The Gamecocks took a crucial SEC series against No. 25 Ole Miss over the weekend, walking it off on Sunday for the team's second SEC series win of the season.
South Carolina struggled on both sides of the ball in its 9-1 loss against No. 25 Ole Miss Rebels Thursday night.
The Rebels got on the board first, scoring a two-run home run to start off the second inning. To extend its lead, sophomore Reagan Burford hit a three-run home run in the top of the third forcing the Gamecocks to play catch-up.
“Tough day for us. Ole Miss played a lot better. It started on the mound. Their guy did a really nice job keeping us off balance,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “I thought that was the big difference in the game is, (Ole Miss’ Dylan) DeLucia just did a really good job keeping us off balance and we just had no answers for him today.”
Right-handed freshman Aidan Hunter struggled on the mound, allowing eight hits and seven runs in the three innings he pitched with only three strikeouts.
“Truthfully he's not ready for that, but I give him credit because he's giving it everything he has,” Kingston said. “Asking a guy like that to pitch on a Thursday night in the SEC is tough.”
Senior left-handed pitcher John Gilreath was hot on the mound for the Gamecocks after coming in to relieve Hunter. He pitched five innings total, allowing only two runs, two hits and five strikeouts. Despite his efforts, his arm wasn't enough for the Ole Miss bats.
The Gamecocks remained scoreless until late in the eighth-inning when fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster reached on a fielder’s choice sending junior infielder Braylen Wimmer home to score. Ultimately, South Carolina’s offense was no match for the defense of Ole Miss.
Led by junior Noah Hall on the mound, South Carolina came out strong under the Friday night lights, winning the ballgame 4-2 and tying the series at one game apiece.
Hall was able to assist the defense with a total of five strikeouts, no walks and giving up only two runs, both of which came from home runs by Ole Miss senior Tim Elko.
"Noah Hall for us was the story," Kingston said postgame. "He was tremendous all night ... outside of Elko, he did a really nice job against their lineup."
Hall developed into a bigger role for South Carolina throughout the season. After transferring from Appalachian State this season, he was meant to mainly be a reliever. Due to several other players getting injured this season, Hall has stepped up and exceeded expectations.
"I didn't really like envision a role," Hall said when asked about his recruitment process postgame. "Whatever (Kingston) thought was best for the team and whatever he thought would win games, that's what I was going to rock with."
From an offensive standpoint, senior Josiah Sightler took care of business at the plate with a three-run home run that scored fifth-year Brandt Belk and freshman Michael Braswell. Later on in the game, freshman Talmadge LeCroy scored off of a wild pitch to give the Gamecocks its final run.
"Honestly off the bat I thought it was a routine fly-out," Sightler said. "I kind of slammed the bat in frustration, but I was happy it got out."
Aside from the game itself, South Carolina players wore a No. 42 patch on the side of their hats in honor of the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball.
South Carolina walked it off on Saturday to take the series against No. 25 Ole Miss, 9-8. The win sealed the Gamecocks second SEC series win of the season.
"Our kids just refuse to lose," Kingston said postgame. "Great baseball game to win for us, we needed it bad and we got it."
It showed early, as sophomore Will Sanders mowed through the Rebels on the mound, pitching four and two-thirds innings of hitless ball. He struggled to close it out, but by the time he left the game, the Gamecocks still had the lead.
"Very good start. Again, every time he's out there, we have a chance to win," Kingston said. "We seem to score when he pitches as well. I think he just gives our team a confidence when he's out there."
That confidence showed with not only freshman Matthew Becker out of the pen, but with Wimmer and Sightler in the eighth inning. Becker got out of his second jam of the afternoon in the top half and the Wimmer and Sightler hit back-to-back jacks in the bottom half. The Gamecocks held a four-run lead heading into the ninth, but Ole Miss tied it up.
After a leadoff walk by LeCroy, the Gamecocks helped get him over to third base on a sac bunt and a wild pitch. Sophomore Jalen Vazquez ultimately came up to pinch hit for the Gamecocks and win it on the first pitch he sees with a sacrifice fly.
"I ain't gonna lie, whenever I first got up there, I had the jitters. I was shaking," Vazquez said postgame. "My whole approach, I knew first-pitch fastball was coming. I said 'team at-bat, get in the outfield' and we'll win the game."
The Gamecocks will travel to Rock Hill, S.C. to take on the Winthrop Eagles on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. on ESPN+.
Correction (April 18, 2022, at 4:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that South Carolina will play Winthrop on Tuesday, April 19. The correct date for the game is Wednesday, April 20.