Through the first 24 games, South Carolina has shown a flair for the dramatic, but nothing they’ve done this season can compare to what happened Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.
The Gamecocks got walk-off home runs from Jordan Gore and Grayson Greiner to win the first two games of the series against Tennessee, 3-2 in 14 innings in the completion of Friday’s suspended game, and 9-6 in the nightcap.
The unlikely endings continue the magical start for the second-ranked Gamecocks.
“I can’t sit here and tell you I’ve ever seen anything like that,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “I’m coaching some guys that believe in themselves, keep plugging, keep playing and working to try and put themselves in position to win games like that. What happened today is because of a bunch of players that believe.”
The first bit of offensive heroics came off the bat of the seldom-used used Gore. The freshman from Conway entered the contest after DC Arendas was pinch-hit for on Friday, and in his first at-bat of the game he drilled a 1-0 pitch into the Gamecocks’ bullpen for the victory in the opener.
Gore came into the contest with .118 batting average in 17 at-bats. It was his first career RBI.
“I was waiting on a pitch I could drive and I got it,” Gore said. “I was trying to square it up and hit it hard. I had pretty good feeling it was gone.”
You can count Holbrook as surprised as anybody.
“I think that’s the first ball I’ve seen him hit out of here in three weeks and that includes about 50 swings a day in batting practice,” Holbrook said. “If that doesn’t tell you it’s our day, I don’t know what will.”
The game was suspended in the top of the 12th on Friday night due to rain. Jack Wynkoop, the regular Saturday starter, took the mound for the Gamecocks and earned the win in three innings of work.
The victory in the first game was a precursor that what happened in the second game. South Carolina (22-3, 5-3 SEC) trailed 6-3 with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth before springing another improbable rally.
Brison Celek started things with a single up the middle before Max Schrock made it a one-run game with a towering two-run home run that stayed just inside the fair pole in right field.
Schrock, how has been battling an injured ankle since March 9, had been in an 0-for-17 slump. His last hit was a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run to force extra innings against Mississippi on March 15 in a game USC won on a Celek single in the 10th inning.
South Carolina then loaded the bases without the benefit of a hit. Joey Pankake reached on error when Tennessee right fielder Scott Price dropped a routine fly ball, Kyle Martin walked and Connor Bright was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Greiner.
Tennessee (19-6, 3-5) brought in right-hander Peter Lenstrohm but he only threw two pitches. Greiner took a called strike on a first-pitch fastball before drilling a change-up onto the left-field perch next to the grandstands for his fourth home run of the season.
“I was thinking hit-by-pitch, passed ball, anything I could do to try and get that guy from third to keep the game going,” Greiner said.
“I took the first pitch fastball but he gave me a change-up, which I knew was his best pitch, and I got just about everything I had behind that one. I knew that one was way out of here. I didn’t even watch it. I was taking in the moment. It’s not very often you get to play two games in one day and get two walk-off home runs in your home park.”
All the heroics at the plate would not have been possible without the performance of Reed Scott. The freshman came in with the Gamecocks trailing 4-1 and he kept the Volunteers quiet over the final six innings. He did allow RBI singles to Price and A.J. Simcox in the fourth but both runs were charged to Vince Fiori. He only allowed one hit over the final five innings to earn his first victory.
Scott didn’t allow a run on four hits with three strikeouts and two walks. He did almost exactly the same thing in the contest against Mississippi in which Schrock hit his home run. In that game, he pitched six innings of scoreless relief to allow USC to get into extra innings. He hasn’t allowed a run in 161/3 innings and opponents are batting .132 against him. He’s allowed seven hits with 14 strikeouts on the season.
“He gave us a chance to have that incredible comeback against Ole Miss,” Holbrook said. “It was almost the same script. We put him in early in the game and he kept them at bay. He’s hard to hit and he can throw strikes. If you have a defense behind him, he can be very, very, effective. I’m comfortable putting Scott in the game in any situation.”
The two wins on Saturday rival – if not surpass - the comeback against Mississippi and a ninth inning rally at Clemson as the highlights to the storybook beginning of the season.
“We honestly 100 percent truly never believe the game is over until we have to shake hands at the end of the game,” Greiner said. “The things that have happened in 26 games have been just crazy. It’s pretty special to be a part of.”
The two teams will complete the series on Sunday with first-pitch scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Will Crowe (5-0, 1.63) will take the hill for South Carolina (23-3, 5-3) while Tennessee (19-6, 3-5) with Andrew Lee (3-0, 3.94).