Schmidt, Bowers solid again, but Gamecocks fall in extra innings

Schmidt, Bowers solid again, but Gamecocks fall in extra innings

A brilliant pitching performance by ace Clarke Schmidt was spoiled by a pinch-hit, game-tying single in the top of the ninth inning, and Vanderbilt used a two-run blast by Julian Infante in the top of the 13th inning to come away with a 5-3 victory over the Gamecocks.

The 13-inning win clinched a series victory for Vanderbilt at Founders Park. It was a disappointing result for the Gamecocks, who took an early 3-0 lead in the third inning and received seven spectacular innings from Schmidt. 

The junior allowed just five hits, one walk and struck out 11 batters as he left a 3-2 lead to the Gamecock bullpen. Needing just one more out to walk away with a save, Colie Bowers gave up a single to Reed Hayes to tie the game.

"Obviously a very difficult loss," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "They're hard to take when you're so close to winning them. We have to find a way to get over that hump and get that 27th out." 

The Gamecocks (20-10, 6-5 SEC) were able to break through against Vanderbilt starter Kyle Wright in the third inning. The inning started bizarrely as South Carolina loaded the bases on three different plays, none of which involved a hit. 

First, Madison Stokes reached on a throwing error by second baseman Alonzo Jones. Danny Blair would then reach first on a fielders choice as Jones couldn't apply the tag on Stokes on his way to second base. Matt Williams followed with a hit by pitch to load the bases with no outs.

All three of those runners would come around to score. 

Jonah Bride delivered a RBI single to left to score Stokes, and another run came home on Alex Destino's double play ball. Freshman Carlos Cortes made it 3-0 after three innings with his sharp RBI single to right field that scored Williams. 

The Gamecocks wouldn't be comfortable for long. After Jeren Kendall struck out to give Schmidt 10 straight retired to start the game, the Commodores (21-11, 6-5 SEC) reached base in four straight at-bats to make things interesting.

Stephen Scott doubled for Vanderbilt's first hit, and he quickly came home on a single by Infante. Another run would score on a wild pitch to make it a one-run game with two in scoring position with just one out. Schmidt struck out Jason Delay and coaxed a fly ball from JJ Bleday to get out of the inning with South Carolina still in front.

After that rough fourth inning, Schmidt settled back down. He allowed just a two-out single in the fifth, and struck out two more batters in an 11-pitch sixth inning. The junior had nine strikeouts through six innings pitched, and would add two more in his final inning, the seventh. 

"My stuff felt good," Schmidt said. "The past few weekends my stuff has felt really good, and I've been able to establish my fastball early and the changeup has come a long way, and that's big for me. I'm really in a comfortable place right now." 

A leadoff walk came back to bite Bowers in the top of the ninth. A sacrifice bunt moved Will Toffey into scoring position, but Bowers was able to force a popup for the second out. However, pinch-hitter Hayes delivered a two-out, game-tying single through the left side for the Commodores. 

Bowers recovered to pitch nicely in extra innings for the Gamecocks. The senior finished with five strikeouts, two walks and just one hit allowed in four innings pitched.

"Colie was terrific," Holbrook said. "He pitched his heart out. We just didn't do enough offensively from the third inning on. We kind of forced our pitchers to be perfect, and at the end of the day that got us." 

Bowers was replaced by Reed Scott, who stranded a runner at third to end the 12th, but gave up the go-ahead two-run homer to Infante in the 13th. 

South Carolina will look to salvage one game of the series on Saturday at noon. During a difficult SEC schedule, any win you can get is a positive.

"You have to treat it as a separate entity and come and play," Holbrook said. "Like I tell our guys all the time, they don't ask how many series you won at the end of the year, they ask how many games you won. It's an opportunity to play tomorrow, and hopefully our guys can pick themselves up."

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**