South Carolina’s season-long offensive inconsistency and recent history of struggles in the SEC Tournament crossed paths Tuesday. The result was a 5-1 loss to Missouri that likely snuffed any flickering hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the 16th straight season.
An inability to get hits in clutch situations plagued the Gamecocks (32-25) most of the season, and it continued in an elimination game at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
“We haven’t been a very consistent team offensively all year long,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “This game was somewhat indicative of how our season has gone from an offensive standpoint.
“We’ll show flashes, but the inconsistent part of what we’ve been able to do offensively often reared its head at the wrong times, and that was the case again today.”
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The eighth inning captured USC’s season in microcosm.
Trailing 3-1, leadoff batter Clark Scolamiero singled, and Gene Cone doubled to put the potential tying run in scoring position with 2-3-4 hitters D.C. Arendas, Kyle Martin and Elliott Caldwell due up.
“Second and third with nobody out, we’ve got to push a run across and make things interesting; if not two and tie the game,” Holbrook said.
Missouri, also trying to bolster its NCAA chances, pulled starter Reggie McClain (7-7) for closer Breckin Williams, who fell behind Arendas 2-0, then struck him out. Martin struck out on a checked-swing foul tip, and Caldwell flied out to left to end the threat.
“We had the part of our lineup that we would want up with the game on the line,” Holbrook said. “I felt for certain we would get one, if not two there, and tie the game and try to win it late. But the Williams kid was better than our hitters in the eighth inning. He kind of overpowered us.”
Williams said getting past Martin was a big step.
“I’m really trying to go in (on Martin’s hands) or if I go away, either soft away or something he can’t put the barrel on,” Williams said. “In that situation, he’s just trying to hit something hard somewhere to get that run in. With a two-run lead, I had a little bit of leniency. As long as I got him out, I’d feel pretty good. I was lucky enough to get him on a foul-tip in the glove on a not-so-good pitch.”
Missouri (30-26) tacked on two runs in the eighth inning, and Williams retired the Gamecocks in order in the ninth.
Holbrook expressed disappointment at the likely end of the NCAA streak, but he said the next task is to begin another streak in 2016.
“In this league, when you play the competition we’ve played against, you face a lot of things and a lot of things didn’t go our way,” he said, “This league can eat you up. And, it did.
“I’m disappointed,” Holbrook said. “I’m the head coach, and I’m responsible for that, but this program has been good for a long, long time. I’m not going to let – and I know these players are not going to let – one difficult year define them, define me or define us as a program.”
“That’s going to be our attitude as we move forward,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been a struggle, but this isn’t who we are and this isn’t who we’re going to be. We’re going to move forward the right way. South Carolina will be back.”
USC starter Jack Wynkoop (8-5) allowed nine hits, leaving after giving up a leadoff single to open the eighth.
“I thought he gave us a great opportunity to win,” Holbrook said of his junior left-hander. “Throwing on short rest, he pitched his tail off. We just didn’t do enough for him offensively.”
“I thought I struggled to get off hitters a little bit and struggled mixing my pitches,” Wynkoop said. “I battled with the stuff I had to try to go out there and give us a chance, but it just didn’t go our way.”
Even when Wynkoop got ahead, things sometimes didn’t go his way. He hit Brett Bond on an 0-2 pitch to begin Missouri’s two-run second inning. Zach Lavy singled on an 0-2 pitch in the fourth to drive in the Tigers’ third run.
South Carolina, which lost its sixth consecutive SEC Tournament game, was held to six hits, and its only run was unearned. Cone had three hits from the leadoff spot.
Matt Williams started at second base in place of Max Schrock, who was dealing with a right wrist injury.
“Max just can’t swing,” Holbrook said. “His wrist hurts so bad. He gave us everything he could down the stretch. It’s just too painful for him to swing the bat effectively.”
USC, which went 15-22 after a 17-3 start, finished with the school’s worst record since 1996, June Raines’ final year as coach.