COLUMBIA, S.C. — A furious eighth-inning comeback made the series-opener between South Carolina baseball and Vanderbilt might interesting late Thursday, but it was too little too late for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina (20-9, 6-4 SEC) dropped 7-6 in its first game against Vanderbilt on Thursday night at Founders Park after scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it a one-run affair. Eight of South Carolina’s losses this season have come by two runs or less, with six of them being one-run affairs.
“I’ve got a resilient group,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “They are kids and they want to win in the worst way, but one-run losses are tough losses. They are difficult. That’s what happens in this league.
“You can tuck your head between your legs and run away or you can put your big boy pants on and come out here ready to go tomorrow. I hope I’ve got the group that will do the latter.”
LT Tolbert provided the spark that pushed South Carolina back into the game when he wrecked a full-count pitch over the right field fence for a three-run homer. Jacob Olson followed with a double, as Vanderbilt left fielder Ro Coleman misplayed the high fly ball and Madison Stokes lined a two-out single into center to pull USC within one with an inning to play.
Jonah Bride led off the ninth with a walk, but the Gamecocks could not bring around the tying run as pinch runner Danny Blair was stranded at second.
The Gamecocks fell behind early with starting pitcher Wil Crowe allowing 11 hits, but a less-than-stellar defensive effort behind him being the main issue as the Gamecocks couldn’t make key plays that led to Vanderbilt runs early. Vanderbilt scored in the second with a pair of seeing-eye singles and extended the lead in the fifth on a fielder’s interference and a misplayed, wind-blown ball in left center.
“He battled and competed and he deserved a better fate,” Holbrook said. “We could have played better behind him. He had a couple things that went against him. Tips off the end of the glove and an inch here or an inch here to get out of an inning with not much damage done. …
“If we make a couple plays behind him defensively, we are sitting here and he is the winning pitcher. It’s a team game and we have to play better behind him.”
Vanderbilt was firmly in control for the first 7 ½ innings, cruising out to a 7-2 lead behind a critical three-run fifth inning that could have been prevented. Vandy star Jeren Kendall scored on a fielder’s interference after getting caught in a rundown between third and home. Two batters later, Commodores catcher Jason Delay lofted a long fly ball to centerfield that USC’s TJ Hopkins overran, diving back for it as the ball fell on the warning track and two runners raced around the bases to score.
“We didn’t play as well as we are capable of playing defensively,” Holbrook said. “Had a bad mistake there with the rundown with Kendall on third on the comeback and then a flyball that would have been a heck of a play, but TJ can make that play. Those runs were obviously the difference in the game.”
Vanderbilt scored two early with three straight singles in the second, two of the seeing-eye variety. Will Toffey led off with a liner to center before Walker Grisanti snuck a ball past Tolbert into right and Delay’s chopper hit off Bride’s glove at third and rolled into left field to score the game’s first run. A Harrison Ray sacrifice fly brought home another run.
The Commodores tacked on another in the third on a Grisanti double just inside the third base line, while a seventh-inning solo homer well over the left field fence from Julian Infante proved to be the difference.
USC got on the board in the first when Carlos Cortes singled home Chris Cullen, who doubled leading off the inning. Alex Destino accounted for the lone run in the middle innings when he ripped the first pitch of the at-bat into the South Carolina bullpen.
That would be all for the Gamecocks until Destino reached on an error in the eighth, followed by a Cullen single and Tolbert’s homer as USC rallied back as best it could on a chilly, windy night in Columbia.
“Some of these games we are really getting together and battling back a lot,” Destino said. “That’s a positive you can take out of it, though obviously there are not a lot of positives when you end up losing. I like the way we battled tonight. We brought it back. We were down 7-2 and we didn’t shy away. We got ourselves back in a good spot, but just couldn’t put it together in the last inning.”
Player of the game
The Vanderbilt catcher had three hits, including a two-RBI triple in the fifth. He drove in three runs in the game, also recording an RBI single in the second.
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
The Gamecocks and Commodores play Game 2 of the three-game weekend series at 7 p.m. Friday at Founders Park. Clarke Schmidt is scheduled to start for the Gamecocks.