HOOVER, Ala. | On a day where the three lowest seeds had knocked off the three highest seeds of the SEC baseball tournament, South Carolina was not about to be the only lower seed that could not claim a victory.
The fifth-seeded Gamecocks found a way to win a two-day, 9-5, 11-inning thriller over fourth-seeded Alabama in the nightcap at Regions Park.
The game, played before a crowd of 9,254 fans, started Wednesday night but did not end until 2:56 a.m. Thursday in front of a lot less people.
The day started with seventh-seeded Arkansas defeating second-seed Florida. Sixth-seed Georgia followed with a win over third-seeded Ole Miss. Eighth-seeded Vanderbilt then did its part by registering a surprising victory against top-seeded LSU.
“There’s not much difference from top to bottom in this league,” USC coach Ray Tanner said.
South Carolina (38-19) will play Vanderbilt in the winner’s bracket at 8:30 p.m. today. Ace right-hander Sam Dyson, who headed back to the team hotel at 11 p.m. Wednesday under Tanner’s orders to rest, will start for the Gamecocks. Alabama (37-18) will play LSU in the loser’s bracket at 1:30 p.m. today.
“This league is awfully tough,” said USC outfielder Adam Matthews, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth to give the Gamecocks their first lead. “Anybody can win on any day.”
With four runs in the 11th off a pair of Alabama relievers, USC put away a game that seemed as if it might never end. Two runs scored on a wild pitch and bases-loaded walk, and Justin Dalles delivered the last two with a double to left.
“It was a must-win,” said USC shortstop Bobby Haney, who started the winning rally with a double to left. “We wanted to get our sleep and play later. We played our butts off at the end and came out a winner.”
Alex Farotto (2-0) picked up the win in relief for the Gamecocks, who also got 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings from Parker Bangs.
“We just hung in there. We had some opportunities. They had some opportunities. We were fortunate to win,” Tanner said.
The players were drained but thrilled.
“It’s huge,” Bangs said. “We wanted to come down here and try to win. This puts us in the picture for the rest of the weekend.”
The game had a little bit of everything, including the ejection of Alabama coach Jim Wells in the 10th inning when he argued a call that did not allow Brandon May to take his base on what appeared to be a hit-by-pitch.
Matthews spotted the Gamecocks to a 5-4 lead in the sixth when he launched a three-run blast to left-center off junior left-hander Del Howell that ended the Alabama starter’s night. Jackie Bradley and Andrew Crisp singled in front of Matthews to set up the go-ahead rally.
“Hopefully, this win will give us a bunch of momentum,” said Matthews, who took over in left for the game in place of DeAngelo Mack, relegated to designated hitter because of shin splints.
But the Gamecocks could not hold that lead despite solid pitching from starter Blake Cooper, who recovered from a rough first inning when he allowed three runs. Alabama outfielder Kent Matthes crushed a mammoth home run off Cooper in the seventh that easily cleared the deep center-field fence. It was his league-leading 28th homer of the season, and it tied the game at 5.
“I just wanted to keep going,” Cooper said. “I was able to settle in, and we fought back.”
The Tide tacked on a run to go up 4-0 in the fourth. Alex Kubal led off with a double to left and moved to third on a flyout. Josh Rutledge’s groundout to short scored Kubal.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to 4-2 with a pair of runs off Howell in the fifth. After surrendering a leadoff walk, Howell nearly pitched around it before allowing a two-out double to Whit Merrifield to put runners at second and third. Mack made him pay by delivering a two-run single to center. The hit extended Mack’s hitting streak to 18 games.
Alabama jumped out to a 3-0 lead off Cooper in the first inning on four consecutive hits – including two slow rollers that did not leave the infield – and a sacrifice fly. The first two runs came home on May’s double over right-fielder Bradley’s head. Jake Smith’s deep fly to center plated the third run.
Cooper also ran into trouble in the second inning when he hit two batters and intentionally walked Matthes to load the bases, but he struck out May to escape the jam.
USC did not get its first hit off Howell until the third inning, a Scott Wingo single that moved Haney, who had walked with one out, to third base. Howell worked out of the situation by striking out Merrifield and Mack.