South Carolina baseball: Mark Kingston recaps Gamecocks win over UNC in Charlotte
South Carolina baseball has fully shaken off its BB&T Ballpark blues, as the Gamecocks defeated North Carolina, 5-2, for the team’s second win in Charlotte this season.
USC (22-15) beat NC State earlier this season for its first ever win in the minor league park, but UNC had previously owned Carolina in the venue, outscoring them 46-8 in three previous meetings, all Tar Heel wins.
“I don’t think anything’s gonna feel better than ... beating Clemson, but yeah, it did feel good,” senior center fielder TJ Hopkins said of finally getting one against North Carolina. “I was telling (my teammates) on the way, it felt pretty good.”
The Gamecocks jumped out ahead and never trailed in the midweek contest, as the bullpen combined for two hits and two walks across seven innings.
“It’s hard to say if it’s our best (performance of the season) ... but in terms of our pitching, our young pitching really stepping up, our defense was flawless tonight, and we hit for power but we also manufactured some stuff on the bases too, so it was definitely a complete win,” coach Mark Kingston said of his club’s effort.
Carolina seized the lead in the second inning with a small two-out rally — senior first baseman Chris Cullen walked and then scored when freshman left fielder Brady Allen doubled off the center field wall. The lead doubled in the third, as junior shortstop George Callil was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a passed ball. A sharp single to center field from Hopkins plated him.
Sophomore DH Andrew Eyster led off the fourth with a no-doubt solo home run to left field, and Cullen followed with a double down the left field line. He then tagged up on consecutive flyouts to push the lead to 4-0, with junior third baseman Quinntin Perez picking up the RBI.
Freshman reliever Dylan Harley, replacing starter Daniel Lloyd, motored through three perfect innings, striking out five, before running into a spot of trouble in the sixth. After walking a batter with one out, Harley surrendered a monster home run from Michael Busch to right field. Still, he left extremely pleased with his performance.
“Every other performance before this was 50-50 — you could take it either way,” Harley said of his season. “But tonight, besides the one mistake I made, I attacked the zone and did my job.”
And the Carolina offense bounced right back to support Harley and the pitching staff, as Hopkins launched a slider over the left-field fence for a solo home run in the seventh inning.
“Baseball at this level can become very momentum-based, and when you get up 4-0 and the other team hits a big two-run homer, it can start to feel a little bit like, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,’” Kingston said of the significance of the home run. “And TJ getting that run back on the board for us was very, very important.”
Sophomore John Gilreath came on in the bottom half of the frame and wound up throwing two perfect innings before giving up a one-out single in the ninth. He made way for freshman Brett Kerry, who came in and recorded two quick outs to secure a save for himself and a much-needed win for the team after a heartbreaking walk-off loss at Florida this past weekend and ahead of a tough series with Texas A&M starting Thursday.
“This team doesn’t have any quit in it, and that’s gonna pay its dues as this season goes along,” Hopkins said.
Next: South Carolina returns home to host Texas A&M for an SEC series, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. at Founders Park.