Mark Kingston, Madison Stokes explain why USC’s offense is sputtering after Furman loss
South Carolina’s offensive struggles continued into its Tuesday evening matchup with Furman, with USC (6-3) dropping its second straight game, 6-4.
With the defeat, USC has now lost consecutive games for the first time this year after dropping a 4-2 contest to Charleston Southern on Sunday. After scoring five or more runs in the first seven games of the season, the Gamecocks have sputtered as of late.
“It’s a little perplexing,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston admitted. “Two days ago, 36 hours ago, we felt really, really good about our offense, we were averaging nine runs a game. And then we just went into a little funk in the last 18 innings. We just gotta get back to work.”
In the early innings of Tuesday, that lack of offense might have been overcome by a strong start from freshman Logan Chapman, had a third inning single to center field been handled cleanly by junior TJ Hopkins. Instead, he misplayed it, allowing Furman’s first run to score. Through eight games, USC had committed just four errors. On Tuesday, the Gamecocks committed three.
“Sloppy baseball early on. A little disappointing, but out of character for us for sure,” Kingston said. “We’re a really good defensive team, just one of those things that happens sometimes in baseball.”
The Paladins took control for good in the seventh inning, thanks to a two-run triple from senior Sims Griffith, who took junior Eddy Demurias deep to left field on a pitch where USC’s outfielders were played in. An eighth-inning home run from Carlos Cortes closed the gap, but the Gamecocks couldn’t finish the rally.
Stars of the game: For Furman, starting pitcher Trent Alley. The sophomore right-hander battled through six innings, not flawlessly but effectively limiting the Gamecocks offense and ensuring that his weak spots, such as four walks, never came back to haunt him.
For South Carolina, junior Madison Stokes made a strong return to the lineup after missing five games with an injured hamstring. After lacing a single to left field in his first at-bat, the designated hitter sent one into the stands in his second plate appearance, tying the game and providing one of two extra base hits for USC.
“It felt really good to be back,” Stokes said. “I put a lot of hours into rehab into trying to get back out there with the guys. Don’t want to rush it ... but today, playing tonight, — DHing, I think that was the right decision by coach — it felt good to get back out there and get my feet wet.”
Play of the game: In the bottom of the seventh, the Gamecocks mounted a small two-out rally down 5-2 with consecutive walks to bring leadoff hitter TJ Hopkins, the potential tying run, to the plate. Hopkins responded with a sharp ground ball up the middle that hit the pitcher hard on the leg. The ball ricocheted to the third baseman, who threw Hopkins out at first to turn an RBI single or more into an inning-ending play.
Stat of the game: .706, Furman’s percentage on advancement opportunities, going 12-17. The Paladins took advantage of three errors and a controversial hit by pitch call to push runs across the board, while South Carolina drew seven walks but was 0-5 with runners in scoring position.
Baserunning bonanza: With two stolen base attempts against Furman, USC now has 14 total on yhe year and a 79 percent success rate in nine games. That’s far more aggressive and successful than last year, when it had just 59 attempts and a 61 percent success rate across 60 games.
Freshmen hurlers put together a mixed bag: Rookies Logan Chapman and Carmen Mlodzinski both showcased some quality pitching for South Carolina on Tuesday, but they struggled as their outings wore on. For Chapman, things went south in the fourth, when he hit two batters in a row and needed a double play to get out of the inning. For Mlodzinski, the seventh inning proved crucial, as he allowed a leadoff single and walk, as well as a wild pitch to put Furman with runners on first and third.
What: South Carolina vs. No. 14 Clemson (7-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 2, 2018
Where: Founders Park
Probable pitchers: South Carolina’s Adam Hill, Jr. RHP (1-1, 5.73 ERA) vs. Clemson’s Jacob Hennessy, So. LHP (1-0, 2.45 ERA)
Watch: Streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN app
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina