Photo gallery (photos by Allen Sharpe)
Box Score (South Carolina Athletics Media Relations)
South Carolina found itself down by four runs after the first half-inning, but the Gamecocks nearly fought their way out of that hole against Kansas State on Thursday, Feb. 23.
However, the Gamecocks couldn't take advantage of several bases loaded situations and stranded 11 men on base en route to a 6-5 defeat to the Wildcats at Founders Park.
"We fought back to get into it, and certainly had our fair share of opportunities with the bases loaded," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "We put ourselves in a hole and couldn't dig out of it. It's a disappointing loss."
Brilliant pitching performances by Graham Lawson and Reed Scott kept the Gamecocks in the game, and Madison Stokes was the offensive spark plug after a tough four-game stretch to open the season.
South Carolina (3-2) had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning after loading the bases, but couldn't plate any runs as Jonah Bride flew out to center field to end the threat. That was the story of the night for the Gamecocks.
John Parke received the start against the Wildcats (4-1), making it his first appearance since the 2015 season. He missed all of last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery. There was obviously a mixture of rust and nerves as the junior didn't make it through the first inning.
Back-to-back walks started the game, and both runners would eventually score. A RBI double by Jake Scudder plated one run and Quintin Crandall added a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Josh Rolette's RBI single made it 3-0, and Parke would be pulled from the game after recording just two outs. He walked three batters, and the Wildcats added a fourth run in the first inning when Josh Ethier worked a bases-loaded walk off Gamecock reliever Lawson.
"It was just a tough outing," Holbrook said. "He didn't really have command of any of his pitches. When you play good people, you have to throw it in there and rely on your defense some."
Lawson would settle down and give the Gamecocks three great innings to keep them in the game. It was the sophomore's first career appearance, and he allowed just two hits and one run in those three innings. The one run came after Lawson exited the game when Reed Scott gave up a home run to Scudder.
"He kept the game in check," Holbrook said of Lawson. "Him and Reed gave us a chance to get back in the game. That's all you can ask when you're down 4-0 before you really break a sweat."
Scudder's opposite field shot offset a bomb by Alex Destino. The junior crushed a fastball deep to right field that bounced off the fence bordering the stadium. The homer momentarily cut Kansas State's lead in half before Scudder responded.
South Carolina got a run back in the bottom of the fourth after it loaded the bases with no outs. Kansas State pitcher Caleb Littlejim was first tossed from the game for having a foreign substance somewhere on his arm. His replacement, Jared Marolf, forced Danny Blair to hit into a double play that scored one run to make it 6-3 Wildcats after four innings.
The Gamecocks rallied with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to cut into Kansas State's lead even more. Jacob Olson started the rally with a single and would come home on a double by Stokes. LT Tolbert ran out an infield single to then score Riley Hogan, who reached base on a hit by pitch, and South Carolina found itself down by just one run.
After giving up the home run, Scott was excellent and shut down the Wildcats. He retired 14 of the next 15 batters after the long ball, and recorded a strikeout of Crandall to send the game into the bottom of the ninth inning with South Carolina still facing a one-run deficit.
"Coming in today, we knew we had a lot of pitchers pitch this week, and any pitcher's job is to go out there and do the best they can for as long as they can," Scott said. "That was my thought process."
Unfortunately, the Gamecocks weren't able to complete the comeback in the ninth inning and Kansas State escaped with the narrow victory. Stokes was 3-for-5 with a run and RBI and the three hits tied a career high.
Scott pitched 5.1 innings, giving up just one run on three hits.
"It feels good to barrel some balls up and get some to fall through, but we still came out with the loss so it doesn't really mean anything to me," Stokes said.
South Carolina turns right back around and welcomes in nationally-ranked Wright State on Friday, Feb. 24, for a three-game series. Wright State took two of three from Clemson last weekend, so it will be another challenge for the Gamecocks.
"We have to strap it on, put it behind us and get after it tomorrow," Stokes concluded.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**