With one swing of the bat, Jackie Bradley saved South Carolina from what could have been one of the most devastating postseason defeats in the storied history of its baseball program.
The sophomore outfielder lifted a long fly ball that carried into the left-field seats for a two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 9-5 comeback win over Bucknell on Friday night at Carolina Stadium in the first round of the NCAA regional.
Bradley’s 10th home run of the season helped the Gamecocks (44-15) advance to play The Citadel (43-20) in Saturday’s winners’ bracket game at 7 p.m. Bucknell (25-34) falls to the losers’ bracket game against Virginia Tech (38-21) at 2 p.m.
“This is the happiest I’ve been all day, right now. This is a survive-and-advance situation. They were very competitive and did a nice job on the mound early. We get some hits but no runs,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “(Starter) Sam (Dyson) waffled a little bit, but he battled for us. Then we had the rain delay, and it was a little bit more difficult for him. We kept plugging, kept fighting and found a way to end up with a win.”
Whit Merrifield started the winning rally with a leadoff walk off Bucknell reliever Steve Carlin (3-6) before Bradley hit the first pitch he saw. The homer put the finishing touches on USC’s rally from a four-run deficit in the sixth inning.
“I wasn’t sure Jackie’s ball was going to get out. One of the guys from (the) grounds crew told me it didn’t make the first row. It was a wall-scraper. It just barely got over,” Tanner said.
“It probably is an out in 99 percent of the ballparks in the United States,” Bucknell coach Gene Depew said.
To put an exclamation point on the comeback, Adrian Morales, who had three hits to lead the 14-hit attack, ripped a three-run homer off Carlin later in the five-run eighth for the final margin.
USC left-hander Michael Roth picked up his first win of the season with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief before a crowd of 6,712 in the first tournament game at two-year-old Carolina Stadium.
“We got a great relief appearance out of Michael Roth to get a win tonight,” Tanner said.
The Bison knocked USC starter Sam Dyson out of the game in the sixth inning with three runs. After Dyson gave up a walk and a hit to start the inning, he was replaced by Jose Mata, who promptly gave up a double to Doug Shribman off the left-field wall to score one run. Drew Constable then singled through a drawn-in infield. The final run scored on third baseman Merrifield’s throwing error with two outs to increase Bucknell’s lead to 5-1.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to 5-3 in their half of the inning on a long two-run homer by freshman Evan Marzilli, who was hitting leadoff spot in the order in only his ninth start of the season.
“I was proud of our guys. They kept plugging. We made it interesting. Marzilli’s home run cut it to two, and that’s a lot different when you’ve got the tying run on the on-deck circle. It changes the whole complexion of the game. You’re within striking distance at that point,” Tanner said.
The Gamecocks added another run in the seventh when they loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of bunt singles and a walk. Pinch hitter Robert Beary scored the run with a one-out sacrifice fly to make it a 5-4 game, but that would be it as Parker Bangs struck out to end the inning.
The game remained scoreless through three innings before Bucknell’s Ben Yoder led off the fourth with a fly-ball homer to left-field off Dyson. Yoder’s 11th homer of the season gave the Bison a 1-0 lead. Dyson then hit Andrew Brouse with a pitch before the game was stopped for a 69-minute rain delay with a 1-2 count on Schribman.
Brouse came around to score on a stolen base, wild pitch and throwing error by catcher Brady Thomas to up the lead to 2-0.
USC got one run back in its half of the fourth when consecutive singles by Bobby Haney and Marzilli were followed by Merrifield’s RBI double.
In the first three innings, the Gamecocks looked like the team that scored one run in 21 innings at the SEC tournament by stranding six runners. Adam Matthews led off the second inning with a single, but Thomas hit into a double play. Jeffery Jones and Morales followed with singles before Haney grounded out to end the threat.
The third inning began with Marzilli and Merrifield being hit by pitches. Bucknell starter Dylan Seeley rebounded to get Bradley and Christian Walker on flyouts. After walking Matthews to load the bases, he escaped the jam by inducing Thomas to ground out again.
“It was frustrating because we had some runners out there. We had some runners . . . then we’d make an out. We were fighting hard and battling. The guys were good in the dugout,” Tanner said.
Coach Tanner on USC's win over Bucknell
Players comment on win over Bucknell