South Carolina baseball nearly let a sterling performance from junior starter Reid Morgan go to waste Saturday, but back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth rallied the Gamecocks for a 3-2 walk-off win.
Sophomore catcher Luke Berryhill and senior third baseman Jacob Olson saw a combined three pitches in the ninth. The first pitch Berryhill saw, he launched into the right field bullpen.
“I just put it in my head that I wanted to be the hero in that moment. Heroes do what heroes do. You have to come up in the big time,” Berryhill said.
Olson then crushed a 1-0 offering to left field to secure the series win for Carolina (12-3).
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“After (Berryhill) hit that, I was just screaming. I just needed to calm myself down, breathe a little bit,” Olson said. “I was just trying to get on, I was the winning run, and I saw a pitch that was elevated ... and it just kinda happened.”
Their heroics saved Morgan from getting tagged with his first loss of the season, despite yet another sterling effort from the Gamecocks’ best pitcher of the season so far — he threw 8 2/3 innings while striking out 10 and allowing just eight baserunners.
“Just same thing he’s been doing all year,” coach Mark Kingston said of Morgan’s outing. “Featuring three pitches for strikes at the knees and getting ahead of hitters. Just keeps the ball off the barrel and gives you a chance to win.”
The reason Morgan was in line for the loss was Valparaiso starter Jon Tieman, who went eight innings, giving up six hits and no earned runs, baffling USC’s hitters.
“You have to top your cap to that kid, he kept us off-balance all game,” Kingston said of Tieman. “He didn’t walk us. We only struck out five times ... he just did a great job getting us to ground out, pop up all night.”
The two teams combined for one hit through three innings, with Morgan breezing through the Crusaders’ lineup in order and Tieman working around one triple from sophomore outfielder Andrew Eyster.
The Gamecocks finally cracked the scoreboard in the fourth, thanks to a pair of throwing errors, a single from Olson and an RBI double from Eyster.
Morgan’s only trouble of the game came in the sixth with one out, as he surrendered four consecutive hits, including an RBI double and RBI single, to give Valpo the 2-1 lead.
That’s where the score stayed until the ninth, when the Gamecocks produced their third walk-off win in 15 games this season. Morgan didn’t get credit for the win, but that hardly seemed to disappoint him.
“It was unbelievable. In a situation like that, that’s two guys that you want up to the plate at that moment right there,” Morgan said. “It’s awesome to see that, anytime you’re down and you throw a game like you did, and you got two guys to have your back.”
And of course, the Gamecocks’ proven ability to come back and win is something Kingston thinks will be valuable moving forward.
“It builds on itself. It builds on, ‘Don’t ever give up,’ and when you continually have situations that could go against you and you keep battling ... and it does goes your way, it just builds on itself,” Kingston said.
Sophomore John Gilreath and freshman Cam Tringali pitched in relief of freshman starter Wesley Sweatt, combining to allow one run over the final five frames. Senior first baseman Chris Cullen chipped in two RBIs.
Next: The Crusaders and Gamecocks finish off their series Sunday. First pitch has been moved from 1:30 p.m. to noon due to the threat of severe weather.
South Carolina baseball fell to Kentucky, 11-2, for its first back-to-back losses of the season. The Gamecocks have lost the series but will try to salvage the finale Sunday at 1 p.m.