South Carolina found itself being quietly dominated by East Carolina on Sunday afternoon, and the No. 10 Gamecocks could do nothing to stop it.
USC fell behind early in the third game of the weekend series and could not solve the easy-going style of right-hander Brad Mincey in what finished as a 4-2 setback for the Gamecocks on a blustery day at Clark-LeClair Stadium when power hitters were taken out of the mix.
Part of it was the wind, but most of it was Mincey, who coolly threw for seven innings, allowing three hits and one run on the way to victory.
“He’s a pitcher. He works in, he works out, he gets his breaking ball over and he gets his changeup over,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said of Mincey. “He’s just a pitcher. He’s not going to throw in the mid-90s, but he did a great job today.”
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The loss was South Carolina’s second in a row after opening the season with four consecutive wins.
After falling behind 4-0 with Mincey on the mound, the Gamecocks (4-2) rallied against the ECU bullpen, pulling within two runs in the eighth inning, but ECU’s Seth Simmons closed the door on the series, stifling a bases-loaded rally in the eighth and sending USC down in order in the ninth.
“Mincey was getting a lot of outs,” Tanner said. “We were able to load the bases there but we only got one run out of it.”
For the Gamecocks, Whit Merrifield extended his personal hitting streak to 20 games. Injured outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. returned to the batter’s box and delivered a key base hit as South Carolina tried to fight its way back into the game.
But those two hits were one-third of USC’s total offensive output. The top six hitters in the Gamecock batting order did not register a hit off Mincey.
The Pirates (4-3) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning after an RBI double by Austin Homan and a two-run single by Corey Thompson off left-hander Steven Neff (1-1), who took the loss.
The lead grew to 4-0 when Neff single-handedly sent ECU’s Devin Harris around the bases. Neff walked Harris, balked him to second, let him take third on an overthrown pickoff move and saw him score on a wild pitch.
The Gamecocks scored their first run on a two-out throwing error by the Pirates that sent Nick Ebert home in the top of the seventh.
Merrifield singled to lead off the eighth. Bradley Jr. entered the game and singled off ECU reliever Mike Wright. With one out, Jeffery Jones drew a walk from reliever Patrick Somers to load the bases, and after Simmons took the mound and got the second out, Kyle Enders drove the second run home with an infield single to the left side.
Robert Beary flew out to end the inning.
Adam Matthews turned his ankle after overrunning the bag at first in the first inning. He left the game, though Tanner would not speculate as to the seriousness of the injury. “He rolled his ankle,” Tanner said. “It was a clean play at first base. He just stepped on the base awkwardly.”
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