Destino, newcomers lead Gamecocks past UNC Charlotte

Destino, newcomers lead Gamecocks past UNC Charlotte

**Story by Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe**

South Carolina-Charlotte Photos

Gamecock head coach Chad Holbrook entered Tuesday's game with UNC Charlotte looking for some middle-of-the-order hitters to compliment junior Alex Destino. 

He may have found some options in a 5-4 win.  

Junior College transfer Jacob Olson homered in his fourth game as a Gamecock, freshman Riley Hogan had two hits and fellow newcomers Carlos Cortes and Justin Row both had big hits. 

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And, of course, Destino did his part with a two-run homer to highlight the Gamecocks' win over Charlotte. 

Olson, who flirted with a home run on Sunday, launched one into the Gamecock bullpen to give South Carolina a 2-1 lead in the second. 

Trailing 3-2, Cortes, Row and Destino put the Gamecocks on top in the fifth. Cortes, who replaced the injured TJ Hopkins in the third, led off with a double and Row doubled him home. Destino then hit his first home run of the season to give South Carolina a 5-3 lead. 

"It was nice to get some extra-base hits today," Holbrook said. "The park was playing a little bit small and the ball was carrying a little bit. It was good to see Destino with the big swing of the bat, and that ultimately was the difference in the game. Olson put a good swing on it as well."

Destino, who led the Gamecocks with 10 home runs last year, stepped to the plate in the fifth with Row on second and the game tied at 3. He scorched a line shot that cleared the right field fence and landed in the street. 

"It was a big spot. I knew we needed a little pick-me-up right there," Destino said. "They brought in a lefty to face me and I knew I was going to see a lot of off-speed. I was lucky to get ahead on the count on him and he kinda grooved a fastball right there and I put a good swing on it." 

The Gamecock bullpen took care of the rest.

Freshman Sawyer Bridges got the start and after a clean first inning gave up three runs in the second and third. Junior Brandon Murray pitched out of a jam in the third, and then struck out the side in the fourth. Colie Bowers, who got the win, pitched two hitless innings before closers Josh Reagan and Tyler Johnson took over. 

Reagan gave up nothing, but Johnson got himself in trouble in the ninth. The 49ers strung together three hits to score a run and cut the lead to 5-4 with just one out. 

But Johnson dialed up a 97-mph fastball to strike out No. 3 hitter Jackson Mims and then got a groundout to end the game. 

"He had great stuff, and that kid he struck out is a really good hitter," Holbrook said. "I like to see how we respond in situations like this, because we're going to be in a lot of them. … It was good to see Tyler bow his neck there with the game on the line."

The Gamecock bullpen gave up just one run on five hits. 

"Our bullpen … any time we see those guys come in, we have a lot of confidence going for us," Destino said. "When I hit that (home run), we all said we are in a good spot right now being up two runs later in the game with those guys coming in. It's a great feeling to have."

The Gamecocks had 11 hits, including five for extra bases. In addition to the two home runs, Cortes, Row and Matt Williams all doubled. 

"It was nice to see some guys (step up)," Holbrook said. "Or young guys are good players and I want to get them in the game. I'm in a quandary at a couple of positions because there is no separation between (some of these guys). Unfortunately, I can't play them all all the time." 

The Gamecocks improved to 3-1 after winning the opening series against UNC Greensboro. They play Kansas State Thursday at Founders Park before a three-game weekend series against Wright State. 

"We are lucky to get out of here with a win," Holbrook said. "It's good to be in these kind of games because we are going to be in a lot of them all year long, and it was good that we found a way to win. For that, I'm happy, but we've got to play better."

NOTE: Center fielder and leadoff hitter TJ Hopkins left the game in the third inning with what Holbrook said was either a pulled quad or a hip flexor, an injury he has been dealing with the last month. "I just didn't like the way he was moving out there today," Holbrook said. "It tightened up and we've got to try to get him off his feet so we can get that thing calmed down."