For the first time since the 2009 season, the South Carolina baseball found themselves at the wrong end of a three-game sweep.
Behind another strong performance from its bullpen, Kentucky came from behind for the third straight day to sweep the Gamecocks with a 6-3 win on Sunday.
For the series, the Gamecocks tallied 31 hits but scored nine runs, stranding 29 runners on base.
“We fought hard this weekend,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “We got 29, 30 hits, but we averaged three runs a game, so it’s difficult to beat a good team that way. But our effort was there, we battled hard, but we weren’t as good as Kentucky this weekend.”
The win allowed the Wildcats (21-0, 3-0 SEC) to maintain their perfect start to the season.
It was the Wildcats’ first sweep of the Gamecocks since 2006. USC had not been swept — or lost three games in a row — since Florida swept the Gamecocks in Gainesville, Fla., in 2009.
Kentucky catcher Luke Maile, the hero in Friday night’s game with a walkoff homer, opened the scoring for the Wildcats with a two-run home run in the first. A slew of hits allowed USC to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth, with Christian Walker and Grayson Greiner collecting RBIs.
But the Wildcats responded in the bottom of the frame with back-to-back, two-out hits by Austin Cousino and Zac Zellers to even the game at 3, chasing USC starter Colby Holmes.
Kentucky starter Corey Littrell allowed nine hits in 51/3 innings pitched, opposite Holmes’ four hits allowed in 42/3 innings pitched.
But the difference in the game was the performance of the two bullpens. Kentucky’s three relievers tossed 32/3 innings of shutout baseball in relief of Littrell. USC, however, called on eight relievers to follow Holmes as the Wildcats scored three runs in sixth to pull away from the Gamecocks (15-4, 0-3 SEC).
Nolan Belcher allowed a leadoff hit to A.J. Reed and forced a pop out before he was relieved by right-hander Joel Seddon, who walked Thomas McCarthy. Tanner then went to left-hander Tyler Webb, who allowed a single to J.T. Riddle to load the bases.
Kentucky DH Michael Williams followed with a two-run single through the right side before Webb’s first wild pitch of the season allowed Riddle to score and make it 6-3. Riddle’s run was the first of the year charged to Webb in 12th appearances.
USC’s bullpen allowed seven hits and three runs on the day.
Kentucky’s Trevor Gott recorded his second save in as many games with a hitless ninth inning.
“I don’t think (the bullpen) has been any different,” Webb said. “For the most part we’ve made our pitches, and they’ve found the holes.”
Tanner said he has contemplated using starting pitcher Michael Roth in the lineup to try and jumpstart the Gamecocks’ offense, which will face another test next weekend against top-ranked Florida.
That SEC series will cap a run of five games in five days for USC, which faces Furman and Greenville’s Fluor Field on Tuesday and Wofford at home a day later. The Gators’ three-game series starts Thursday.
“I think they’d rather play than not play,” Tanner said of the busy week. “It’s a part of baseball, hopefully we’ll have a good week.”