Perhaps it’s just plain guesswork to suggest the winner of Saturday’s South Carolina-Vanderbilt baseball game will garner a national seed in the NCAA tournament and the loser does not.
Then again, maybe that’s right on point.
As many expected, the 3 p.m. finale on CBS Sports Network will determine the series winner after the Commodores dealt the Gamecocks a 9-3 defeat on Friday night at Hawkins Field.
It is also likely to establish a favorite among these two rivals to land one of the top eight seeds – which could eventually mean hosting a Super Regional – when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced nine days from now.
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“I don’t talk to that about our team,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “One, we don’t know. And I’m sure the media speculates that’s the case, but there are games to be played next week, too.
“It’s one game. It’s an important game. We’re trying to win a series tomorrow. Nothing more, nothing less. We’re trying to win a game. What comes after that game is up to somebody else, not us.”
The Gamecocks (41-14), who rallied for runs in the ninth and 10th innings to edge Vanderbilt 4-3 on Thursday, are 17-12 in the league – tied with the Commodores for second in the East – entering their final game before the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
South Carolina freshman Wil Crowe (6-3, 2.97), a Tennessee native, will oppose Vanderbilt sophomore Tyler Ferguson (7-3, 2.66) in a battle of right-handers on Saturday.
Crowe will need to be sharper than Jack Wynkoop (7-4), who was roughed up in the first and fifth innings on Friday. South Carolina’s offense couldn’t muster the big inning it needed to catch up against reliever-turned-starter Carson Fulmer (5-1), whose stuff Holbrook compared to a young Roger Clemens.
The Commodores scored four first-inning runs on five singles, including four hits in a row, by laying off most of Wynkoop’s changeups while steering his fastballs into the outfield. Wynkoop threw 37 pitches and worked to nine batters in the frame.
“I just think that he got some pitches around the plate, and we found some holes, too,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “We were fortunate there, but then after that we spread it out a little bit and got some bigger hits with a little more energy to the ball.”
South Carolina had a chance to limit the first-inning damage when Vanderbilt base runner Zander Wiel stopped at third base while trail runner Vince Conde rounded second at full speed on John Norwood’s single to center field. However, Tanner English’s throw to third went off the glove of Joey Pankake, and Vanderbilt wasn’t made to pay for its blunder.
The Gamecocks got a run back in the second inning but left the bases loaded after Fulmer walked three consecutive batters.
“They have a great staff and it’s hard to – not put the ball in play – but find holes and things like that,” said Kyle Martin, whose 4-for-5 night paced the South Carolina offense. “It’s still on us, even though he’s throwing great, to get on base and score runs.”
With Vanderbilt up 4-2 in the fifth, Wiel blistered a Wynkoop pitch into the eighth row of the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer. When Norwood followed with a double two batters later, Wynkoop’s night was done. Wynkoop was charged with seven runs – three more than the sophomore’s previous career high.
Rhett Wiseman added an RBI triple off reliever Taylor Widener in the Commodores’ second four-run inning for an 8-2 lead.
Patrick Harrington added a pair of singles for the Gamecocks, who were outhit 13-10.
Holbrook said second baseman Max Schrock, who sat out Friday with an ailing back, is unlikely to play Saturday and is questionable for the SEC tournament as he tries to get his players healthy for the NCAA tournament.