**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**
Needing a win to stay alive in the SEC Tournament, and likely to keep their hopes up for an NCAA Tournament berth, South Carolina made sure there was no drama on Thursday afternoon against Missouri.
Two three-run home runs by freshman Carlos Cortes and a strong pitching performance by Wil Crowe led the Gamecocks to a dominating, 10-2 victory over the Tigers in an elimination game. It's the first time South Carolina has won two games in Hoover, Alabama in 10 years.
"No one has faced the adversity that we have from an injury standpoint and losing our best players from a pitching standpoint," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "It's been one thing after another, so to see my team come down here, catch their breath and play the way they're capable of playing, it's very satisfying. That being said, we've got more baseball to play."
No. 11 seed South Carolina advances to the quarterfinals on Friday to face the loser of LSU-Kentucky in another elimination game. Crowe pitched six quality innings, giving up just one run to earn his sixth win of the year.
"We're swinging the bats pretty good down here," Holbrook said. "We've put some runs up on the board, have some momentum going and hopefully we can continue that into tomorrow."
Just like it did in the loss to Kentucky on Wednesday, South Carolina (34-24) would take an early 2-0 lead on Thursday.
Alex Destino started it off in the second inning with a long home run to right field. The solo shot bounced off the "It Just Means More" sign in right field, and nearly left the ballpark altogether.
With one out, T.J. Hopkins singled and Hunter Taylor reached on an error by the shortstop. Both runners moved into scoring position on the throw back to the infield, and Danny Blair's infield single gave the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead. South Carolina was looking for more, but LT Tolbert grounded into an inning-ending double play.
After breezing through Missouri's lineup the first time around, Crowe ran into some trouble in the third. He got two quick outs, but a walk, single, and another walk loaded the bases with two outs. With Brett Bond, possibly the Tigers' best hitter, at the plate, Crowe got a huge strikeout on a slider to end the inning.
South Carolina extended its lead in the fourth inning, thanks to another long bomb. Jonah Bride one-upped Destino with a solo home run to left that completely left the ballpark. It gave the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead.
Crowe ran into some more trouble in the fourth, but the junior continued to do a nice job of damage control. Kameron Misner led off the inning with a double that should've been caught by either Bride or Cortes in left. With one out, Chris Cornelius walked to put runners at the corners. Alex Samples then ripped a double off the top of the wall in left to score a run and make it 3-1. Samples was just inches away from tying the game up.
With two runners in scoring position, Crowe struck out Connor Brumfield on a 97 MPH fastball to end the inning and maintain a 3-1 lead for his team. Overall, Crowe stranded five Missouri runners in scoring position through the first four innings.
Cortes gave Crowe plenty of run support in the top of the fifth inning.
Blair and Justin Row singled, and with one out, Cortes promptly blasted a three-run homer that gave South Carolina a 6-1 lead.
It was a no-doubt shot that completely left the ballpark, the second time a Gamecock accomplished that on Thursday. It was Cortes' second homer of the SEC Tournament, and the sixth one overall by the Gamecocks.
"I was expecting to see some flashes of this throughout the season, and I think guys have finally relaxed," Holbrook said. "I think they rallied around each other. We're not going to go out not playing our best baseball. If we're going to go out, we're going to go out trying hard, competing and representing the jersey that we wear the right way."
Missouri (36-23) kept pitching to Cortes, and he kept raking.
After singles by Taylor and Blair, a sacrifice bunt by Tolbert moved them over. Justin Row's single then drove in a run to make it 7-1 Gamecocks. Next up was Cortes, who wasted no time and jumped on the first pitch, blasting another three-run homer over the fence in right to put South Carolina up, 10-1.
It was Cortes' second homer of the game and third of the tournament. He now has 12 on the year.
After laboring through 91 pitches in four innings, Crowe settled down to give the Gamecocks two more important innings.
With the goal to not stress the bullpen too much, Crowe had a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth and worked around a double in the sixth. He gave up just one run on four hits in his six innings pitched to go with three walks and a season-high tying nine strikeouts. He also had nine in the regular season matchup with the Tigers.
"In the pen (before game) I knew I was going to be able to throw my fastball to both sides of the plate, and the slider was pretty tight as well," Crowe said. "I was pretty comfortable."
The Gamecocks pounded out 14 hits, led by Cortes' two big bombs. Destino and Blair added three hits apiece while Row added two more hits.