Mark Kingston recaps South Carolina baseball’s series-opening win over Kentucky
Bad luck, untimely hitting and inconsistent pitching have plagued South Carolina baseball all throughout SEC play.
But Friday night, the Gamecocks overcame all that, at least for nine innings, as they won their first series opener of the conference season, topping Kentucky 5-4 at Founders Park.
It’s not as though things were easy for USC (25-24, 6-19 SEC) — coach Mark Kingston’s club had to twice come from behind before securing the final margin, stranded nine runners and had to stave off plenty of threats from the Wildcats — but the victory snaps a seven-game slide and ties Carolina and UK in the league standings.
“I’m just more happy for those kids down there,” Kingston said. “Truthfully, they’ve worked hard, they’ve done what we asked. I’m just glad they could actually have a happy locker room tonight. Because they’ve had a lot of disappointment.”
The Gamecocks captured the victory in large part thanks to their freshmen — rookie hurlers Cam Tringali, Dylan Harley and Brett Kerry combined to pitch the entire game, first-year outfielder Brady Allen scored two runs and drove in another and second baseman Jonah Beamon contributed a nervy safety squeeze to tie the game and an outstanding defensive play in the ninth inning.
“You’re looking at freshman, freshman, freshman (pitching),” Kingston said. “That’s why we’re optimistic moving forward. On a Friday night, three freshmen won a game for us. It was a complete game. We played really good defense and had enough hits, only struck out four times.”
Tringali’s night was far from flawless — Kentucky leadoff man Ryan Johnson battled through a long at-bat in the first inning, and eventually connected on a double to the left field corner, then scored off consecutive flyouts.
The Gamecocks gave him back the lead off a solo home run from sophomore shortstop Noah Campbell in the third and an RBI triple from Allen in the fourth. A wild pitch then plated Allen to make the score 3-1.
Kentucky stormed back in the fifth, however, with help from Tringali. A pair of two-out walks and a wild pitch put runners on second and third, and senior left fielder Ryan Shinn laced a single through the left side of the infield, scoring both men. Confusion at the plate then allowed him to advance to second, and he scored on another single.
“There were a bunch of innings I threw way too many pitches,” Tringali said. “That was just because the command wasn’t where it needed to be tonight ... but it is what it is.”
Allen re-tied the game in the sixth, scoring from third when Beamon laid down a perfect safety squeeze bunt down the first base line.
“It was the perfect matchup. Your nine-hole hitter’s up there, (have runners on) first and third ... the first baseman has to hold so he can’t be too close in, you have your nine-hole guy up, you have decent speed at third base,” Kingston said. “It was the perfect time to run it and he executed it very well.”
The game-winning run didn’t come from a freshman, but it was a player Kingston said he and his staff have approached as a freshman in some ways this year — junior college transfer Andrew Eyster slugged a solo home run to left field in the seventh.
“(Kentucky’s pitcher) kinda had a vertical slider,” Eyster said. “I saw it in TJ (Hopkins’) at-bat before, he kinda hung it a couple of times, so I was kinda looking for that, especially after I swung at the first one in the dirt, I kinda figured I was getting another one and I saw one up and hit it hard.”
After that, Harley and Kerry made quick work of the Wildcats with three hitless innings, and the Gamecocks celebrated a cathartic win.
Next: South Carolina and Kentucky face off in the middle game of their series Saturday at 11 a.m.