**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
On a night when South Carolina was stymied by the cold weather and a big, tall left-hander, the Gamecocks needed somebody to come up with a big play to beat Michigan State.
It got two of them from unlikely sources and in unusual fashion.
Shortstop Madison Stokes, who had been struggling of late, smacked a high, twisting home run into the wind and just inside the left-field foul pole to give the Gamecocks a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. Two innings later, third baseman Jonah Bride made the play of the game when he tripled and scored from third on his own.
That was all the offense South Carolina needed with Clark Schmidt on the mound. Schmidt scattered eight hits and struck out a career-high 12 in 7.1 innings for his third win of the season.
Bride was on third with one out in the seventh and LT Tolbert at the plate. Tolbert struck out on a pitch in the dirt, but the Michigan State catcher had to scoop up the ball and throw to first to get the out. When he did, Bride took off down the third base line and slid home just ahead of the tag to give South Carolina a 3-2 lead.
Bride's clever play turned out to be the difference as Colie Bowers relieved Schmidt and stifled a late rally to preserve a 3-2 win.
"It's all instinct," he coach Chad Holbrook said of Bride's base running acumen. "Jonah is a baseball player and he saw their catcher throw the ball down to first earlier in the game. … He saw it earlier and thought he might have some time to score. He felt it was the right opportunity to try it and it was the difference in the game."
"That was huge," Stokes said. "That was a game-changer."
Holbrook praised Bride for his instincts and ability to pick up such nuances during a game.
"Jonah picks up on stuff," he said. "I don't have to ask him. There are some other guys I worry about, not Jonah. He picks up on everything. He's like a coach on the field. He may not be the most talented baseball player but instinctively and savvy and watching the game and trying to learn from the game, he's one of the best I've ever coached at that."
The Gamecocks need that kind of play on a cold, windy night that played havoc with batters and fielders and against Michigan State pitcher Alex Troop. A 6-5 left-hander, Troop kept the South Carolina off balance with a funky delivery and a wicked change-up. He held the Gamecocks hitless until the fifth inning and gave up just three hits through eight innings.
"I knew in the first inning with his delivery and his change-up and the way he located his pitches, I knew it was going to be a struggle to score, especially with the way the wind was blowing in," Holbrook said. "But Madison got into one and that got us some momentum."
Michigan State took a 1-0 lead in the third on three hits and an RBI single by Marty Bechina.
The Gamecocks didn't get a hit until the fifth, but it was a big one. Bride reached on an error to lead off the inning when MSU right fielder Dan Chmielewski dropped his wind-blown fly ball. Stokes then followed with his second home run of the year, a high shot that sailed just inside the foul pole.
Stokes wasn't sure it was going out, and was pumped when he saw it clear the wall as he was rounding first.
"I knew it had a chance, but with that wind, you never know. It carried more than I thought," he said.
"I didn't think a ball would be hit out to left field today before the game," Holbrook said. "When it was hit, I knew he got it. I knew he hit it well, but I still wasn't sure. I've seen balls go to die out there when the wind is blowing like this. For it to get out shows how well he hit it. He put a great swing on it when we needed it."
That gave South Carolina a 2-1 lead, and Schmidt did the rest. He had multiple strikeouts in four different innings and struck out the side in the seventh to reach his career high.
Perhaps more importantly, Schmidt didn't walk a batter after walking seven against Clemson is his last outing. He said he made some mechanical adjustments throughout the week that gave him more life on his fastball and sharper breaking balls.
"I've always been a guy who pounds the zone and for me to walk seven people, I don't think I've ever done that in one outing in my whole life," he said. "I wanted to come out here and pound the zone. It was good to have a crisp outing like that."
"He was terrific," Holbrook said. "… He had life on his pitches and he had a great breaking ball going. He can be dominant when he is on, and he was awfully good tonight."
The Gamecocks (10-5) play Michigan State again tomorrow at 4 p.m. with Wil Crowe on the mound.