By Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe
Chad Holbrook thought his team was fired up and ready to play against Georgia Thursday night, and had a good feeling when starting pitcher Wil Crowe breezed through the first inning.
But it took less than two innings for Georgia to stifle that confidence.
The Bulldogs scored four runs on five hits in the top of the second, and senior left-hander Andrew Gist did the rest, stifling the Gamecocks for eight innings in a damaging 6-3 loss for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks fell to 31-22 overall and 12-16 in the SEC, assuring they will finish the regular season with a losing record in the conference for only the second time since 1997. After dropping Game 1, they are in danger of losing their eighth straight SEC series.
Holbrook said his team was ready to play and expected more going into the game.
"I thought we were going to play great," he said. "I thought Wil looked as good as I've ever seen him in the first inning. His velocity was up. It was a beautiful first inning to watch. Our BP was as good as we have ever had, and the kid came out there and stumped us a bit."
Gist, 2-4 entering the game, allowed just one run on three hits in eight innings as Georgia led 6-1 going into the ninth.
"He pitched a heckuva game. We couldn't get anything going offensively against him," Holbrook said. "We couldn't make him uncomfortable. He looked like he was out there playing catch out there."
Georgia did most of its damage in the second, scoring four runs off five hits off Crowe. Mitchell Webb, LJ Tally and Adam Sasser strung together consecutive hits to load the bases, and Webb scored on an infield hit by Austin Biggar. Tucker Bradley knocked in two runs with a double into the left-field corner, and Biggar scored on a passed ball.
"They got some bloop hits here, bloop hits there and the guy hit a good pitch the other way," Crowe said. "You have to give him credit. They put some good swings on good pitches and they fell."
Crowe then shut down Georgia over the next five innings, striking out nine and scattering just three more hits in what was likely his last career start at Founders Park.
"It sucks that it went this way, but I felt like I did everything I could to give us a chance. It just didn't turn out in our favor today," Crowe said.
Crowe left the game in the seventh to a big ovation. He is 5-5 with a 3.54 ERA after returning for his junior season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is projected to go in the first round of the June MLB Draft.
"Wil is a good kid and a hard worker and obviously he has a great arm. He is going to pitch for a long time," Holbrook said. "He's a special kid that I am very close with. He gave it his all tonight, it just didn't happen for him in the second inning, but he kept us in the game. I'm proud of the way he pitched after that."
Crowe said he was emotional walking off the mound to a deserving tribute from fans.
"Just extremely blessed to play here," he said. "They have been amazing to me and my family with everything I went through. It was emotional. I was just happy they did that. It was good to see."
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, could mount little offense against Gist, who gave up only a bloop single by Carlos Cortes through six.
South Carolina finally scratched out a run in the seventh when Justin Row led off with a walk and scored on an RBI double by Jonah Bride. Bride was stranded at second when Alex Destino flew out weakly to left and TJ Hopkins struck out.
The Gamecocks got the leadoff man on in the eighth when Ross Grosvenor singled, but Jacob Olson and Danny Blair grounded out and Hunter Taylor popped up.
Georgia added two runs in the top of the ninth off John Parke to put the Gamecocks away. Biggar singled, Bradley reached on an infield hit and Cam Shepherd drove in a run with a sharp single up the middle. With one out, Keegan McGovern knocked in another run.
South Carolina rallied for two runs in the ninth on Destino's two-run double, but it wasn't enough.
The losing record in the SEC may hurt South Carolina's chances of making the NCAA Tournament. It likely must win the next to games to take the series, and then play well next week in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
"Everyone knows 15-15 is what everyone thinks," Crowe said. "Now we've got to win tomorrow and Sunday and play good in Hoover. I think we are going to do that."
That's what Holbrook expects.
"I fully expect to win the series and I fully expect to play our tails off tomorrow and I expect Adam Hill to throw a great game," Holbrook said.