The South Carolina baseball team carried offensive momentum throughout the weekend to the series finale, but it wasn't enough to get the job done as No. 4 Ole Miss won in the tenth inning, 6-5. Despite falling on Sunday, the Gamecocks got the wins on Friday and Saturday to take the series.
"I just told my team that when a top-five team comes into your park and is happy to win one game, must mean we're getting pretty good," head coach Mark Kingston said after the series finale.
The Rebels jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second for their first lead since the top of the first on Friday night. The Gamecocks responded in the third on a two-out, two-RBI single to right from Madison Stokes to tie the game up at two.
Both the Rebels and the Gamecocks would each score one in the fifth, via a Nick Fortes home run in the top half and Tolbert drawing a based loaded walk in the bottom half. The Gamecocks found some momentum again in the sixth, with both Hunter Taylor and Carlos Cortes blasting a solo shot out of Founders Park to take a 5-3 lead.
Ole Miss responded in the seventh and eighth innings, featuring the Rebels' fourth home run of the day in the top of the eighth. That would tie things at five and force extra innings. It would be the first time South Carolina has played in extras all season.
The Rebels got to work right away, hitting a single and double to put runners on the corners with no outs. A sac fly plated the go-ahead run and that was all the Rebels needed. The Gamecocks would load the bases in the bottom of the tenth but Stokes struck out to end the game and give Ole Miss its only win of the series.
"They got power arms," Kingston said of why the hitting struggled on Sunday. "They just did enough to keep us off balance. I think ... you get 13 hits against arms like that ... that shows the progress we've made, we just didn't get one more big hit. We left 13 guys on base today, that was clearly the difference."
The pitching continued to struggle this series, and Cody Morris had another rough outing against the Rebels. He lasted just 3.1 innings and gave up two earned runs on six hits and struck out five. Kingston said he needs Morris to last longer and get back to where he was earlier in the season.
"Cody needs to get ahead of hitters, there's no secret ... for a guy with his stuff, that needs to be much better. We're gonna keep throwing him out there and then he needs to keep getting better and giving us more than three innings like he did today."
The Gamecocks did have a lot of positives during the weekend series. They took the first two games to win their third straight SEC series for the first time since 2012. They also scored 29 runs over three games and recorded 42 hits. They held Ole Miss to just 17 runs on 35 hits, as the Rebels entered the series in 12th for the most runs in the country.
Four of the Gamecocks' five runs on Sunday came with two outs, which is something that Kingston wanted to see improved at the beginning of the season. Despite being disappointed that they couldn't get the sweep, Kingston said he can see the growth and fight in his team.
"We're getting a lot better, and that's what you ask out of your team ... Keep working hard, deal with the ups and downs of an SEC season 'cause there will be ups and downs in this league ... Tough loss today but what I've learned about my team is that they will fight 'til the very last out no matter what, and that's one of the best things you can say about a team and about a program."
South Carolina (28-19, 13-11 SEC) will now prepare for a familiar face on Wednesday. The Gamecocks take on the College of Charleston Cougars, led by former Gamecock head coach Chad Holbrook, at Spirit Communications Park. Despite coaching this team just last season, Taylor said it's just another game, and seeing Holbrook means nothing.