**Story by Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe**
South Carolina put together a nice, four-run rally against Vanderbilt Thursday night, but came up a run short, leaving the Gamecocks with their sixth one-run loss of the season.
Carolina scored four runs in the eighth to close within a run and had the tying run on second in the ninth, but couldn't get the key hit and fell 7-6 in the first game of a three-game SEC series.
"Proud of our guys for fighting back and having a chance to win the game, but we just gave them too many runs," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "We didn't play as well as we are capable of playing defensively."
The Gamecocks (20-9, 6-4) trailed 7-2 in the bottom of the eighth when their bats finally came alive. Alex Destino, who homered in the sixth, reached on an error and Chris Cullen singled with one out, bringing South Carolina's hottest hitter to the plate. LT Tolbert delivered, launching his first home run of the season over the right-field fence to cut the lead to 7-5.
Jacob Olson then doubled off the fence in left-center field, and Madison Stokes drove him home with a sharp single to center.
Jonah Bride drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, but Destino, TJ Hopkins and Cullen went down in order to end the game.
Starter Wil Crowe had a tough night for the Gamecocks. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a clean first inning, but Vanderbilt jumped on him after that, scoring two runs in the second and another in the third. He pitched into the seventh but gave up seven runs — four earned — on 11 hits. He walked two and struck out five.
"He battled and competed and he deserved a better fate," Holbrook said. "… If we make a couple of plays behind him, he's the winning pitcher."
Vanderbilt starter Patrick Raby, meanwhile, was outstanding, scattering eight hits and allowing just two runs in seven innings. Closer Reed Hayes finished it for the Commodores (20-11, 5-5)
After Crowe dominated the first inning, Vanderbilt jumped on him early in the second with three straight singles to score the game's first run. The Commodores added another run on a sac fly to take a 2-0 lead.
The Gamecocks picked up a run in the bottom of the second when Cullen doubled down the right-field line and scored on Carlos Cortes' sharp single to right.
Vanderbilt added another run in the third when Stephen Scott singled and DH Walker Grisanti drove him in with a double.
The Commodores broke it open on a couple of bizarre plays in the fifth. Jeren Kendall singled to lead off the inning, stole second, moved to third and got caught in a rundown between third and home. The Gamecocks had him trapped but third baseman Jonah Bride ran into him in the base path and Kendall scored on an interference call.
Then, with two out and two on, Jason Delay hit a high, wind-blown fly ball to left center that center fielder TJ Hopkins overran, letting it drop for a two-run triple.
"The wind played a big role in fly balls tonight," Destino, the left fielder, said. "Off the bat, I honestly thought it was going to be routine … but I yelled at TJ, 'it's coming, it's coming.' It ended up pushing over there, and that's a tough play for him."
Vanderbilt added another run in the seventh on a long home run by Julian Infante.
The loss was the sixth one-run loss of the season, and the second straight in SEC play. The Gamecocks also have two two-run losses.
Such close losses can wear on a team, but Holbrook believes his team will bounce back.
"I've got a resilient group," he said. "They're kids and they want to win in the worst way, but one-run losses are tough, they are difficult.
"That's what happens in this league, and you can tuck your head between your legs and run away or you can put your big-boy pants on and come back to the park ready to go tomorrow. I hope I have the group that will do the latter."
Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Friday, with starter Clark Schmidt on the mound.