The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks struggle late in 6-2 loss to Auburn

In desperate need of another victory against a quality opponent, South Carolina let one get away from itself as the Gamecocks lost 6-2 to Auburn despite a stellar performance by sophomore pitcher Taylor Widener.

Usually a relief pitcher, Widener made just his second start of the season and pitched five scoreless innings while striking out seven Auburn batters, but the Gamecocks’ bullpen couldn’t back up the Aiken, South Carolina native’s impressive outing.

Auburn managed to get just one hit off of Widener, but the Tigers scored all six of their runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings as South Carolina failed to hold on to a two-run lead which it held for much of the day.

South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook didn’t allow himself to get too comfortable, but even he was disappointed considered the fact that the Gamecocks were only nine outs away from clinching a series-win over an Auburn team that appears destined to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

“Two runs isn’t a huge lead obviously, but you’re ahead and you’re at home and you feel pretty good,” Holbrook said. “We started off the seventh inning with a walk and you can’t do that. You’re asking for trouble.”

Six different South Carolina relief pitchers combined to surrender six runs and six hits in only four innings of work as the Gamecocks lost their 13th SEC contest of the year.

Auburn pulled even with the Gamecocks in the seventh frame thanks to back-to-back RBI singles by junior shortstop Chris Nulph and junior left fielder Sam Gillikin.

The Tigers then tacked two more runs one inning later due to a sacrifice fly by sophomore first baseman Daniel Robert and a fielding error by South Carolina junior second baseman Max Schrock that resulted in Auburn sophomore center fielder Anfernee Grier scoring.

Adding insult to injury, Auburn added two more runs in the top of the ninth inning, essentially preventing any chance of a South Carolina comeback.

For much of the afternoon, things appeared to be going well for South Carolina. Widener kept Auburn in check through the first five innings and the Gamecocks were able to take an early lead off of Auburn senior pitcher Rocky McCord.

However, McCord settled in after a rough beginning and the South Carolina offense struggled at the plate after holding a 2-0 lead through the first three innings.

“Today, with all the off-speed pitches to us, we didn’t make an adjustment the whole day,” South Carolina senior left fielder Elliott Caldwell said.

South Carolina opened up the scoring early on in the afternoon as senior right fielder Connor Bright’s RBI groundout to third base put the Gamecocks ahead 1-0 in the second inning.

One inning later, South Carolina’s patience at the plate paid off for the Gamecocks as McCord walked in a run to give the home team a 2-0 advantage.

However, missed opportunities cost South Carolina. The Gamecocks batted 0-5 as a team with runners in scoring position and left seven runners stranded on base by day’s end.

In particular, South Carolina had the bases loaded with just one out in the third frame, but McCord was able to retire freshman designated hitter Alex Destino and junior third baseman DC Arendas with just two pitches. 

“Sometimes our scoring opportunities are few and far between,” Holbrook said. “When we have an opportunity, we have to maximize our chances and we didn’t.”

Despite the loss, Holbrook was impressed with the way Widener pitched. Holbrook didn’t decide on a starter until late Friday night and he felt as if Widener gave his team a great chance to win.

“Couldn’t ask more out of Taylor Widener,” Holbrook said. “Threw five innings there and punched out seven and gave us a great chance to win. If you told me he had done that before the game, I would have liked our chances.”

South Carolina will have one more chance on Sunday to earn a series win against an Auburn team that’s won 10 of its last 12 games.

“We know how important the game is tomorrow,” Caldwell said. “It’s the rubber game of the series and hopefully we’ll come out being a little bit more aggressive.”

Holbrook said he expects freshman pitcher Clarke Schmid to start for the Gamecocks on Sunday.