South Carolina’s hopes of winning its final SEC series of the season against top-ranked LSU are on hold for another day.
The hard-hitting Tigers evened the series at one game apiece as they roughed up USC pitchers for 15 hits in a 9-2 victory Friday night at Carolina Stadium.
The Gamecocks fell to 32-23 overall and 13-16 in the SEC, while LSU improved to 45-9 overall and 20-8. The teams play the series finale Saturday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
USC, which plays in the SEC tournament next week, needs a series victory to bolster its chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The coaches and players understand the high stakes.
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“We’re going to come out there with a ton of energy, especially because we know we have our own fate in our hands,” USC pitcher Clarke Schmidt said. “We can go out there, put it all on the line, and don’t hold anything back. We’ll treat it like a Super Regional game three. It’s a must-win game, and you’ve got to play your hearts out. We’re going to leave it all on the field.”
USC coach Chad Holbrook views a win in the Saturday game – which would give the Gamecocks 14 SEC wins and series victories over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU – as a prime opportunity for his team to make a statement to the NCAA selection committee. He seconded Schmidt’s Super Regional analogy.
“It’s going to have that type of a feel and that type of importance for our team,” Holbrook said. “It’s not as important for LSU, but it is important for us because of the situation we’re in. ... If you had asked me before the series started against No. 1 LSU that if you’d have a chance to win the series on Saturday, would you take it? You’re dadgum right I would.”
Things got intense in the fifth inning, when LSU scored three runs to push its lead to 5-1. The Tigers got a pair of big two-out hits off USC starter Clarke Schmidt (2-2) – an RBI double by Kade Scivicque and a two-run double by Andrew Stevenson.
USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers was ejected between innings for expressing displeasure with the strike zone, which caused an extended argument between Holbrook and home plate umpire Steve Dew. NCAA rules state that personnel tossed out of a game will be suspended for one game.
Schmidt allowed 10 hits and two walks while hitting two more batters, as the freshman gave up five runs, four of them earned. The Tigers put the game away in the seventh inning on Scivicque’s two-run double off USC reliever Vince Fiori as they upped the lead to 7-1.
“It’s a real tough lineup. They’re good at putting the ball in play,” Schmidt said. “They don’t strike out at all, basically. They’re good at swinging at good pitches, and they don’t really chase a lot, too. They make you throw it in the zone, which is one of the best things a hitter can do. And they sit on the right pitch.”
LSU freshman right-hander Andrew Bain (2-2) picked up the win with a strong outing. He allowed just two runs on four hits over 6 1/3 innings and struck out seven. Over a stretch from the second inning through the sixth, he retired 13 straight Gamecocks.
“I felt like that might have been my best outing of the year. Today was a game where everything felt like it clicked,” Bain said. “We played an outstanding game, defensively and offensively. We put up runs when we needed, and every time they scored, we answered.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri was pleased with how his team responded to Thursday’s loss, when the Tigers blew a four-run lead.
“In this environment, for Bain to show that kind of composure and poise and pound the strike zone like he did, is very encouraging,” said Mainieri, who told his players they should bounce back like the Gamecocks did last weekend against Texas A&M.
“They really responded to that, led by Bain, of course. We had a lot of clutch hits and ran the bases extremely well. We did a lot of great things tonight,” Mainieri added.
The Gamecocks jumped out on top in the first inning on Max Schrock’s solo home run, something he also did Thursday night. Schrock has heated up recently despite having to overcome a recent Achilles tendon injury as well as a wrist sprain. He has raised his average to .330 to go with six home runs and 34 RBIs.
The Tigers tied the game at 1-1 in the second inning on Mark Laird’s two-out RBI single against Schmidt. They took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning when Schrock threw a ball away trying to turn a double play, which allowed Stevenson, who led off the inning with a single, to score.
Holbrook knows his team must replicate the first game instead of the second one come Saturday.
“We swung the bats better last night and were able to win the game. Tonight they put 15 more hits on the board and got some big hits when people were on,” he said.