HOOVER, Ala. | South Carolina leaves the SEC tournament to go home and wait for its NCAA tournament bid. Georgia stays with the hope of extending its season so it can receive one.
The Bulldogs knocked off the top-ranked Gamecocks 4-2 Friday night at Regions Park in an elimination game.
Georgia (30-29), which lost two of three in the regular-season series to USC (45-14), needed to win to keep its postseason hopes alive because the NCAA requires teams to have a winning record to qualify for an at-large bid. A win against Florida Saturday would provide the clincher. Meanwhile, the SEC co-champion Gamecocks have played three or fewer games in six of the past seven SEC tournaments since winning it in 2004.
It was the third time this season USC has lost two games in a row.
“We haven’t been quite as good as we’ve been throughout the season,” USC Ray Tanner said of his team’s performance in this tournament. “But it’s the same guys who played well for a long time. Sometimes it’s just not there like you want it to be.”
Georgia got a strong outing from left-hander Blake Dieterich (3-3), who was making his third start of the season after spending most of the season as the setup man. He allowed two runs on six hits in a career-high 6 1/3 innings. Closer Tyler Maloof pitched the final inning for his 17th save.
The Gamecocks had eight hits, with Adrian Morales, Evan Marzilli and Jake Williams collecting two each. USC had seven hits and two runs in a loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday.
“We’ve just got to stay aggressive up there and swing at good pitches and keep putting the ball in play and keep hoping to get some runs across,” Marzilli said.
The Gamecocks played without cleanup hitter Brady Thomas, whose injured ankle kept him out of the lineup until a pinch-hitting appearance in the ninth, when he grounded out. Tanner admitted to some worries about his makeshift lineup scoring runs.
“Sure, it’s a concern, but you dance with who you brung,” he said. “This has been our formula. We’ve had to do things differently in the past 25 or 30 games than we started out. It is what it is.”
USC’s first-inning woes continued for the third consecutive day as starter Colby Holmes (6-3) allowed three runs on an RBI double by Kyle Farmer and two-run single by Chase Davidson. The rally started when second baseman Scott Wingo committed a fielding error on a grounder by leadoff hitter Levi Hyams. It was the third error in three games for the All-SEC defensive team member.
Holmes gave up all four runs on five hits in the first two innings then settled down the next three.
“You can’t let an error get you. You have to be able to go get some outs after that,” Tanner said. “It might have affected him. He battled back after that, but you’ve got to overcome some situations.”
USC gave up eight runs — five unearned — in the first innings of its tournament games. The shaky defense was uncharacteristic of a team that ranked among the leaders in the SEC in fielding percentage.
“It’s been unfortunate that we went three, two and three (runs) in the first inning and played pretty good after that. It’s sort of uncharacteristic,” Tanner said. “It happens. I’d like to think it’ll be something good for us as we get back to practice.”
The Gamecocks cut the lead to 3-1 in the second inning on consecutive singles by Williams, Morales and Marzilli. But an opportunity to trim the lead further fell short when Dieterich pitched out of a bases-loaded jam.
The teams traded runs again, with Holmes giving up an RBI single to Zach Cone in the second and Marzilli lacing an RBI single in the third to make it 4-2. But Robert Beary’s double-play groundout killed another bases-loaded chance for the Gamecocks.
“Dieterich did a really nice job of getting out of a couple of situations that would have given us a chance to get back in it. He made a couple of good pitches and got some strikeouts and a double-play ball,” Tanner said. “We battled hard after the first inning, but we never really got anything going. We didn’t do enough to win.”
Tanner, Morales postgame