**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook and his team tried everything they could think of Saturday to change their luck and stop a troubling losing streak.
Holbrook moved from the dugout to coach third base when his team was batting. He made lineup changes, inserting backup catcher Hunter Taylor and second baseman Justin Row into the lineup and moving some other players around. He moved Jacob Olson and Carlos Cortes to the top of the order.
The players even did their part in the locker room, trying to change their mojo by hiking their white uniforms pants up and showing off their black socks.
But, in the end, not enough worked and the Gamecocks suffered another tough SEC loss, falling 5-4 to Mississippi State and dropping their third straight conference series. South Carolina (21-13) has lost six of its last eight conference games to fall to 7-7 in league play and has dropped seven one-run games.
"It's very disappointing. My heart has been ripped out of me," Holbrook said after another bitter loss. "But we're not halfway through the SEC season yet, so we've got to keep fighting."
For the second straight day, errors and miscues in the field doomed the Gamecocks and wasted another great pitching performance.
Wil Crowe, who was outstanding through eight innings, took the mound in the ninth and immediately ran into trouble not of his doing. Jonah Bride could not handle a high chopper to third, putting leadoff man Ryan Gridley on with what was ruled an infield single. Taylor then got Gridley caught in a rundown, but LT Tolbert, who was playing short in place of the struggling Madison Stokes, could not make the tag and Gridley slid safely back into first.
Cody Brown then singled and Hunter Vansau hit a little dribbler back to the mound that Crowe couldn't handle, loading the bases with no outs for reliever Colie Bowers. Bride made a diving stop on a ground ball by Josh Lovelady, but Gridley scored from third, giving Mississippi State a 3-2 lead.
A second run scored on Bowers' wild pitch and Hunter Stovall drove in another with a single to right. Olson saved another run when he threw out Tanner Poole at the plate to end the inning, but the damage was done.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to one in the ninth on Carlos Cortes' second home run of the game, but Chris Cullen grounded out and Alex Destino flew out to end the game.
"It was a great game until the ninth inning when we made some really uncharacteristic bad plays," Holbrook said. "Every play was there to be made to get us out of that inning and we didn't make it. In tight games in this league against quality competition that's not going to get you on the right side of the win column."
Crowe did everything he could to give South Carolina a lift and even the series. But like Clarke Schmidt the night before, the offense did not get enough timely hits and the defense broke down behind him.
Crowe (3-3) allowed four earned runs on just seven hits. He walked three and struck out four on 112 pitches in his longest outing of the season. When he ran into trouble with the game tied in the ninth, Holbrook said he elected to go with Bowers instead of closer Tyler Johnson because "there are some limitations on Tyler that I'm not going to discuss." Johnson pitched one inning Tuesday after missing 20 games with a sore arm.
Mississippi State (25-12, 10-4) took a 1-0 lead in the second on a solo home run by Luke Alexander. South Carolina bounced back to take the lead in the third when Olson led off the inning with a single and Cortes hit a towering home run over the right-field wall. Holbrook moved Olson into the leadoff spot and batted Cortes second to try to give his team a spark. That move worked as Olson with 2-for-4 with a walk and scored two runs. Cortes was 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBI.
That was not enough, though.
"Carlos had a great day, but we need more than just Carlos," Holbrook said. "Olson will fight your tail and Carlos will, too. They gave us some really good at-bats at the top of the lineup. Usually the bottom will feed off that, but that wasn't the case today."
With Crowe dealing on the mound, the Gamecocks led 2-1 until the seventh when Mississippi State took advantage of a South Carolina error. Cody Brown hit a ground ball to short that Tolbert lobbed to first, pulling Cullen off the bag. The next batter, pinch-hitter Hunter Vansau, lined a double to left-center, scoring Brown. Tolbert, the regular second baseman, then made three straight plays at short to strand Vansau at third.
A night after two costly errors cost it a chance to win Game One, South Carolina made a big defensive play in the first inning to keep Mississippi State off the board. With a runner on first, Brown doubled to left on a ball that just slipped under the glove of Destino. But TJ Hopkins scooped it up and threw to Tolbert, who gunned down Brown at the plate. Taylor blocked the plate to make the tag and then got tangled up with Brown, leading to words between the two. Mississippi State head coach Andy Cannizaro argued that Taylor did not give Brown enough room in the base path, but after review, the call stood.
After three errors in Friday's 7-4 loss, South Carolina played solid defense until the error in the seventh allowed Mississippi State to tie the game and defensive miscues in the ninth led to three runs.
In the end, all the moves Holbrook and his team made were not enough to avoid another frustrating loss.
"I'm pushing every button I know how, and maybe I'm not doing a good job of that," Holbrook said after the game. "At the end of the day, you've got to make plays and you've got to get clutch hits and you've got to get bunts down, and right now we can't put all those things together and we're coming up on the short end of the stick because of that."
South Carolina will try to avoid a sweep Sunday at 4 p.m. at Founders Park.