By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
After a humiliating 19-1 loss to Kentucky Friday night, South Carolina needed something special to lift their spirits and possibly help them snap out of a demoralizing slump.
They got it from the Gamecocks' do strongest asset. Pitching.
They got a huge lift from starter Adam Hill and bullpen aces Josh Reagan and Tyler Johnson. Coupled with a spark from some new faces in the lineup and a couple of huge defensive plays, South Carolina bounced back to beat Kentucky 5-1 Saturday, giving it a chance to win the three-game series Sunday. The Gamecocks improved to 25-16 overall and 10-10 in the SEC. The gained a game on second-place Kentucky (30-14, 13-7).
Hill allowed just one hit in five innings, Reagan allowed just one hit in 2.1 innings and Johnson finished off Kentucky over the final 1.2.
The pitching performance was huge a night after Kentucky pounded out 20 hits and hung South Carolina with its worst loss in 20 years. Kentucky leads the SEC in hitting and showed it Friday night, battering four Gamecock pitchers for four home runs.
"Any time you give up (only) two hits to that team, it was awfully impressive," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "… Our pitching was terrific. I don't know that they have had (just) two hits all year long. Our pitchers were special today."
Holbrook was pleased with the way his team bounced back with more fire and energy a night after the worst loss of the season and one of the worst in school history.
"I think some of them were upset by what happened last night," he said. "It was good to see some of them lay it on the line a little bit. They played their tails off. They could have easily come to the park a little deflated, but they didn't. They came with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and that was good to see."
The Gamecocks also got a lift from some backups who got a chance to play due to injuries and the struggles of other players. Chris Cullen and LT Tolbert were both nursing injuries and catcher Hunter Taylor was dehydrated after catching Friday night. They were replaced by Justin Row at second, Riley Hogan at first, John Jones behind the plate and Ross Grosvenor at DH. Grosvenor had an RBI single in the three-run third, Hogan added two hits, Row had two big sacrifice bunts and Jones caught a solid game behind the plate.
"They brought a spark," Holbrook said.
Grosvenor, a senior who has gotten little playing time the past two years, gave his team a lift just by being in the lineup. He had a pinch-hit double to knock in South Carolina's only run Friday night and got the start Friday.
"Ross being in the lineup, even if he went 0-for-4, he gave us a big lift because his teammates were happy to see him in there," Holbrook said. "He had been swinging the bat really, really well in practice and we had been struggling to get some extra-base hits and scoring runs, so I felt like it was a good matchup for him today. He certainly gave our team a lift, and I thought Jonesy did too. … Jonesy picked us up and caught a great game back there."
The Gamecocks snapped out of their offensive funk early, scoring a run in the second on two hits and a Kentucky error. Madison Stokes knocked in the run with a one-out single to left.
The Gamecocks took advantage of another error in the third. Row reached on a boot by Kentucky third baseman Tyler Marshall and Carlos Cortes followed with his sixth home run of the season, a blast over the right-field wall.
South Carolina added another run when Jonah Bride walked, Jacob Olson singled and Grosvenor delivered with an RBI single.
A third error cost Kentucky another run in the sixth, and Cortes delivered again, ripping an RBI double to score Hopkins.
Hill, meanwhile, was fantastic, hurling five one-hit innings. He struck out five and pitched out of a base-loaded jam in the third. The only hit he allowed was a solo home run to Marshall. It marked the second time this year that Hill has given up just one hit. He also had a six-inning no-hitter against Vanderbilt.
Reagan was solid over 2.1 innings and Johnson sat down the Wildcats with his blazing fastball, including one that reached 100 mph.
They were supported by solid defense. Despite two errors, the Gamecocks came up with some big defensive plays, including a diving stop by Stokes with two runners on in the eighth. Stokes snared a hot smash and flipped it to Row at second to start an inning-ending double play and allow Johnson to get out of the inning on just one pitch.
"What a great play Stokes made there," Holbrook said. "They could have had the tying run at the plate right there. It was a big-league play, one of the best plays I've seen on the field in a long, long time."
Hopkins made a diving catch in center for the first out in the ninth, setting up Johnson for a strike out and ground out to end the game.
The Gamecocks have lost four straight SEC series. They will have a chance to stop that streak tomorrow at 1:30 at Founders Park.