A trying season for South Carolina baseball took another bleak turn Wednesday, as the Gamecocks fell 7-4 to Furman at Founders Park.
The loss is USC’s seventh in a row, a season worst, and puts the team’s record at 24-24, the first time it has been at .500 since the first weekend of the season. It was also Carolina’s lowest-rated loss of the season by opponent RPI.
The difference for Furman (21-27) was a three-run ninth inning against the Gamecocks’ depleted pitching staff so stretched for arms that coach Mark Kingston was considering putting position players on the mound.
“We had two outfielders available to pitch today as needed — (freshmen Josiah) Sightler and Brady Allen were ready to pitch tonight and we almost got to that point where we were going to have to do that,” Kingston said.
Neither wound up pitching. Instead, freshman reliever Dylan Harley crumbled in the final frame, giving up a leadoff single and then hitting the next batter as he set up to bunt. The next Paladin laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, and after an intentional walk to load the bases, Harley was pulled in favor of senior Gage Hinson.
“(Harley) threw a very easy slider to hit there with two strikes, guy stuck his bat there, started a rally, walked the next guy, and we had to get him out of there. Simple as that,” Kingston said.
Junior Trent Alley then rapped a single back up the middle off Hinson to score two runs. Junior Logan Taplett followed with another single to pad the lead.
“They allowed us a chance to turn a double play to get out of the bases loaded (situation so we) bring in a sinker ball, submarine guy (Hinson) to do that. He got us a ground ball, it just happened to be up the middle. Very unlucky on our part, good execution on theirs,” Kingston said.
The Gamecock offense, meanwhile, struggled to put up any big innings. In its final at-bats of the night, USC stranded runners on first and second with no outs, part of a 1-for-14 performance with runners on base.
USC’s first two runs of the night both came off RBI groundouts — sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell doubled and scored in the first inning off a grounder from sophomore left fielder Andrew Eyster, and junior Nick Neville tripled in the third as two Furman outfielders collided and scored off a ground ball from Campbell.
In between those runs, Furman got a two-run home run from senior outfielder Jabari Richards, who launched a two-out, 3-2 offering from freshman Wesley Sweatt into the right field bullpen.
With the score 2-2, Furman edged back ahead in the fifth with two infield singles a walk and a sacrifice fly to plate one run and a wild pitch to score another.
USC senior center fielder TJ Hopkins halved the Paladins’ lead in the bottom of the sixth with a monster solo home run to left field, then scored the tying run in the eighth after doubling and racing home on an RBI single from Eyster. That set the stage for the ninth-inning collapse.
Next: South Carolina hosts Kentucky in its final home weekend series of the year at Founders Park. The Gamecocks and Wildcats start Friday at 7 p.m.