Staring directly at a repeat of the previous day, South Carolina made the defensive plays and threw the pitches down the stretch to capture the deciding game of a wild weekend in which 60 runs were scored at No. 3 Texas A&M.
The Aggies rallied on three occasion and scored three times in the ninth on Saturday to win 15-14. On Sunday, A&M had pulled back five runs and got the leadoff hitter on base in the ninth, but Ryne Birk was stranded at third when Brandon Murray got Nick Banks to foul out against the wall in left field to give the Gamecocks an 8-7 victory.
“I think it was just our turn, our turn to get a big pitch, make a big play and [shortstop Marcus] Mooney made a great play on that charge play [for the second out] that will go unnoticed in the box score and then Clark [Scolamiero] with the 27th out there,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “It was a big win for us considering what we’ve been through and how good that team is over there and in this environment. A special win.”
Ryne Birk led off the ninth with a single to right on a 3-2 pitch and was sacrificed to second by Mitchell Nau. Mooney erased cleanup hitter Logan Taylor and Murray got ahead of freshman All-American Nick Banks, 2-0, before he forced the foul out that no one believed was a sure thing until the Gamecock players started celebrating.
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“Brandon has the right makeup to pitch in some big situations and he competes,” Holbrook said. “Looking at the gun chart his best fastballs were his last seven and that tells you a little bit about how he smelled it and how he revved it up a notch when the game was really on the line. That’s a freshman and freshman behind the plate and a freshman made the last play so to do that in this environment is a special day for us.”
South Carolina moved to 30-22 overall and 12-15 in the SEC with four games remaining before the conference tournament, which the Gamecocks clinched a spot in with the win and a Mississippi State loss. Texas A&M dropped to 42-9 and 17-9.
Murray earned his second save for winner Josh Reagan (2-2). He threw 2 2/3 innings allowing a run, three hits and a walk, while striking out two.
“It was big spot. It had been a long weekend with all three of the games tight at the end,” Murray said. “I knew it was an important win to try and take the series. I tried to go out there and just put all the distractions aside and try and win each pitch. If you have that approach you are going to be more successful rather than trying to think ahead.”
Sunday’s game picked up right where Saturday’s 36-hit affair left off.
Gene Cone singled, was balked to second and moved to third on an error by shortstop Blake Allemand. Kyle Martin made the Aggies and Kyle Simonds pay with a no-doubt shot over the right-field fence for his third home run of the series.
“He’s come up big for us time and time again and that was a big sign of leadership what he did today, saying lets go, even with what happened yesterday,” Holbrook said. “He said lets play and he kind of put us on his back there in the first and we held on for dear life.”
Martin was 5 for 13 with seven RBIs and four runs for the series and left Blue Bell Park with 14 home runs on the season.
“We had to forget about [Saturday],” Martin said. “It was a dogfight. Both teams battled back and forth and they just happened to come upwith it and today it was another dogfight. I enjoy the ballpark and I went up there just trying to put good swings on the ball and I ended up getting a couple over the plate and getting a couple of out.”
The Gamecocks left a run out on the basepaths in the inning. After Martin’s homer, Alex Destino singled and DC Arendas doubled to the wall and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. The tag was applied a step before Destino crossed the plate.
South Carolina went up 7-2 in the fifth. Max Schrock led off with a double, Martin and Elliott Caldwell each followed with RBI singles.
Caldwell scored on a wild pitch and Mooney reached for the seventh straight time with a double down the line to score Taylor who had walked.
Logan Nottebrok had the big blow in the Aggies comeback, a three shot in the sixth. It was his sixth of the year and it was followed by Jonathan Moroney’s first homer of the season.
Caldwell drove in the winning run in the sixth with a sacrifice fly that plated Martin.
The bottom three in the order — Mooney, DC Arendas and Clark Scolamiero — combined for 14 hits in the series, with Mooney leading the way with seven.
“I hope that was a good sign this weekend because we haven’t played as good a baseball this year as we did here,” Holbrook said. “We could have easily have walked out of here with three wins, and for that reason the way we competed against that team I’m a proud coach.”
The Gamecocks host USC Upstate at 7 pm Tuesday before hosting No. 1 LSU in a season-finale series that starts Thursday night. The outcome of the series vs. the Tigers could ultimately determine whether or not USC makes this year’s NCAA tournament.