The South Carolina baseball team must do something it has never done in the NCAA tournament at Carolina Stadium – play its way through the losers’ bracket.
Maryland defeated the Gamecocks 4-3 Saturday night to hand them their first loss in the ballpark in postseason play, a stretch of 17 games that dated back to 2010.
The Gamecocks (43-17) fall into the losers’ bracket to play Campbell (41-20) Sunday at 1 p.m. The winner of that game must defeat Maryland (38-21) two times, starting with a Sunday game at 7 p.m.
USC coach Chad Holbrook didn’t want to think about having to win three games.
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“We’ve got to win one game in a row, and we’ll worry about the next one if we can get that done,” Holbrook said. “I don’t know any other way to do it. I do have a good feeling about my team. This thing is a long way from over. If I’ve got the type of kid on my team that I think I’ve got, we’ll come ready to go.”
The game ended when Joey Pankake grounded into a double play with runners on the corners in the ninth inning. Maryland closer Kevin Mooney collected his 12th save after allowing singles to Tanner English and Max Schrock.
After cutting the lead to 4-3 in the sixth inning, USC stranded five runners – three of them in scoring position – in the last three innings.
“We spotted them a four-run lead, and we just couldn’t overcome that. I’m proud of my kids’ effort,” Holbrook said. “They fought, scratched, clawed and gave everything they had. We just couldn’t get that big hit.”
Three Maryland pitchers made a 4-0 lead in the second inning stand up. Freshman right-hander Mike Shawaryn (11-3) allowed three runs on five hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. Relievers Bobby Ruse and Mooney threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to finish off the Gamecocks.
“I just try to go out and throw zeroes up on the board and put us in a good position to win,” Shawaryn said. “All the coaching staff always tells you about being mentally tough.”
No pitch was bigger than Mooney’s final one to Pankake.
“I've been there before at the end of the game. It just comes down to slowing the game down, going pitch by pitch, just throwing it and hitting spots,” Mooney said. “It turned out that I hit a good spot and got a good ball, a nice two hopper right to (Brandon) Lowe at second and we ended the game right on a double play.”
DC Arendas, who had an RBI single in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the sixth, knows his team must find a way to bounce back quickly Sunday.
“We have to come out and attack Campbell early,” Arendas said. “I think we know Maryland did that to us today. Hopefully, we can put together some good at-bats early in the game tomorrow like we did late today.”
The Gamecocks got a solid performance from reliever Taylor Widener in his longest outing of the season. The freshman right-hander kept the Terps in check for 6 1/3 scoreless innings to allow USC to get back in the game. He got some help in the sixth inning when left-fielder Gene Cone threw out a runner at the plate to end the inning after LaMonte Wade’s single.
Kyle Martin narrowly missed tying the game in the sixth when he hit a ball that just missed going out for a three-run homer. Instead he settled for an RBI double. The junior first baseman believes his teammates have what it takes to rebound.
“We have a good enough team to come back. We’ve done it before,” Martin said. “We fought and scratched as hard as we could. It just didn’t fall our way tonight.”
The Terps knocked USC left-hander Jack Wynkoop (7-6) out of the game early after scoring one run in the first inning and three more in the second. Lowe collected the RBI single in the first inning, and Wade ripped an RBI double in the second. Maryland’s two other runs scored on a two-out throwing error by Pankake.
“I've seen the kind of character of them throughout the whole second half of the season,” Maryland coach John Szefc said of his team staying in the winners’ bracket.
That would be all the runs Maryland would need. Holbrook knew the Terps would give his team all it could handle.
“The NCAA tournament is not supposed to be easy,” he said. “These opponents aren’t going to lay down for us. We’ve got to find a way to win.”
The Gamecocks will start freshman right-hander Wil Crowe (7-3) against Campbell senior right-hander Ryan Koopman (8-1). But it will be all hands on deck for both teams.
“We’ve got a fresh bullpen for the most part going into tomorrow. We’ve got Crowe on the mound, and he’s throwing about as good as anybody,” Holbrook said.