The No. 16 South Carolina baseball team open conference play with a three-game weekend sweep on the road against the Georgia Bulldogs, extending its winning streak to a season-high 11 games.
Though a rain delay pushed the first game from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, the Gamecocks came out strong in the conference opener at Georgia, defeating the Bulldogs 5-4 with a late comeback.
In a fast-paced game, South Carolina continued to showcase its offensive strengths. Freshman outfielder Ethan Petry and sophomore catcher Cole Messina both hit home runs early in the game, setting the Gamecocks' tone for the weekend.
Coming into the weekend with 14 combined home runs this season, Petry and Messina continued to be offensive powerhouses for South Carolina as SEC play ramps up.
Despite the delay, junior pitcher Will Sanders remained the game one starter for the Gamecocks and threw a season-high seven innings, striking out six batters and allowing seven hits and four runs.
After losing the lead in the seventh inning, South Carolina hitters battled at the plate to climb back and score the game-winning run in the ninth inning.
“I’m really thrilled with how we just stayed in that game, stayed in that game and we took the lead and then gave it up and then we just kept playing," head coach Mark Kingston said. "It seems to be how we’ve done it this year, is we just keep playing and sooner or later the game comes back to us.”
Down 4-3 in the final inning, sophomore infielder Michael Braswell stepped into the box as a pinch hitter and hit a two-run double to secure a Gamecock victory.
“Man, it didn’t even feel real. After everything that’s happened this year with playing time, being in my home state,” Braswell said. “Getting the opportunity to beat the Dawgs — cause I hate the Dawgs — in this moment didn’t feel real. It was a surreal moment.”
After working in the offseason to improve his swing, Braswell, South Carolina's starting shortstop in 2022, has spent the first five weeks of the season coming off of the bench and is now starting to contribute to the Gamecocks' offense
“His swing has gotten better. We’re starting to see the swing that’s a line drive swing that allows him to have good, solid contact,” Kingston said. “We hadn’t seen that for a while. I'd say, the last two weeks, we’ve started to really see that.”
The momentum from South Carolina's late rally to end the first game carried into the second half of the Saturday doubleheader, as the Gamecocks took a 12-2 victory in seven innings to secure the team's first SEC series win of the season.
“I’m really proud of that effort (at the end of game one),” Kingston said. “And then obviously, we carried that on in game two.”
While each game of the Saturday doubleheader was scheduled for nine innings, a new SEC rule that allows conference games to conclude after seven innings when one team leads by at least 10 runs ended things early.
While Georgia was first to score with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, senior pitcher Noah Hall was locked in for the majority of the contest. He threw all seven innings for South Carolina, allowing no walks and only two runs while facing 28 Bulldog batters.
On offense, Petry added 5 RBIs from pair of home runs in the third and fifth innings.
“It’s really impressive to see a freshman in his first SEC series compete like that,” Kingston said.
Along with Petry’s performance, senior infielder Braylen Wimmer tallied two hits and three RBIs, and fifth-year infielder Will McGillis doubled in two Gamecock runs on his lone hit of the game in the fifth inning.
South Carolina's other two runs came when Wimmer and senior catcher Jonathan French scored off wild pitches from the Georgia pitching staff in the third and fourth innings, respectively.
Between Hall's strong performance on the mound and power from the Gamecock lineup, a late surge by the Bulldogs to add three hits and one run in the sixth inning was not enough to recover from the double-digit deficit.
South Carolina closed out the series in dominant fashion with a 12-1 win on Sunday to complete the weekend sweep, again winning by run rule.
"In this league, it is really hard to do," Kingston said. "We did everything well this weekend. We hit, we pitched, we played great defense ... we played a complete weekend."
The Gamecocks made an early statement with a lead-off solo home run from McGillis, who ignited a South Carolina scoring run two innings later with another solo home run.
That third inning proved to be the team's most productive frame of the afternoon, as the Gamecocks scored five runs on four walks and three hits, including RBI singles from freshman infielder/outfielder Will Tippett and junior outfielder Caleb Denny, to take a comfortable lead over the Bulldogs into the middle innings.
South Carolina steadily added to its lead throughout the game, including with a home run from junior first baseman Gavin Casas in the fourth inning and RBI singles from Messina, Petry and sophomore outfielder Carson Hornung in the sixth inning.
By the end of the sixth inning, all nine players in the Gamecocks' starting lineup had successfully reached base during the game, showcasing the team's offensive strength and depth.
South Carolina's victory, powered by their offense, was aided by another impressive pitching performance from junior pitcher Jack Mahoney, who gave up only one run and six hits from the 24 batters he faced.
"Anybody we pitch right now, we are confident when they are on the mound. That's the position we are in right now. It's our pitching staff — we have gut, we have talent," Kingston said. "They give us a chance to win every time they pitch."
Casas sealed the Gamecocks' win with a two-run home run in the seventh inning to put the team up 12-1 on the Bulldogs, taking the lead over the 10-run threshold. With two home runs in the game, Casas continues to lead the team in home runs with 12 on the season.
Redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks closed out the game with a clean inning in the seventh, and South Carolina left Athens with a perfect 3-0 SEC record and 20-1 mark overall.
South Carolina will travel to face UNC Charlotte at Truist Field on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.