Mark Kingston previews Gamecocks’ must-win season finale against Mississippi State
Gifted a pair of runs and riding a solid outing from the staff ace, South Carolina baseball looked like it might be able to make things interesting Friday night against No. 5 Mississippi State.
As the Gamecocks’ competition for the 12th and final SEC tournament spot were blown out by their respective opponents, Carolina had the chance to steal a win on the road and move ahead in the standings.
Instead, it all unraveled in rapid fashion late, and USC limped to an 11-2 loss to the Bulldogs.
“Sure,” Carolina coach Mark Kingston said when asked if his team had missed an opportunity. “It was a good game for seven innings, but you gotta have the depth to go nine innings in this league at a very high level and we just didn’t do that tonight. We’ll get one more chance tomorrow.”
South Carolina (27-27, 7-22 SEC), Alabama and Kentucky remain tied for 12th place in the conference — In the regular season’s final games Saturday, USC must win and Alabama must lose for the Gamecocks to make the league tourney. Kentucky’s result is irrelevant to Carolina’s hopes.
“It’s a must-win, like a (real) must-win, so we just gotta come out and play as hard as we can, and the chips fall where they fall. ... When it’s things like this, you just feel a little bit more focused,” senior TJ Hopkins said.
That must-win scenario arose when the Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead at Dudy-Noble Field with plenty of help from MSU freshman starter JT Ginn, then crumbled over the final few innings.
In the top of the third, Ginn tossed a pair of bases-loaded wild pitches to put South Carolina up 2-0. Meanwhile, Carolina junior starter Reid Morgan needed only 77 pitches to make it through six mostly clean innings.
His only trouble in the early going came in the fourth, as he gave up a pair of leadoff singles, then a run-scoring single and RBI groundout to tie the game.
Things really fell apart, however, in the seventh. Sophomore Josh Hatcher, who entered the series with no home runs on the season, hit his second in as many days to lead things off.
“They’re a team that lives off momentum. They get a ball in the air and the ball’s carrying to left and it’s over the fence, and they just build off of that, they got the fans behind them,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s defense then crumbled behind him — senior first baseman Chris Cullen committed a fielding error to let a runner reach first, and when that runner stole second, sophomore catcher Luke Berryhill’s errant throw allowed him to take third. Senior third baseman Jacob Olson then airmailed the throw to first for third error of the inning, letting another run score.
“There were a couple plays that could have been made, but you know what? It’s baseball. There’s failure in every aspect of the game,” Morgan said.
“Very frustrating,” Kingston said of his defense. “You do that and you’re gonna lose against a team this great. We need to be better than that.”
Mississippi State then got to Morgan for a single and double that each scored a run each. He was replaced in the eighth by freshman Josiah Sightler, who pitched in high school but has only played the field for USC, and Sightler quickly surrendered a two-run blast to Hatcher.
Sightler was eventually replaced, but Mississippi State still tacked on three more runs off a triple and double to put the game completely out of reach.
“Reid ran out of gas ... and then the guys that came behind him just couldn’t get it done,” Kingston said.
Next: South Carolina and Mississippi State square off in their final game of the regular season on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern.