The baseball left Gene Cone’s bat with two outs in the fourth inning and the bases loaded for South Carolina. As it drifted toward the right-field line, Alabama’s Ben Moore made a long run before diving for the ball.
As it glanced off Moore’s glove, the umpire gave the fair call while Cone raced to third base for a three-run triple that proved to be the decisive play in USC’s 9-3 victory over the Crimson Tide on Friday night at Carolina Stadium.
“It just looked like (Moore) hit it on the way down right before it was about to hit the line. It looked fair to me, but it’s tough to kind of judge,” Cone said.
The hit upped the Gamecocks’ score to 6-2 for a lead against Alabama ace right-hander Spencer Turnbull that stood the rest of the way.
No. 11 South Carolina (33-10, 11-8 SEC) grabbed the first game of the showdown with eighth-ranked Alabama (28-14, 12-7). The teams will play the second game of the series Saturday at 2 p.m. It will be televised on ESPN.
Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard argued the call with first-base umpire Hank Himmanen to no avail.
“I thought the ball was foul, but it was right there (near the line). It’s hard to say,” Gaspard said. “I’d have to look at it on replay. Obviously, it was a game-changer with them getting three runs right there.”
USC coach Chad Holbrook, who called Cone’s hit the offensive play of the game, also had not seen a replay but said that USC athletics director Ray Tanner, who had viewed several replays, told him the ball was in play.
“He told me it was close, but he said one of our television feeds had a good angle on it, and he said it was clearly fair,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook knows a play like that can determine a tight game between a pair of strong clubs.
“Sometimes you’ve got to have a break to beat a good team,” he said. “We’ve had some breaks go against us, and we got a break tonight and made the most of it.”
Junior catcher Grayson Greiner collected three hits and two RBIs, including a solo homer in a three-run eighth inning, in the big win. Greiner, who is batting .331 with a team-high five home runs and 41 RBIs, led the 10-hit attack.
USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-3) overcame a slow start to pitch 6 1/3 solid innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out eight. Right-hander Joel Seddon pitched 1 1/3 innings for his 11th save, although he gave up a ninth-inning run.
Montgomery got stronger as the game went along, especially after the four-run fourth inning gave him the lead.
“That triple definitely took the pressure off my shoulders,” Montgomery said. “After that big inning, I had to go put a zero up and keep the momentum on our side. The half-inning after a big inning is probably one of the most important parts of the game.”
The teams traded a pair of runs in the early innings. Alabama scored single runs in the first on Kyle Overstreet’s RBI single and in the third on Mikey White’s solo homer. The Gamecocks scored two unearned runs in the first thanks to a throwing error by Alabama third baseman Chance Vincent.
Gaspard said that error, along with six walks by Turnbull (5-3) and 12 runners left on base, contributed to the loss.
“The bigger picture for us right now is to keep the ball in the strike zone and make them earn a little bit more,” Gaspard said. “With a team like South Carolina, you can’t give them more and more opportunities. They’re going to take advantage of it. We just didn’t play very clean.”
Cone walked three times in the contest, and Tanner English added three hits and two RBIs.
“I thought we really had a good approach against one of the premier pitchers in the SEC and the country. He’s got electric stuff,” Greiner said. “We shortened our swings and just tried to make something happen.”
Montgomery was pleased the Gamecocks got the upper hand to claim the first win.
“That was definitely a great team win,” he said. “The hitters were really seeing the ball well, and our pitching staff has been performing well. We finally put together a good game, so we’ll see if we can do it again tomorrow.”