By Jeff Owens/Photo by Jeff Owens
HOOVER, Ala. — First the good news. South Carolina is 1-1 after two days in the SEC Tournament and will have their No. 1 starting pitcher on the mound Thursday with a chance to keep playing.
Now, the bad news. South Carolina is 1-1 with a chance to win a big Game 3 — something they haven't done in eight weeks.
After Tuesday's thrilling win over Vanderbilt and Wednesday's dismal loss to Kentucky, this basically comes down to the rubber game of a three-game series for the Gamecocks, and they have lost eight straight SEC series.
The Gamecocks have their backs to the wall and face a must-win situation again. If they can bounce back like they did Tuesday and win a few more games, who knows? They just might have a shot to win the tournament and make the NCAAs.
The question is, which team shows up on Thursday? The one that played so brilliantly against Vanderbilt to win an 11-inning game and give fans hope?
Or the one that made four errors and struggled offensively in a 7-2 loss to Kentucky Tuesday?
As well as South Carolina pitched and played defense against Vanderbilt, they were equally as bad Wednesday. Kentucky scored seven runs on just seven hits, but took advantage of four South Carolina errors.
An error in the third — a questionable call on a ball that just slid under Justin Row's glove — allowed the tying run to score. A hit batter in the sixth loaded the base with one out, and Kentucky third baseman Evan White cleared them with a first-pitch double to right center field. Kentucky added another run in the eighth on back-to-back errors.
"Obviously, you are not going to beat Kentucky when you make four errors," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "We've got to make the other team earn what they get."
The Gamecocks also missed some golden opportunities. They had runners at second and third with one out in the second and couldn't score.
They scored two in the third on Alex Destino's sac fly and Jonah Bride's double, but Kentucky's Luke Becker snared LT Tolbert's hard ground ball with runners on second and third to end the inning.
"We almost had it exactly like we wanted it when we were up 2-0, second and third with two outs," Holbrook said. "It easily could have been 4-0. Things might have been much different at that point.
"When we get chances to extend the lead, we have to take advantage of it."
The Gamecocks had just three hits after the third inning.
South Carolina should be in a much better situation the next two days. It has started reliever Reed Scott and mid-week starter Cody Morris in the first two games. Ace Wil Crowe will be on the mound Thursday, with Adam Hill ready for a possible Game 4 Friday.
More importantly, they must play better defense, which they have done most of the year, and they must hit with runners in scoring position, which they have not.
They need to play like they did in Game 1 Tuesday, and not like they did on Wednesday.
"It's our goal to stay here a few more days," Holbrook said. "Just got to take it one day at a time. We came in here with that mindset. Very rarely does anybody sweep through this tournament. The teams are too good.
"We are going to go into tomorrow with optimism. We have one of our best pitchers on the mound, we will have some bullpen help. If we play defense and get some timely hits, maybe we can advance."
It will take a better effort than they showed on Wednesday.