends. The Gamecocks lost 7-4 on Friday night in the series opener, with a handful of errors proving costly in the outing.
“I’m just a big believer that you can feel sorry for yourself and you can believe everything is going against you or you can be determined to make something happen yourself,” Holbrook said. “Wins don’t fall in your lap in this league. You’ve gotta be tough and when all things are against you, you’ve gotta will yourself into making something positive happen. Right now, our will is not strong enough to make something positive happen.
“It’s disheartening, but we’ve got good kids in our locker room and good kids in our program. Maybe they are hurting a little bit too much and feeling sorry for themselves a little bit too much. We will show up and go to battle and see if we can turn this thing around.”
South Carolina tried everything it could Saturday, even having all the players roll up their pant legs to try and change the mojo, Tolbert said. And it looked like it was going well with a strong outing from junior Wil Crowe once again, but the ninth inning spelled disaster.
The Bulldogs loaded the bases with a pair of infield singles and a single up the middle. MSU’s Ryan Gridley led off the inning with a high chopper that bounced out of Jonah Bride’s glove for what was ruled an infield single.
The Gamecocks caught Gridley in a rundown as he attempted to steal second, but they could not get an out as Gridley made it back to first then moved to second on Cody Brown’s single up the middle. MSU got another infield single to load the bases, as Hunter Vansau hit a dribbler to the side of the mound and Crowe couldn’t come up with the ball as he slid to try and make a play.
“It’s baseball,” Crowe said. “It happens. I gotta keep pitching. I’ve gotta go to the next pitch and make the next play.”
Crowe departed with the bases loaded and nobody out. Holbrook opted for senior Colie Bowers in the big situation and not closer Tyler Johnson, whom Holbrook said has “some limitations” on him since returning from injury.
The go-ahead run came home on a groundout to third, as Bride made a diving play to keep the ball in the infield and get an out at first. Another run came home on a Bowers wild pitch after an intentional walk to Tanner Poole. Bowers rung up Luke Alexander on strikes before Hunter Stovall’s single scored another run and USC’s Jacob Olson gunned down Poole trying to score from second.
South Carolina pulled within one in the bottom of the ninth on a two-run homer from Carlos Cortes, who barely cleared the fence slightly to the right of the Gamecocks’ bullpen for his second home run of the game. But South Carolina couldn’t finish the comeback, as Matt Williams grounded out and Alex Destino flew out to center.
“I’m pushing every button I know how,” Holbrook said. “Maybe I’m not doing a good job of that. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta make plays. You’ve gotta get clutch hits. You’ve gotta get bunts down. Right now, we can’t put all those things together. We are coming up on the short end of the stick because of it.”
Cortes hit his first homer of the game in the third, blasting a mammoth two-run shot that landed on Williams Street beyond the right field wall. The Gamecocks didn’t score again until Cortes homered in the ninth, leaving nine runners on base in the loss.
Three players — Cortes, Jacob Olson and TJ Hopkins — accounted for seven of South Carolina’s eight hits.
USC held a 2-1 lead through the middle innings until Mississippi State tied the game in the seventh after an error from catcher-turned-first baseman Chris Cullen, who couldn’t field a throw from LT Tolbert that allowed Brown to reach safely. Brown came around to score on a double from Elijah MacNamee to tie the game 2-2.
South Carolina has lost five of six SEC games and will be fighting to avoid being swept for the first time this season on Sunday.
“You’ve gotta come back and you’ve gotta flush it,” Crowe said. “I think a big thing is not to get swept. That’s a motto we have had at Carolina ever since I’ve been here. We’ve got an opportunity to not get swept tomorrow. We’ve got an opportunity to win a game at home and beat a good team. Yeah, it hurts, but tomorrow is a new day.”
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
South Carolina and Mississippi State will play the series finale at 4 p.m. Sunday at Founders Park. Adam Hill will be starting for the Gamecocks.