Three South Carolina pitchers combined to record 26 outs against Elon without allowing a hit Friday night at Carolina Stadium. But the bid for the program’s first no-hitter since 1975 fell one out shy when Garrett Koster blasted a two-out, solo home run in the ninth inning off USC reliever Patrick Sullivan.
One batter later, the junior right-hander induced a lineout in an 8-1 victory as the No. 3 Gamecocks (4-0) knocked off the Phoenix (4-1) in the opener of a three-game series.
Senior left-hander Michael Roth looked like the 2011 All-American who won 14 games, handcuffing Elon hitters as he walked three and struck out seven on 99 pitches with two balls leaving the infield against him.
Left-hander Nolan Belcher, who was making his first appearance since 2010 after Tommy John surgery, pitched a hitless eighth before Sullivan got the first two outs in the ninth.
USC coach Ray Tanner admitted that he might have left Roth on the mound if it had been later in the season and his ace wasn’t on a pitch count. He really wanted to take him out the inning before as his pitch count reached the mid-80s.
“I wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter so much,” Tanner said. “In a different circumstance, Michael Roth would still be out there to have a chance to determine that.”
Roth (1-0) knew he was coming out.
“There wasn’t much of a conversation. Coach Tanner said, ‘Good night.’ That was about it,” he said. “I knew there was a limit. It’s all right.”
After Sullivan got a groundout on a nice play by second baseman Chase Vergason and a flyout, he threw Koster a 1-0 fastball that the Elon shortstop deposited into the left-field seats. The Phoenix did not want to be no-hit for the first team since 2000.
“We talked about it a little bit that last inning, saying, ‘Let’s do whatever it takes to get a hit,’” said Koster, who attended Fort Mill High. “I found myself in a hitter’s count and got lucky enough to get a hit.”
But he tipped his cap to Roth, who lowered his ERA to 0.69.
“That changeup is a filthy pitch. It’s an A-plus pitch for sure,” Koster said. “We helped him out a little bit by chasing it, but he’s a great pitcher.”
His swing kept USC from getting its first no-hitter since Ray Lavigne did it on a March day 37 years ago, one day after teammate Tim Lewis also accomplished the feat.
Roth was aware of the situation, but he focused on the Elon lineup.
“I kind of knew what was going on by the third or fourth inning, but you kind of push that from your mind when you’re trying to go out there and get guys out,” he said. “It’s not something you’re focusing on.”
Junior first baseman Christian Walker, who went 2-for-2 with five RBIs, including his first homer of the season, a two-run blast in the sixth, also said the players tried not to focus on the no-hit effort, especially with one out to go.
“You think about it, but at the same time, you try to get it out of your head as soon as possible just because you don’t want to blame yourself if you were thinking about it,” Walker said.
“It would have been pretty cool to be a part of that.”
But he enjoyed his birds-eye view of watching Roth carve up the opposing team.
“I’ve seen Michael do that a bunch of times,” Walker said. “When he’s in that groove, it seems like nobody can touch him. I don’t have to do much out in the field, maybe (field) a ground ball here or there. It’s fun to watch.”
The Phoenix didn’t help their cause by making five errors, which led to five of USC’s eight runs.
Freshman shortstop Joey Pankake had a pair of hits, including a leadoff triple in the third that began a three-run rally off Elon right-hander Kyle Webb (1-1). Freshman catcher Grayson Greiner, who also had a pair of hits, blooped an RBI single to cap that inning. Walker added a two-run infield single in the fourth off Webb.
The game started more than three hours after scheduled due to an all-day rain, but the delay didn’t affect USC’s pitchers.
“The story of the game for me was the pitching staff did a really, really nice job,” Tanner said.
And he didn’t really mind that his pitchers couldn’t quite finish the no-hitter.
“Honestly, maybe it’s a fault of mine, but I really wasn’t engrossed in that. I just wasn’t. I wanted to win the game, and if it happens, it happens,” he said. “We weren’t going to try to do anything differently to see that it happened. I know our guys would have liked to see it, but I didn’t get too wrapped up in it.”
In the end, the Gamecocks were satisfied with a win over an Elon program that has reached the NCAA tournament four of the past six seasons, even if they did get the no-hitter.
“It was really close,” Walker said. “But what are you going to do?”
The teams play the second game of the series at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
|Niko Fraser cf||4||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||1|
|Sebastian Gomez 2b||4||0||0||0||0||0||3||1||0|
|Alex Swim c/rf||4||0||0||0||0||0||5||2||0|
|Garrett Koster ss||2||1||1||1||2||1||1||2||0|
|Ryan Kinsella 1b||2||0||0||0||0||1||6||1||1|
|Joey Tomko ph/3b||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Jake Luce lf||2||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Blaine Bower ph/lf||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||1|
|Michael Elefante dh/c||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||1|
|Chris Bresnahan 3b/1b||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||0|
|Quinn Bower rf||1||0||0||0||2||1||2||0||0|
|Kyle Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Nate Young p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|John Antonelli p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli cf||4||2||0||0||1||2||2||0||0|
|Tanner English lf||3||1||1||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||2||1||2||5||1||0||12||1||0|
|LB Dantzler 3b||3||0||0||1||0||0||0||1||3|
|Grayson Greiner c||4||0||2||1||0||1||7||0||0|
|Kyle Martin dh||3||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||2|
|TJ Costen pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Matthews rf||3||1||0||0||1||0||1||0||0|
|Joey Pankake ss||4||3||2||0||0||1||2||5||1|
|Chase Vergason 2b||3||0||1||0||0||1||0||4||0|
|Michael Roth p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Nolan Belcher p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Patrick Sullivan p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Gomez(3); Swim(1); Tomko(1); Bresnahan 2(2); Pankake(2). DP - ELON 1; S. Carolina 1. LOB - ELON 4; S. Carolina 6. 2B - Greiner(2). 3B - Pankake(1). HR - Koster(1); Walker(1). HBP - Walker. SH - English(1); Vergason(1). SF - English(2); Dantzler(2). SB - Koster(3); Marzilli(2). CS - Costen(1); Matthews(1).
|Kyle Webb L,1-1||4.0||5||5||3||2||4||0||0||1||0||17||22||4||4||82|
|Michael Roth W,1-0||7.0||0||0||0||3||7||0||0||0||0||21||24||5||8||99|
Win - Roth (1-0). Loss - Webb (1-1). Save - None. HBP - by Webb (Walker). Pitches/strikes: Webb 82/52; Young 20/11; Antonelli 49/27; Roth 99/57; Belcher 22/14; Sullivan, P. 10/6.
Umpires - HP: Joe Marion 1B: Tyler Simpson 3B: David Brown
Start: 6:18 pm