COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina baseball got all the little things done it needed to in the eighth inning on Sunday to avoid being swept for the first time in 2 years.
The Gamecocks (22-13 overall, 8-7 SEC) scored 5 runs in the bottom of the eighth, leading to a 6-1 win to back a great start from sophomore Adam Hill against Mississippi State.
“It was a big relief for us to win this one today after the way we lost the first two,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “Live to fight another day and keep our head above water in the SEC. I think this was a significant game.”
USC rallied in a big way in the eighth after a frustrating weekend stemming from close losses Friday and Saturday. They put the first 2 runners on, then came up with 3 straight hits with 2 outs to bring home 4 runs after Jonah Bride’s sacrifice fly put the Gamecocks ahead. Closer Tyler Johnson came on to work a perfect ninth, sealing the important win for the Gamecocks.
“I love me some runs,” said Johnson, who returned from injury this week. “Nothing better. I really like the fact that we were able to combine hits back-to-back-to-back. I’m not a hitter; I’m not any good at it, but it’s always good to see the ball get knocked around a little bit.”
Jacob Olson battled to lead off the eighth before a single to left and Carlos Cortes worked a walk. Catcher Chris Cullen executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, prompting MSU to walk Alex Destino to load the bases.
Bride lifted the first pitch from Bulldogs reliever Riley Self down the right-field line, bringing home Olson ahead of Tanner Poole’s throw to take the lead. LT Tolbert found a perfect weak spot in MSU’s defensive shift for a 2-run single to give the Gamecocks some breathing room.
“We did some good situational hitting there in the eighth after getting a bunt down, which is a nice change,” Holbrook said. “We will take it and hopefully this will create some momentum for us and springboard us into an important week.”
Matt Williams followed up with the third straight run-scoring at-bat with an opposite-field rope for a double, as the ball bounced out of left fielder Cody Brown’s glove on the warning track, and Tolbert raced home. Madison Stokes, who went 3 for 4 after being out of the lineup Saturday, laced a single to center to score Williams.
“He stayed on the ball a lot better,” Holbrook said of Stokes. “He wasn’t pulling off. He kept his head down. That was a beautiful swing in his last at-bat there.”
Hill cruised through the first 5 innings before running into trouble in the sixth.
Mississippi State took a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth on a Jake Mangum leadoff double and Ryan Gridley’s run-scoring double past a diving Williams. The Bulldogs loaded the bases in the inning, but Hill pitched out of trouble, getting Josh Lovelady to ground into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play.
Cortes came up clutch immediately for the Gamecocks, homering for the third time in 2 games with a game-tying solo shot in the bottom of the sixth.
“Things didn’t look good for us after Gridley’s double down the line,” Holbrook said. “Our pitchers did a great job and we managed the inning. Holding them to 1 run right there, even though we got behind, the dugout got some momentum there after that inning. It was a big inning for us.”
Hill allowed 4 hits and 1 run through 6 innings, with 7 strikeouts and 4 walks, but it looked like he would be in line to be the third starting pitcher to leave without a win. But the Gamecocks had some magic left in the tank, putting together a crucial eighth inning to get back on the right side of the game after 3 straight losses in a frustrating week.
“I feel a lot better being 8-7 than I do 7-8,” Holbrook said. “It could be a lot better. I’m not ready to go celebrate anything by any stretch. We are still in striking distance. … I think what our players have been through and how we have lost some games, we won some games, too, but I think some of the expectations have been weighing on them. Maybe that will make us tougher for the stretch run.
“I’m a glass half full guy. Maybe there is something in store for this team down the stretch that we will play our best baseball.”
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
South Carolina hosts Davidson at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday at Founders Park.