The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks struggle in Super Regional loss to Tar Heels

Tanner English races the ball to first base after a bunt.
Tanner English races the ball to first base after a bunt.

Jordan Montgomery to pitch in elimination game Sunday

North Carolina may be the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tar Heels were not South Carolina’s toughest opponent on Saturday afternoon.

Instead, USC proved to be its own worst enemy.

The Gamecocks were unable to come up with timely hits and were sloppy defensively in a 6-5 loss to North Carolina in game one of the Super Regional series in Chapel Hill, N.C. USC stranded 12 runners, went 3-for-17 with men in scoring position and committed three errors to force a win-or-go home game tomorrow.

The loss marked South Carolina’s first defeat in the Super Regionals since falling to the Tar Heels in 2007. Before the loss on Saturday afternoon, USC had won its last six Super Regional games.

The Gamecocks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but North Carolina responded and tied the game after a dropped line drive by left fielder Graham Saiko with two outs allowed the Tar Heels to knot the score at 2-2. Saiko made up for his mistake in the next frame, lacing an RBI single to gave USC a 3-2 lead after two innings.

Joey Pankake’s solo home run in the fourth, his 11th of the season, gave the Gamecocks a 4-2 advantage. UNC cut the lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the inning on a two-out throwing error from right fielder Connor Bright.

A two-run sixth gave the Tar Heels the lead, 5-4. It was the first time in the 2013 NCAA Tournament that the Gamecocks had trailed. USC responded in the eighth, as Chase Vergason’s RBI double tied the score at 5-5.

The score stayed tied until the bottom of the ninth, when UNC’s Skye Bolt slapped a single through the infield to bring home the winning run for the Tar Heels.

Despite the loss, USC head coach Chad Holbrook knows his squad had plenty of chances to win the game.

“You have to capitalize on your opportunities against this team,” Holbrook said. “We had our opportunities. Sometimes you won’t have opportunities against [UNC], but today we had them and we didn’t capitalize.”

USC starting pitcher Nolan Belcher lasted five innings against the Tar Heels before giving way to the Gamecock bullpen. The senior surrendered eight hits and allowed five runs, three of earned. South Carolina’s defense did little to help Belcher, committing two errors behind him that led to two runs for UNC. However, Belcher refused to use his team’s defensive performance as an excuse.

“I have to go deeper in the game,” Belcher said. “It’s my job to pitch through errors and I didn’t do that.”

The Gamecocks will send sophomore Jordan Montgomery to the mound tomorrow afternoon to try and keep their season alive. Holbrook says that Montgomery is the perfect pitcher for tomorrow’s situation.

“It’s going to be no easy task for him, but he’s an unflappable kid,” Holbrook said. “He’s going to have to pitch very well against these guys. Hopefully, we can get to the seventh or eighth inning and have a chance to win tomorrow, like we did today.”

Despite facing elimination for the first time all postseason, the Gamecocks seemed certain that they would be up for the challenge.

“We’ve got the right guys in the clubhouse to bounce back from this,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “We just have to have the right mindset going into tomorrow.


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