South Carolina needed to play a clean game Wednesday against Kentucky to have a shot to beat a Wildcats squad that features the best offense in the SEC.
Instead, the Gamecocks put together a sloppy performance in a 7-2 loss that leaves USC playing to keep its season alive on Thursday.
Carolina committed four errors, walked three batters and hit two more as Kentucky took advantage of USC’s miscues to improve to 3-1 against the Gamecocks this season.
“You can’t give them free chances, you can’t give them free 90s, you can’t walk them. They keep coming at you offensively,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “We’ll have to play better defense to give ourselves a chance.”
One of Kentucky’s two runs in the third inning came after Carolina second baseman Justin Row had a ball go between his legs for an error.
Later in the game, Wildcats first baseman Evan White drove in three runs with a double, with one of the runs that scored coming from a hit-by-pitch. And in the eighth inning, USC made two errors that put another run on the board.
BUNT OR NO BUNT?
South Carolina, a team that has struggled to get down bunts all season, attempted to bunt in each of the first two innings with neither attempt leading to a run.
TJ Hopkins tried to bunt in the first inning with a runner on first and no outs and fouled off two attempts before hitting into a double play.
The Gamecocks then had back-to-back singles in the second inning, and LT Tolbert laid down a sacrifice bunt to move two runners into scoring position with one out. But Jacob Olson and Hunter Taylor popped up on the infield to end the frame.
“TJ Hopkins bunted on his own. The other bunt was LT Tolbert. LT can’t move. He’s got torn cartilage in his knee. We were doing our best to stay out of a double play there,” Holbrook said. “LT does hit a few groundballs and he’s struggling with his mobility. We felt that was the best opportunity to try to get a lead.”
Had USC been able to jump on top early, Holbrook said he would have managed differently with senior reliever Colie Bowers entering the game earlier.
The righty did not enter the game until Carolina was trailing 6-2. He retired all four batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts.
“We were trying to get a lead of 2, 3, 4 to nothing,” Holbrook said. “And if we could, and we had that opportunity there, we were going to turn it over to Bowers a lot earlier.”
FRESH ARMS AVAILABLE
USC was short-handed on the mound with Wil Crowe and most of the top bullpen arms unavailable.
But Crowe, USC’s normal Friday night starter with Clarke Schmidt sidelined, will get the start in a must-win game on Thursday.
With a victory Thursday the Gamecocks would then turn to No. 2 starter Adam Hill on Friday. Tyler Johnson, Reed Scott and Josh Reagan, who were all extended on Tuesday, could be available to throw a limited number of pitches on Thursday or Friday.
“We get our rotation back. … It’s our hope and our goal to stay here a few more days,” Holbrook said. “Very rarely does anybody sweep through this tournament. The teams are too good. We didn’t have to extend too much of our bullpen today. We’re going to go into tomorrow with optimism. We’ve got one of our best pitchers on the mound. We’ll have some bullpen help. If we play defense and get some timely hits, maybe we can advance.”