A medical timeout, two video reviews, several controversial calls and warnings to both dugouts put the umpires center stage Friday night as South Carolina baseball hosted Missouri to start its final home series of the season.
But in the end, the Gamecock offense struggled to produce with runners on base, and the Tigers pounced on USC's relievers to hand coach Mark Kingston's squad a 5-3 defeat, its third consecutive loss.
All game long, the fans at Founders Park made their displeasure with home plate umpire Michael Phillips' strike zone known, and Kingston himself appeared to add a few complaints from the dugout. Things reached a boiling point in the top of the fifth inning, with Mizzou (31-18, 10-15 SEC) leading USC (28-21, 13-12) 3-1.
Junior reliever Eddy Demurias started the inning by hitting Missouri's leadoff hitter, then issued a four-pitch walk. The final pitch of the at-bat, however, ignited controversy, as it appeared the first-base umpire had called Demurias for a balk, which would advance the runner to second but keep the count at 3-0.
Eventually, however, Phillips ruled the pitch a ball, putting runners on first and second, much to the chagrin of Carolina's dugout, which drew a warning. A sac bunt and an RBI single after that pushed both runners across the plate, making it 5-1 and ending Demurias' outing.
"The umpire said that he didn't stop and then the continuation of the play allowed them to call that a ball, which was ball four," Kingston said of the pivotal pitch.
Shortly thereafter, first base umpire Jason Bradley appeared to issue a warning to the Missouri dugout after an out. The umpires also took time to review two calls, upholding both, and Phillips needed a moment after getting hit by a foul tip, all in all drawing plenty of attention to the game's officials.
Before all that, USC led briefly after three scoreless innings to start the game, as senior third baseman Jonah Bride connected on a double to the left-center field gap in the bottom of the fourth, then raced home on a bloop single to left from junior shortstop LT Tolbert.
Missouri came storming back in the top of the fifth, however, leading off with a walk and single. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, the Gamecock coaching staff pulled Chapman, who was at 72 pitches, in favor of Demurias.
The move didn't work — on his very first pitch, Demurias gave up a single to center field that scored both runners. On his second, he allowed a single through the left side of the infield. After the next batter flied out, Demurias gave up a third single, this time to left field, scoring another run and making it 3-1.
"What our plan has been with these starting pitchers is once they get in that 70-plus range in the fifth inning, that's when we start looking at the bullpen, because that's how we've had our success," Kingston said. "Obviously in hindsight now, Eddy wasn't at his best today, so you look back and you go, 'Man, maybe that wasn't the right move.'"
South Carolina put some late pressure on Missouri, thanks to senior catcher Hunter Taylor's eighth home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth, a blast to left field that came with two outs, after Tolbert reached after being hit by a pitch, but nothing more came on offense.
"It always sucks to lose like that," Taylor said. "We had a great opportunity, got on them early, not with a lot of runs but with that one run, but they managed to comeback and we couldn't do enough at the end."
Star of the game: LT Tolbert, who went 2-3 with a run and RBI, reaching base a third time on a HBP.
Play of the game: In the bottom of the fifth inning, with USC trailing 3-1, senior first baseman Matt Williams led off with a walk and freshman left fielder Noah Campbell bunted his way aboard. Three strikeouts and a walk later, and the Gamecocks left the bases loaded.
"We got the bases loaded there with (senior second baseman Justin Row) and their guy made a great pitch and got out of it, we gave up the hit. So really that's the difference in the ballgame," Kingston said.
Stat of the game: 3-15 hitting with runners on base for South Carolina, a large part of why Carolina had as many hits as Missouri but failed to produce the necessary runs.
Short leash for starter: Logan Chapman seemed to be cruising through four innings, but pitching coach Skylar Meade wasted no time pulling him in the fifth after a leadoff walk and single. That strategy backfired, and USC starters have now gone fewer than five innings in seven of the last eight games.
Sparkplug banged up: The biggest injury news of the night occurred before play began, as junior center field TJ Hopkins remained sidelined with a back injury, leaving a noticeable gap atop Carolina's lineup. He will miss the rest of the weekend as well, Kingston confirmed.
"Obviously he's a big part of our offense but (Noah Campell) did a good job tonight, 2-5 at the top of the lineup. We got to figure out ways to win without TJ," Kingston said.
Who: South Carolina (28-21, 13-12 SEC) vs. Missouri (31-18, 10-15)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, May 12
Where: Founders Park, Columbia, South Carolina
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Listen: 107.5 FM
Probable pitchers:South Carolina — Jr. RHP Adam Hill (5-5, 4.58 ERA); Missouri — Jr. LHP Michael Plassmeyer (5-2, 2.79 ERA)