The North Carolina-South Carolina two-year baseball series in Charlotte was supposed to provide an opportunity for two of the top programs in the country to meet in a competitive midweek game in back-to-back years on a neutral field.
Instead, the Tar Heels handed USC two historically bad losses in front of sellout crowds of more than 10,000 fans at BB&T Ballpark.
North Carolina (27-6) topped the Gamecocks 20-5 Tuesday night, a year after blasting USC 15-0 in the same ballpark.
The two 15-run losses mark the worst for South Carolina (21-11) since 2007, while the 20 runs allowed are the most since Arkansas scored 30 on the Gamecocks in 1997.
“Tonight was hard to take, especially for me. I told the players after the game they’ll get over it. They’ll bounce back and be ready to go this weekend. Obviously it’ll have a little bit different affect on me. But it is what it is,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “That’s my alma mater. We have a good team. It’s disappointing to come in here to this park and play the way that we did.”
North Carolina picked up where it left off last year against USC, scoring four runs in the first inning and never looking back.
The Gamecocks closed to within 6-3 in the third before the Tar Heels responded with a six-run fourth inning to go on top 12-3.
North Carolina added a run in the sixth before putting up a seven spot in the seventh to take a 20-4 advantage. In the seven-run seventh inning, South Carolina pitchers walked seven batters and hit another.
Brandon Murray walked back-to-back hitters without throwing a strike, with the second walk plating a run, before being replaced by Tyler Haswell. Haswell then walked a batter on four pitches, hit a batter and walked another batter on four pitches as the two faced five consecutive batters without throwing a strike.
“We thought some older guys might get in there and play catch and maybe get an out or two, but they couldn’t,” Holbrook said, adding that he was pleased with John Parke’s outing.
The lefty allowed two runs in two innings, but didn’t walk a batter.
“The other guys just couldn’t play catch and get any outs and throw the ball over the plate,” Holbrook said. “It’s disappointing, especially from older guys. We’ve got enough guys to have a really strong and deep pitching staff.”
South Carolina used 10 pitchers on the night with the first seven each allowing at least two runs. Cody Morris got the start and didn’t make it out of the first inning, exiting with two outs and UNC leading 4-0.
USC pitchers issued 10 walks and hit two batters.
Gamecocks closer Tyler Johnson made his first appearance since March 4 and pitched a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout.
“It was good to see Tyler get back out there and throw the way we know he can throw. If anything good came out of that game, other than a few at-bats that we had that were pretty good, it was seeing him pitch again. That bodes well for him being ready and available for the weekend,” Holbrook said. “It was impressive to me. He was throwing in the mid 90s to upper 90s again. … Obviously that bodes well for us in some late game situations going forward.”
TJ Hopkins went 3-for-4 with a double, while LT Tolbert was 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs.
USC finished with 13 hits, just one less than North Carolina, but stranded 11 men on base.
South Carolina returns to action on Friday as it hosts Mississippi State in a three-game series.
“In the grand scheme of things, you just can’t let this turn into another one. You’ve got to flush it and come to the park ready to go Friday,” Holbrook said. “This league that we’re in will chew up and spit out the weak. If we’re going to be weak, we’re going to get chewed up and spit out. It’s our choice. Either strap it on and let’s go and battle and compete against some of the best teams in the country or let’s tuck our head between our tail and feel sorry for ourselves and have another night like this.”