Another early lead for South Carolina baseball was erased by explosive innings from No. 4 Vanderbilt, as the Gamecocks dropped the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader at Founders Park, 9-3.
USC (24-22, 5-18 SEC) has now set a program record for most losses in a conference season and is guaranteed to finish the year with its worst winning percentage in league play since joining the SEC in 1992.
As it did Friday in a 22-11 loss, Carolina jumped ahead early, as senior third baseman Jacob Olson and sophomore left fielder Andrew Eyster led off the bottom of the second inning with back-to-back doubles to score one run. A sacrifice bunt by freshman right fielder Brady Allen and sacrifice fly by senior first baseman Chris Cullen plated Eyster to double the lead.
That advantage, however, was short-lived — Vandy loaded the bases with one out in the top of the third with a sharp line drive single, a walk and a bloop fly ball that fell inside the left field line.
Senior Ethan Paul then sent a grounder to first base, where Cullen, after making an outstanding grab to start a double play in the second, missed the ball for a fielding error. Two runs scored to tie the game, and the next batter, sophomore catcher Philip Clarke, chopped a grounder up the middle for an RBI infield single to put Vandy up, 3-2.
Just like Friday, the Gamecocks then got a home run to tie the game back up — this time, Eyster delivered in the bottom half of the fourth with an opposite-field solo home run to right field to knot things at 3.
Vanderbilt edged back ahead in the fifth, but not without controversy. After a leadoff single from sophomore shortstop Austin Martin, junior outfielder JJ Bleday worked a 3-2 count. Martin then took off for second and was thrown out by catcher Luke Berryhill for an apparent strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. The home plate umpire had called ball four, however, putting runners on first and second and infuriating USC coach Mark Kingston.
Those runners executed a double steal during the next at-bat as Berryhill couldn’t gather a swinging strike, and a sacrifice fly pushed a run across to put the Commodores back on top. Vandy then extended its lead in the sixth, first knocking starter Reid Morgan out of the game with a single and walk, and then getting a ground-rule double from Martin off freshman Brett Kerry to make the score 5-3.
The Commodores blew the game open in the seventh, loading the bases against closer Sawyer Bridges with a pair of walks and a single, then getting a two-out single to score a pair of runs and a triple to score two more.