It was by no means pretty, but South Carolina baseball has its first win of the year after taking down Liberty, 13-7, at Founders Park on Saturday.
After a gut-wrenching loss in extra innings on Opening Day, the Gamecocks (1-1) seemed to hit the field re-energized and re-focused from the get-go. Freshman starting pitcher Dylan Harley breezed through a perfect first inning with two strikeouts, and he immediately received support from his offense in the form of a five-run bottom of the first.
After striking out five times Friday, sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell worked an opening walk. Freshman Brady Allen followed with a five-pitch walk of his own, starting a stretch of 12 consecutive balls from Liberty starter Mason Meyer that walked in a run.
Meyer finally retired a Gamecock by striking out senior third baseman Jacob Olson, but he then promptly gave up an RBI single to freshman DH Quinntin Perez and RBI walk to junior right fielder Andrew Eyster. After that, Liberty went to its bullpen, but sophomore first baseman Jordan Holladay and junior shortstop Nick Neville each got RBIs off a sac fly and single, respectively, to put Meyer’s final line at 1/3 of an inning with five runs, two hits, five walks and 34 pitches, only 10 for strikes.
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The Gamecocks added two more runs in the second after Allen led off with a walk and senior center fielder T.J. Hopkins tattooed a ball into the right-center field gap for a triple. Hopkins came around to score on a two-out ground ball single from Perez.
“We want to have length in our lineup. Today, I think we showed some pretty good at-bats,” coach Mark Kingston said. “(Neville) hit in the nine-hole today and was 2-for-3 with two walks. That’s evidence that we might have some length.”
Those two runs saved USC’s lead — Harley imploded in the top of the third inning. With two outs and a man on first, he surrendered a single, than four consecutive walks with a balk thrown in, then another single to give up five runs. He was pulled with two outs still on the board. Between the two teams, the first 12 runs were scored with just six hits.
“Obviously that’s something we need to figure out,” Kingston said of Harley’s struggles. “We’ll look at the tape and if there anything different mechanically, I don’t know if it was because he had to wait so long between innings ... he’s a young guy. We just need to figure that out.”
Sophomore T.J. Shook, who replaced Harley, got out of the inning with no more damage, but with two outs in the fourth inning, he gave up back-to-back doubles to make it a one-run game.
Twice after that, Carolina got breathing room in the form of two-run home runs from Olson, who jacked two moonshots over the left field fence.
“Honestly, I didn’t do nothing different,” Olson said. “I just was trying to find a good pitch and got two good ones, and the results were results.”
In between those two long balls, Liberty nabbed an unearned run with two singles, a muffed double play and a wild pitch. Beyond that, though, Shook pitched well, winding up with the win after throwing 2 1/3 innings and striking out five.
“Coming out with people on base, it’s hard to get out of those innings,” Shook said of replacing Harley. “So my job was just to get in there, throw strikes and do the best I can to help the inning end.”
The rest of the bullpen was solid too, despite being almost entirely composed of newcomers — redshirt freshman Cam Tringali threw 2 1/3 scoreless, freshman Daniel Lloyd worked his way out of a jam in the eighth inning, and freshman Brett Kerry closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning.
“They all came in with really good stuff, some power stuff, and for the most part they threw strikes as well. That’s what we gotta have,” Kingston said.
Senior catcher Luke Berryhill added an insurance run in the eighth with a solo homer.
Star of the game: Since the beginning of 2018, Jacob Olson has had 59 hits for the Gamecocks. Sixty-four percent of them have gone for extra bases, including all four so far in 2019. He had a team-high four RBIs Saturday and scored three runs. with a walk.
“He’s a strong kid. When he hits it, it stays hit,” Kingston said. “He had a great night tonight. We need our older guys to carry us for a while until the new players get used to this level. Him and T.J. (Hopkins) both had great nights tonight, and I think that’s a big reason why we score 13 runs.”
South Carolina and Liberty are set to finish off their series Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Founders Park. The game will be streamed online on SEC Network Plus. The weather forecast does call for intermittent rain throughout the day though.