The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina baseball earns 2 walk-off wins, sweeps Missouri in first home SEC series

<p>Junior first baseman Gavin Casas catches the ball at first base, striking out the Mizzou opponent after he attempted to steal second base. The Gamecocks take home a 9-8 win in Founders Park on March 23, 2023.&nbsp;</p>
Junior first baseman Gavin Casas catches the ball at first base, striking out the Mizzou opponent after he attempted to steal second base. The Gamecocks take home a 9-8 win in Founders Park on March 23, 2023. 

The No. 11 South Carolina baseball team rebounded from a midweek loss to Charlotte by sweeping No. 22 Missouri in a three-game weekend series, including earning two wins in walk-off fashion.

The series was the Gamecocks' first at home since SEC play kicked off earlier this month, and South Carolina is now 6-0 in conference games. 

Game one 

The Gamecocks started the weekend with a dramatic 9-8 win against the Tigers Friday night.

The game's early innings were characterized by an offensive outburst by South Carolina that was balanced with struggles on the mound.

Junior pitcher Will Sanders had difficulty locating pitches in his brief outing, allowing five earned runs on two hits and a career-high six walks in his 3.1 innings. It was the shortest start of Sanders' season so far, and his earned run average has risen to 5.17.

"Six walks tonight for him in three innings is just so uncharacteristic of him, and we just gotta go to work," head coach Mark Kingston said. "He's just in a little bit of a lull right now, and so we've gotta figure out how we can help him get out of that because I promise you he'll work to get out of it." 

The two hits Sanders allowed were both home runs from Missouri fifth-year third baseman Luke Mann, who provided the Tigers with an offensive spark. Mann went 4-5, including three total home runs, and finished the game with six runs batted in.

“He’s a fifth-year guy, he’s a good left-handed hitter, he’s seen a lot of pitches over the years, he's taken a lot of at-bats,” Kingston said about Mann. “He got us good last year, too. We've got to figure something out with him because he’s been a Gamecock killer.”

The Gamecocks held an offensive advantage early on, scoring four runs in the second and one more in the third, though the Tigers caught up to tie the game at 5 runs each after four innings.  

Fifth-year infielder Will McGillis, who would later leave the game with an injury, hit a second-inning grand slam and finished the night 2-2. Freshman infielder Ethan Petry, this week's reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, hit his 10th home run of the season in the third inning to give South Carolina an extra offensive boost.

Missouri took the lead with three more runs between the sixth and eighth innings on another home run by Mann and an RBI groundout by junior catcher Dylan Leach.

Those extra runs would not be enough, however, as the Gamecocks scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to take the victory. With two runners on base and two outs in the inning, South Carolina strung together three singles, including the game winner by sophomore infielder Michael Braswell, who had subbed in for McGillis, that led to junior outfielder Caleb Denny scoring on a Tiger throwing error.

“When you can bring your second line in, so to speak, and they have a lot of experience, you have a better chance of them sparking your team, and that’s exactly what they did,” Kingston said. “When you get to give those guys an opportunity like that, you feel like you have a little bit better chance than if it's an inexperienced guy.”

Game two

The Gamecocks' largest victory of the weekend came in game two of the series. A powerful offense backed up by a lengthly outing from senior pitcher Noah Hall carried South Carolina over Missouri 8-1 on Saturday afternoon.

Hall earned his fifth win of the season, striking out 10 batters and allowing only one run, five hits and one walk.

"When (Hall) pitches, we generally win the game," Kingston said. "He was dominant again, and so just love when that kid is on the mound for us. The team loves playing behind him."

Continuing his hot streak, Petry started the scoring off for the Gamecocks in the bottom of the first with a two-run home run and finished the game 2-4 with two RBIs.

"It's almost like (Petry has) elevated his play in SEC play," Kingston said. "I don't know exactly what his stats are in the six games we have played, but I think they are pretty damn good. Again, great players get even better on bigger stages, and he seems to be that guy so far."

With McGillis now out four to six weeks, sophomore outfielder Evan Stone used the opportunity to break through after a rocky start to his season. In his first start in over a month, Stone launched his first career home run in the fourth inning to regain the lead for South Carolina.

Junior first baseman Gavin Casas followed suit one inning later, ripping another solo home run to deep center field.

South Carolina found momentum again in the seventh with an RBI single from sophomore catcher Talmadge LeCroy that scored Casas from second base. In the next frame, Stone added to his breakthrough performance with a two-run home run, his second of the game. Two batters later senior infielder Braylen Wimmer scored on a fielding error by the Tigers after a double by Casas, which put him just a triple short of the cycle.

"It was a great feeling," Stone said. "A lot of hard work, just working with (assistant head coach) Monte every day in the cages just to finally see the results out there." 

The redshirt sophomore pitching pair of Chris Veach and Cade Austin each pitched a scoreless inning to seal the win for the Gamecocks.

Game three

South Carolina completed the sweep with a come-from-behind 12-inning battle that ended with a 5-4 victory. 

After three scoreless innings from both teams, the Gamecocks opened the scoring with a two-run home run by sophomore outfielder Carson Hornung in the fourth inning. However, South Carolina struggled to generate offense after the fourth inning, striking out four times and leaving three men on base over the next three innings.

Missouri took advantage of the Gamecocks' inefficiencies by scoring four unanswered runs during the fifth and sixth innings to take a 4-2 lead. Two runs of those runs were surrendered by junior pitcher Jack Mahoney, who started the game on the mound and allowed three hits over 4.1 innings, and the other two were scored on sophomore pitcher Eli Jones, who pitched 1.1 innings in relief.

South Carolina's bats came back in the late innings. Petry, who went a combined 5-10 with two home runs and four RBIs in the series' previous two games, reinvigorated the offense with a two-run home run in the eighth inning. After failing to score in the ninth inning, the Gamecocks went into extra innings for the first time in 2023.

After freshman pitcher Eli Jerzembeck allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, South Carolina turned to sophomore pitcher Matthew Becker in relief. Becker's outing proved to be a difference-maker in the game, as he quieted the Missouri offense to only two hits and struck out five over the final three innings.

“(Becker is) the reason we won that game,” Kingston said. “If he doesn't stabilize that and get the big outs there, we don’t win that game.”

Petry, already a large part of the Gamecocks' offense for the weekend, capped off the series with a walk-off RBI single in the 12th inning to score freshman infielder Will Tippett. 

“It always feels good to sweep,” Petry said. “After we won that first game, and Noah had a great performance, we just wanted to sweep.”

What's next

South Carolina (23-2, 6-0 SEC) will head down to Charleston to play the Citadel on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.