**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
TJ Hopkins was nearly speechless Sunday night as he hung his head in the Gamecock dugout.
He did not want to come out, especially to talk to the media about one of the most gut-wrenching defeats of his life. But he did. He came out and he summed up the feelings of his South Carolina teammates.
"I am a little bit overwhelmed with everything that has happened," Hopkins said. "We were literally a strike away and that's really hard to think about."
South Carolina suffered a humiliating loss to rival Clemson Sunday, taking a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth and coming within one strike of a series victory until Seth Beer hit a home run Gamecock fans won't soon forget. The Tigers won it in the 11th on a wild pitch — an errant throw while trying to intentionally walk Beer, no less.
The embarrassing meltdown came a day after the Gamecocks let a 5-2 lead slip away in Greenville, giving Clemson an 8-7 win and a chance to win the big series rivalry for the third straight year.
There was a lot of pain, a lot of heartache and a lot of questions as the Gamecocks watched Clemson celebrate on their home field Sunday night.
"This is really going to sting," Hopkins said. "But you've got to get over it and you've got to get to the next game."
That was the big question going into Tuesday night's game against The Citadel? Could a 7-5 team that has been disappointing so far bounce back from such a bitter defeat and play the type of baseball it is expected to play?
In many respects, the Tuesday night game against the 3-7 Bulldogs might have been one of the biggest tests this team will face all season. They needed to bounce back, and in a big way. They needed to redeem themselves and prove they could quickly get over such a terrible setback.
They did, pounding The Citadel pitchers for 12 runs and 15 hits in a 12-5 victory at Founders Park. And they were angry hits.
LT Tolbert tripled off the top of the right-field wall in the fourth inning. The next batter, catcher Chris Cullen, launched a long home run over The Citadel bullpen in left. One batter later, Hopkins homered over the left-field wall.
That was just a warm up. In the next inning, the Gamecocks erupted for six more runs, capped by a three-run homer by Hopkins that still hasn't landed.
The Gamecocks were beaten and battered by Clemson, but they took out their frustration on The Citadel. Head coach Chad Holbrook predicted as much Sunday night as he faced the media and tried to console a dejected team and disappointed fans. But he had to wonder how his team would respond to such a terrible setback.
He liked what he saw at practice Monday and on the field Tuesday night.
"I'm proud of their attitude and their moxie and their want-to," he said.
Hopkins said he knew when he showed up for batting practice Monday that his teammates had already put the Clemson loss behind them.
"Nobody really said anything," he said. "There were a bunch of smiles, and I just knew it was already behind us and we are looking forward."
Which is what good teams do.
"If you want to be an elite team, especially in the SEC, you have to," Hopkins said.
The win against The Citadel might not count for much in the long run. But it just might go down as the game that got the Gamecocks over a bitter defeat and got their season back on track.