For the third time in a week, South Carolina lost a baseball game to Mississippi State.
After losing two-of-three in Starkville last weekend, the Gamecocks lost to the Bulldogs 5-3 Wednesday night in their opening game of the SEC tournament at the Hoover Met. And for the second time in a week, Mississippi State roughed up USC’s top two relievers – Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb – in a late rally.
The Bulldogs scored a pair of ninth-inning runs on RBI singles by Wes Rea and Demarcus Henderson to stay in the winners’ bracket.
“It’s not on Adam and Tyler. We’ve got to do more offensively to help our pitchers out,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “We’ve got to do more. We’ve got to play better or it’ll be a short postseason.”
Texas A&M (32-25) defeated No. 1 Vanderbilt (48-8) 5-0 earlier in the day, which means the Gamecocks (39-17) will face the Commodores on Thursday in the losers’ bracket at approximately 1 to 1:30 p.m. Vanderbilt defeated USC in their two games earlier this season.
USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery (4-1, 2.11 ERA) will face Vanderbilt left-hander Kevin Ziomek (10-2, 1.99 ERA).
“That’s what this league is all about. You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Holbrook said. “But it’s also a great opportunity to play a great team with a terrific record.”
The Bulldogs (42-16), who outhit USC 12-7, will meet the Aggies in the final game of the day. Westmoreland (7-2) took the loss after allowing two singles and a walk to load the bases for Webb, who gave up the game-winning singles.
“It’s a good lineup. It feels like we’ve been playing these guys for a month,” Webb said. “Everybody knows everybody. We know what they’re trying to do. They know what we’re trying to do. They put good swings on the ball, and I probably didn’t get ahead (in the count) like I should have. They found the holes and that’s how baseball goes.”
Mississippi State reliever Myles Gentry (4-0) recorded the win with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless three-hit relief and eight strikeouts.
“From the minute he came in the game, he stuffed us. He was the difference,” Holbrook said.
Gentry struck out LB Dantzler and Grayson Greiner with runners at the corners in the fifth to end one USC threat.
“He’s just a funky righty,” USC shortstop Joey Pankake said. “He’s tough to hit, and he was hitting his spots tonight, which made it even harder.”
The Gamecocks scored three runs in the fourth inning to knock MSU starter Luis Pollorena out of the game and even the score. Singles by Pankake and Dantzler, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Wednesday, started the rally, with the runs scoring on Max Schrock’s bases-loaded walk and Brison Celek’s two-run single up the middle.
That rally helped USC left-hander Nolan Belcher stay in the game until the seventh inning after a slow start. Belcher, who allowed eight hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings, wasn’t nearly as sharp early as he has been all season. He gave up a pair of runs in the first inning on four hits, including RBI singles by Rea and Henderson, and struggled to settle into a rhythm.
Belcher allowed another run to in the third on a double by Brett Pirtle, who scored on Henderson’s sacrifice fly to make the score 3-0. And he caught a break in the fourth inning, when he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam thanks to what was ruled a diving catch by left-fielder Graham Saiko. But replays showed that Saiko trapped the ball.
Webb knows the Gamecocks must find the energy to bounce back against a team like Vanderbilt in order to avoid being eliminated.
“We’ll go home, regroup, and flush this one,” Webb said. “We’ll come out here tomorrow, and the biggest thing is playing loose.”