Gamecocks back in elimination bracket after loss to Kentucky

Gamecocks back in elimination bracket after loss to Kentucky

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**

South Carolina did not commit an error in the win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday, and played great baseball all around.

That was not the case on Wednesday against No. 3 seed Kentucky. 

The Gamecocks committed two errors in the first three innings, and had a season-high four overall as the Wildcats came away with a 7-2 victory over 11th-seeded South Carolina (33-24).

South Carolina had a chance to break open the game in the third inning. Holding a 2-0 lead with two runners in scoring position, LT Tolbert hit a sharp grounder to third. It could've easily gotten by for a single that would give the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead, but third baseman Luke Becker made a great play and threw over to first for the final out of the inning.

The Wildcats would tie up the contest in the bottom of the inning, a solo homer gave them the lead in the fourth, and a three-run double by Evan White sealed it. 

"The biggest turning point for us was we almost had it exactly like we wanted it," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "We were up 2-0 there and (had) second and third with two outs and LT had a great at-bat. It could've easily been 4-0 and we would've handled our bullpen differently at that point. But you have to give credit to Kentucky." 

The Gamecocks will now face another elimination game on Thursday against the loser of LSU and Missouri.

South Carolina had a chance to take an early lead in the second as the first two batters singled. A bunt moved them both into scoring position, but two popups ended the threat.

In the third, the Gamecocks made sure that didn't happen again. With one out, TJ Hopkins walked and took second on a wild pitch by Kentucky starter Brad Schaenzer. The Wildcats (39-18) then intentionally walked Carlos Cortes, but Riley Hogan followed with a bloop single to load the bases with one out. 

Alex Destino's sacrifice fly gave his team a 1-0 lead, and an RBI double by Jonah Bride put the Gamecocks up, 2-0. South Carolina missed an opportunity for more runs, however, when Tolbert grounded out with two runners in scoring position to end the inning. That was the play of the game, according to Holbrook.

"That play was as every bit important as the three-run double that Evan White had," Holbrook said. 

The Gamecock lead didn't last long. Connor Heady and Tristan Pompey led off the bottom of the third with back-to-back singles. They would both move into scoring position on the throw back to the infield, and Heady came home on an RBI groundout by White. Becker slapped a grounder that got past Justin Row at second base for an error, and the game was tied at two after three innings.

In the fourth inning, Kentucky's Kole Cottam blasted a solo home run over the 405 sign in straightaway center to put his team out in front for good. 

The Wildcats added three more runs in the sixth inning after reliever John Parke got himself into trouble. With one out, Cottam singled, Marcus Carson was hit by a pitch and Heady singled to load the bases. 

Parke struck out Tristan Pompey on three pitches, but couldn't quite pull off the escape as White cleared the bases with a double to right-center to make it 6-2 in favor of Kentucky.

"Against a team like Kentucky, if you give them free passes, they're going to make you pay," Holbrook said. 

Kentucky added another run in the eighth off another Gamecock error as the Wildcats remained in the winner's bracket. 

"We just (have to) continue to work, field, and don't let it happen again," Hogan said. 

South Carolina was led by Hogan, who went 3-for-4 at the plate. Row and Bride added two hits apiece. Cody Morris took the loss for South Carolina, giving up three runs, two earned, in 3.2 innings pitched. 

First pitch in Thursday's elimination game against either LSU or Missouri is set for approximately 2 p.m. ET. The Gamecocks will start Wil Crowe on the mound.

"We just have to play better defense tomorrow to give ourselves a chance," Holbrook said. "We get our (pitching) rotation back. Our goal is to stay here a few more days."