**Story by Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe**
Madison Stokes came into Thursday's game struggling, with just one hit in his first 15 at-bats in the 2017 season.
He busted out in a big way against Kansas State, getting three hits and driving in a run. It didn't matter, though, as South Carolina lost 6-5 to fall to 3-2 on the season.
Despite raising his early-season average by more than 100 points (.067 to .200), all Stokes cared about was the big picture.
"It doesn't really mean a whole lot when we lose a game like that," the junior shortstop said. "It feels good to barrel some balls up and get some to fall through, but we still came out with a loss so it doesn't' mean anything to me."
Stokes summed up the feelings of most of his teammates as the Gamecocks continued to struggle to drive in runs in key situations. South Carolina batters struck out 11 times and left 11 runners on base. After falling behind 4-0 in the first inning, the struggles at the plate made it difficult to come back against a good Big 12 team.
"We are squaring balls up, some aren't falling, but obviously we aren't doing enough," Stokes said. "We've got to do more, so we're just going to learn from that and just keep getting better."
Photo gallery (Photos by Allen Sharpe)
After Kansas State jumped on starting pitcher John Parke for four runs in the first, South Carolina loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame but couldn't score. Alex Destino cut the lead to 4-2 in the third with his second home run of the season, but K-State added two more runs in the fourth.
Stokes singled and scored in the bottom of the fourth, but Danny Blair hit into a double play and Chris Cullen struck out to end the inning. The Gamecocks added two runs — one on Stokes' double — in the fifth, but Jonah Bride's line drive to left was caught, stranding two more runners.
The Gamecocks left the bases loaded again in the seventh and couldn't do anything with Matt Williams' single in the bottom of the ninth.
"We had our fair share of opportunities," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "We laced some balls pretty good that were caught, but we put ourselves in a hole and couldn't dig out of it."
Saving his top three starters for a weekend series against Wright State, Holbrook started Parke, a left-hander making his first appearance since recovering from Tommy John surgery. Parke walked the first two hitters of the game and gave up four runs on three hits without getting out of the inning. Graham Lawson and Reed Scott pitched well in relief, but when K-State added a pair of runs in the fourth, South Carolina could not recover.
"We had some competitive at-bats, but there were not enough throughout the game and not enough to come back rom a 4-0 deficit," Holbrook said. "You just hate to lose games at home, especially when you helped the opponent get off to a good start. That was disappointing, but we still had nine innings to come back and we still had some opportunities to tie it up."
Scott was outstanding, giving up just one run and three hits in 5.1 innings, as the bullpen continued to shine for South Carolina. He would have gotten the win had the Gamecocks been able to scratch out two more runs.
"Our offense is swinging the bat well and we are confident in them," Scott said. " We are just going to keep pitching and playing the way we are and things will come together."
The Gamecocks are hitting just .282 as a team and have scored just 22 runs in five games, leaving 37 runners on base. Now they face a tough three-game series against a Wright State team that took two of three from Clemson over the weekend.
They will have to put the loss to K-State behind them quickly.
"We've gotta do it. This game is over, we can't play it again," Stokes said. "We've got to strap it on and put it behind us and get after it tomorrow."