With its season on the line Saturday, South Carolina baseball jumped ahead and then, as coach Mark Kingston admitted, held on “for dear life” to beat Mississippi State 10-8, claiming the 12th and final spot in the SEC tournament in the process.
The Gamecocks (28-27, 8-22 SEC) began the day in a three-way tie for 12th place, needing a win and an Alabama loss to make the postseason. The Crimson Tide then fell 9-1 to Georgia, and USC got arguably its best win of the year to extend its season by at least one more game.
“We didn’t want our season to end,” Kingston said. “This team plays hard. They could have just come out here and mailed it in, but offense was great, (starter) Brett Kerry was great, defense played really well ... (reliever) Parker Coyne came in there at the end and was outstanding.”
Carolina is now set to face No. 5 seed LSU in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday night, in the single-elimination first round of the conference tourney.
The certainty of Saturday’s win came right down to the wire, USC sophomore left fielder Andrew Eyster admitted — despite leading by 8-1 at one point, South Carolina had witnessed MSU’s potent offense all series and knew things could change quickly.
And sure enough, the Bulldogs made a late charge, scoring seven runs over the final three innings and getting the tying run to the plate in the ninth. Coyne allowed two inherited runners to score and gave up one run late, but he came away with the save after going 1 2/3 innings.
“It feels great to have coaches that have the confidence in me to get those outs, but I knew they could hit, so I knew I had to battle my butt off to get those outs,” Coyne said. “And I ended up doing that. I knew no matter how many people got on base, I had to get those three outs.”
Mississippi State’s late rally coincided with the departure of Kerry, who put together a gutty performance in just his second start of the year, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up just two runs, four hits and three walks while striking out four.
“I just knew that we just got to go out and just play. For the seniors, I wanted it so bad for them because I don’t want it to be over for them and neither for us. I just want us to keep playing,” Kerry said of taking the mound with the season on his shoulders.
His only real mistake of the day came in the fourth, when he left an offering up to sophomore cleanup hitter Justin Foscue, who lofted it down the left field line for a solo home run.
That homer tied the game after Eyster also went deep in the first inning, but South Carolina’s offense quickly put Kerry back ahead. In the top of the fifth inning, freshman right fielder Brady Allen tripled into the left field corner and scored on an RBI single from junior shortstop George Callil
Callil eventually scored on another RBI single from senior center fielder TJ Hopkins. Eyster singled as well, and sophomore catcher Luke Berryhill lined another run-scoring single to right.
The Gamecocks pushed their lead even further in the top of the seventh after Mississippi State chose to intentionally walk Eyster and put runners on first and second for Berryhill. He made the Bulldogs pay with a no-doubt, three-run blast to left field to put Carolina up 7-1.
“I was so incredibly happy,” Berryhill said of emotions when Eyster was intentionally walked. “I knew they were going to have to come to me. If they were putting somebody on, that means that they wanted to pitch to me, because they didn’t think I could do it. But I had all the confidence in the world. I know how good a hitter I am.”
Carolina added another run off back-to-back doubles that MSU sophomore right fielder Josh Hatcher lost in the sun, and Eyster connected for his second home run of the day in the eighth with a two-run shot to deep center.
Eyster’s homer proved to be the difference as Mississippi State, seeking an SEC West division crown, came to life at the plate late. In front of a rowdy crowd of more than 10,000 fans, though, USC held on and got what Kingston described as a “very important” win for the program.
“Number one I wanted our seniors to get another taste of (the SEC tournament). I didn’t want them going out like that. And I wanted our new players who are part of the future to get a taste of it as well because next year we plan on going (to Hoover) as a much higher seed,” Kingston said.