The Gamecocks didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but they got all the offense they needed in the first three innings Saturday evening to hold off Princeton for a 6-4 win, clinching USC’s first series sweep of 2018.
After four consecutive games of at least seven runs and nine hits, including a 7-3 win in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, South Carolina (11-5) got off to a quick start, scoring three in the first off a home run from junior second baseman LT Tolbert, then adding one apiece in the second and third with an RBI single from senior shortstop Madison Stokes and a home run from sophomore outfielder Carlos Cortes.
“We’ve got a lot of good hitters. And when you see guys like Carlos Cortes down in the seventh or eighth (spot), that just shows you how deep our lineup is,” Tolbert said.
“It’s no secret that LT and Madison have been swinging the bat really well,” junior outfielder TJ Hopkins added.
Hopkins himself collected three walks in Game 2 to contribute to a season-high 11 free passes for USC, adding to his 3-4 performance in Game 1.
“If you’re seeing the ball well, and you’ve got a lot of confidence going up to the plate, you’re going to hit the ball better, you’re going to see the ball better, you’re just going to do everything better, and that’s what I’m doing right now,” Hopkins said of his weekend.
After those first three innings, the Gamecocks had just two hits, but the Tigers (0-7) couldn’t salvage a win.
“It’s really hard to sweep a doubleheader,” USC coach Mark Kingston said. “(Princeton), I don’t think their record is reflective of the quality of team they are.”
Kingston had spent all week playing coy about who he would pick to start Game 3 of the series, suggesting he might have a “trick up our sleeve,” but his eventual choice, junior Eddy Demurias, was a preseason contender for the rotation before being named the team’s closer.
In his first start of the year, Demurias threw quality pitches and didn’t walk any Tigers, but he did seem to tire in the later portion of his outing, giving up several hard-hit balls that culminated in back-to-back home runs to open the sixth inning, which ended his outing.
“I thought I had a pretty good start. Threw a lot of strikes. ... Just credit the Princeton hitters for the couple mistakes I made, just putting good swings on the ball,” Demurias said. “I thought it was an overall good job though.”
Kingston said afterward that while he was pleased that Demurias didn’t walk anyone, he wanted to see more than the four strikeouts the right-hander put up. He also said the coaching staff would have to evaluate further before deciding when and if Demurias would start again.
After his departure, the USC bullpen kept the scoreboard clean, pitching four scoreless innings. Redshirt freshman TJ Shook threw three frames, extending his scoreless streak to 11 2/3 innings, before freshman Carmen Mlodzinski completed the game with a save, the first of his career.
With Demurias now in contention to start games, Kingston said he will go with a “closer by committee” moving forward. But regardless of who is pitching, he said, he likes how his relievers have performed.
“I’ve been comfortable with our bullpen all year. You look at the stats, our guys have far exceeded what we, maybe, thought they would be through the fall and the early spring,” Kingston said.
Star of the game: Tolbert, whose long home run in the first inning sparked the offense in the early going. He added two walks and an HBP to reach base four times in the contest.
“He’s a guy that gives you quality at-bats, and sometimes you just need that middle of your order to just be consistent quality at-bats. ... He’s a quality RBI guy because he gives you a professional at-bat,” Kingston said.
Play of the game: Cortes’s long blast in the third inning was clearly important to him, given how much he’s struggled this season after a standout freshman year, and it also turned out to be the game-winning score for the Gamecocks.
Stat of the game: Jonah Bride had a rough game at the plate, going 0-4 to snap his six-game hit streak. But what made it really hurt was the fact that he left seven men on base.
Who: South Carolina (11-5) vs. Harvard (6-6)
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Founders Park
Probable Pitchers: South Carolina’s Logan Chapman, Fr. RHP (1-0 2.92 ERA) vs. Harvard’s TBA
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN app
Listen: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina