Matt Connolly

Despite ugly loss, Gamecocks can be proud of performance in Hoover

South Carolina may or may not make the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Monday, but the Gamecocks did about all they could in Hoover to give themselves a chance.

USC went 3-2 in five SEC Tournament games, eliminating No. 6 seed Vanderbilt, No. 10 seed Missouri and No. 3 seed Kentucky along the way.

The Gamecocks became the first double-digit seed to reach the semifinals despite entering the week without a win in Hoover in its previous four trips.

In short, South Carolina played like the team we expected to see all of 2017 instead of the one that dropped eight consecutive SEC series to close the regular season.

“A lot of people had the book closed on the Gamecocks coming in and they were telling us what we couldn’t do in Hoover based on what we’ve done in the past, and we let that be our motivation,” junior Alex Destino said. “Coming here, it was good to see. We showed a lot of fight against some extremely good teams. I think we definitely made some noise in Hoover, and the team is excited about that.”

The Gamecocks blasted eight homers in five games, with Carlos Cortes hitting three, Jonah Bride hitting two and Alex Destino, TJ Hopkins and Justin Row each hitting one.

USC was undefeated with its two weekend starters on the mound. Wil Crowe led USC to a win over Missouri, while Adam Hill held Kentucky down in a victory over the 10th-ranked Wildcats.

Closer Tyler Johnson was spectacular, earning a win and a save without allowing a run in two appearances.

“I think we turned a lot of heads in Hoover,” Destino said. “We’re a team; if we get into the playoffs with Wil and Adam, we can do a lot of things like we proved here.”

While South Carolina’s overall experience was positive, it came to an ugly ending. The Gamecocks were blasted 11-0 by LSU in a semifinal game as USC was without its top five pitchers. USC is already shorthanded with ace Clarke Schmidt out for the season.

LSU had played 16 innings this week entering Saturday’s game, while USC had to play 38.

The Tigers started a senior on the mound who is two wins shy of becoming LSU’s all-time leader in victories. USC started a freshman who had two previous starts in his career.

On Thursday, LSU scored 10 runs in five innings off SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle, and the Tigers have scored 10 runs or more in five consecutive games. It isn’t a shock that the back end of USC’s pitching staff was unable to slow down one of the hottest team in the country.

“Today we were on fumes a little bit. I don’t think our team should be judged on what happened today, and I don’t believe we will be,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “They were a little bit fresher than us, not only from a position player standpoint, but especially being able to throw a weekend guy, one of the best college pitchers in the country out there at us.”

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