COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clarke Schmidt had another special outing for South Carolina baseball on Friday night. But by the end of the night, that was a distant memory.
Schmidt’s outing went for naught, a blown save in the ninth inning keeping him from moving to 5-0. A towering two-run homer from Vanderbilt’s Julian Infante sent high into the night sky before landing into a celebrating Commodores’ bullpen then kept the Gamecocks from the win.
South Carolina (20-10, 6-5 SEC) fell 5-3 in 13 innings at Founders Park, dropping the series to Vanderbilt on the heels of a 7-6 loss Thursday night in the series opener. The Gamecocks now have lost four of their past six games, with nine of USC’s 10 losses this season coming by two runs or less.
“We are way too talented to be winning and losing one-run games,” Schmidt said. “We have to figure something out late in the innings. When it’s a tie ballgame in the 13th or whatever inning, you’ve gotta find a way to get runners on and get them in. That also comes to guys in the dugout, we have to beat upbeat and ready to win. It’s full circle. It’s everyone. …
“We just have to be better collectively as a whole team.”
The Gamecocks did not score in the final 10 innings, managing only four hits after their three-run third inning. A ninth-inning Jonah Bride single was the final piece of offense for the Gamecocks as they could not put a runner aboard in extras and didn’t have a runner in scoring position after the sixth inning. Commodores reliever Matt Ruppenthal threw the final 7 innings, allowing two hits, no runs and striking out three as he kept South Carolina off balance.
Vanderbilt threatened in the 12th before pushing ahead in the 13th after a single from Stephen Scott set up Infante’s two-run homer. The Commodores tied the game in the top of the ninth when Gamecocks reliever Colie Bowers walked Vandy’s Will Toffey leading off the inning and he came around to score on pinch hitter Reed Hayes’ single to left with two outs — the third time USC has blown a save with one out to go this season.
“They are hard to take when you are so close to winning them,” coach Chad Holbrook said, “but gotta find a way to get over the hump and get that 27th out. … It’s frustrating any time you are one out away from a win and make a good pitch and get it on the hands and it gets through there. Things aren’t really going our way right now.”
The Gamecocks were sitting well early, with Schmidt cruising out of the game. The junior set down the first 10 batters of the game in order, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk. His 11 strikeouts were one shy of tying a career high, which he set in March against Michigan State.
South Carolina did all its scoring in the bottom of the third, taking advantage of some critical Vanderbilt mistakes. Madison Stokes reached on Vandy second baseman Alonzo Jones’ throwing error, then Jones missed a tag attempt on Stokes on a Danny Blair grounder and his throw to first was too late to catch Blair.
Matt Williams reached on a hit by pitch, loading the bases for Bride, who ripped a first-pitch single into left to bring the game’s first run across. Blair came home when Alex Destino grounded into a double play before Carlos Cortes put together a great at-bat that finished with a hard-hit RBI single into right to give USC a 3-0 lead and USC wouldn’t score again.
“From the third inning on, we didn’t do anything offensively to threaten to score,” Holbrook said. “We forced our pitchers to be perfect. At the end of the day, that got us.”
Schmidt gave up his first hit with one out in the fourth, a double smashed to right by Scott. Infante brought him home a pitch later with a bloop single over shortstop. Schmidt gave up another walk and a second bloop single to left before a wild pitch allowed Infante to walk home to make it a one-run game.
But then Schmidt, as he is wont to do, reached back for a little extra and got a strikeout and a flyout to end the threat with runners on second and third.
“The past few weekends, my stuff has felt really good,” Schmidt said. “I’m really in a comfortable place right now.”
After Schmidt departed, Reagan came on and allowed a leadoff single on his first pitch. But the senior bounced back to freeze Vandy’s Jeren Kendall with an 0-2 breaking ball and retire Scott on a soft liner to short.
Bowers came on to end the inning with a foul out to catcher Hunter Taylor. He walked Toffey, who came around to score on Scott’s RBI single to left to tie the game before the Commodores broke through in the 13th to end the game.
“It wears on you, that’s for sure,” Holbrook said. “You have some toughness and competitiveness and tomorrow is one of 30 games in the league. Gotta treat it is a separate entity and come play and lay it on the line.
“Like I tell our guys all the time, they don’t ask you how many series you won at the end of the year, they ask you how many games you won.”
Player of the game
The junior righty is putting together a very special season and continues to be dominant.
What’s next for South Carolina baseball
South Carolina and Vanderbilt play the series finale at noon Saturday. Adam Hill will start for the Gamecocks.