Mark Kingston recaps South Carolina baseball’s sweep at the hands of Vandy
South Carolina baseball did avoid another blowout loss to No. 4 Vanderbilt in Sunday’s doubleheader.
But not much else went right at Founders Park for the Gamecocks, who dropped both games, the latter by a score of 6-2, for their eighth consecutive SEC series loss and third overall sweep on the season.
With a 9-3 loss in the first game of the day, USC (24-23, 5-19 SEC) ensured the program’s lowest win total and lowest winning percentage in league play since joining the conference in 1992. The second defeat handed coach Mark Kingston’s club its sixth consecutive loss and seventh in a row in SEC play. Neither game, though, came close to the 22-11 drubbing Vandy handed USC on Friday night.
“Our guys did the best they could. They scrapped. We didn’t strike out a great amount, but their pitchers are really good. They’re an Omaha-type team and right now we are not,” Kingston said of his team’s effort. “Those games were not blowouts today. Those were close games for the great majority of the day.”
Vanderbilt took an early lead in the second game off a two-run home run from sophomore center fielder Pat DeMarco in the second inning that was reviewed but determined to have bounced off the railing of the fence above the yellow line in the left field bleachers.
USC sophomore starter Cam Tringali bounced back to record two outs but then imploded, walking two batters and hitting another to load the bases. He was replaced by freshman Brett Kerry, who gave up a two-run line drive single to right field to senior third baseman Ethan Paul.
After that single, Kerry was nearly perfect over the next 4 1/3 innings, walking just one batter and retiring every other Vandy hitter, highlighted a three-pitch fifth.
Meanwhile, in the span of three batters in the bottom of the fifth, South Carolina broke up Vandy senior Patrick Raby’s perfect game, no-hitter and shutout — sophomore catcher Luke Berryhill first reached on a throwing error, senior third baseman Jacob Olson singled to left field and Andrew Eyster connected on an RBI single to center field. Freshman Wes Clarke later added the first RBI of his career with a single to put the Gamecocks within two runs.
In the sixth inning, the Gamecocks threatened as Olson and Eyster each collected two-out singles and senior first baseman Cullen drove a fly ball to the right field wall. It was caught right up against the fence, however, to end the frame.
“We had a chance with Chris Cullen, if that ball goes a little bit more, that ball’s out of the park, we take a 5-4 lead going into the top of the last inning,” Kingston said. “But that seems to be how it’s going for us right now — it gets caught at the wall instead of leaving the ballpark So it’s disappointing.”
Making matters worse, Kerry finally ran out of steam in the top of the seventh and Vanderbilt added crucial insurance runs off back-to-back solo home runs from junior outfielder JJ Bleday and Paul to clinch the sweep, the third South Carolina has suffered this year and second at home.
“It’s the best lineup we’ve faced this year, without question,” Kingston said of Vanderbilt’s offense. “They came in hitting .320. Their on-base, their slugging, their experience, they have a first-round pick hitting at the top (Bleday), they got one of the best players in the country leading off (Austin Martin), it’s just a great team, offensively especially.”
The Gamecocks dropped the first game of the doubleheader Sunday after taking an early lead off RBIs from Eyster and Cullen. A costly error by Cullen allowed Vanderbilt to rally, and the Commodores outscored the Gamecocks 9-1 over the final five innings. USC’s only run in that span came off a solo home run from Eyster.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself, to have a bad attitude and have bad body language when you’re in our situation,” Eyster said. “But at the end of the day it’s not going to help anything, it’s not going to benefit anyone, so right now all we can do is go out and play our hardest.”