The Daily Gamecock

Gamecock baseball continues hot start with series win at Mississippi State

<p>FILE—Redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks throws a pitch during the matchup between South Carolina and Clemson on March 5, 2023. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers 7-1.</p>
FILE—Redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks throws a pitch during the matchup between South Carolina and Clemson on March 5, 2023. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers 7-1.

Though South Carolina baseball is no longer undefeated in conference play, the Gamecocks stayed near the top of the SEC standings with a series win over Mississippi State.

South Carolina struggled on the mound for much of the weekend but provided enough offense to take wins on Thursday and Saturday.

Game one 

The Gamecocks took the first game in the series 6-4 over the Bulldogs on Thursday night at Davis Wade Stadium. 

In a game where momentum danced back and forth between both teams, the Gamecocks were able to pull out the win and officially break the program record for the best start in conference play (7-0). 

Mississippi State worked itself out of early jams, including escaping loaded bases in the top of the first inning and taking advantage of a miscommunication by South Carolina that prevented a run from scoring in the third inning. 

A bunt from senior shortstop Braylen Wimmer froze the runner on third with only one out and left another on second. In the following at-bat, now with two outs, junior first baseman Gavin Casas was called for intentionally leaning into a pitch in order to advance to first, ending the inning. 

The Bulldogs struck first in the third inning when sophomore pitcher Eli Jones, starting in place of Gamecock ace junior pitcher Will Sanders, gave up an RBI single to Mississippi State sophomore first baseman Hunter Hines.

However, South Carolina answered right back in the fourth when senior outfielder Dylan Brewer doubled home sophomore infielder Michael Braswell. 

Freshman outfielder Ethan Petry added to the Gamecocks' lead an inning later with a solo home run, the 67th for the team this season, which leads Division I. Later in the inning, Braswell knocked in sophomore catcher Cole Messina on his second double of the game, putting the Gamecocks up 3-1.

Though redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks took over for Jones in the fifth inning and surrendered a two-run home run, he was able to tame the attack by striking out the final batter of the frame and stopping Mississippi State before it could retake the lead.

South Carolina stole the momentum back for good in the seventh inning with a single from Petry that set Messina up for his two-run home run to put South Carolina back up by two runs. 

The Gamecocks brought in redshirt sophomore relievers Chris Veach and Cade Austin to put the Bulldogs away over the final three innings and added an insurance run to its lead with another RBI from Brewer. 

"I thought we did a good job of finding ways to score," head coach Mark Kingston said. "We had a couple big homers, had a couple clutch hits. I thought Brewer and Braswell really sparked us at the bottom of the lineup, so it was a team effort." 

Game two 

The momentum from Thursday did not carry over, however, as South Carolina fell in the second game of the series 13-3 for its first SEC and run-rule loss of the season. 

Wimmer accounted for the bulk of the Gamecocks' offense, batting 2-3 with a home run on the first pitch of the game and two RBIs for the night.

The Bulldogs answered quickly in the bottom of the first inning, hitting four consecutive singles off of senior pitcher Noah Hall to tie the game at 1-1. From there, South Carolina was unable to slow down the Mississippi State offense or get its own bats going. 

Hall continued to struggle in the early innings and allowed back-to-back home runs to Hines and freshman outfielder Dakota Jordan as part of a four-run third inning for the Bulldogs. This ultimately ended the night for Hall, who had lasted at least five innings in each of his starts in 2023, and he was replaced on the mound by fifth-year pitcher Nick Proctor.

Proctor faired no better and was replaced in the fourth by freshman pitcher Austin Williamson, who inherited a runner on third from Proctor. After Williamson gave up a single to Hines, which scored the runner and put Mississippi State up 6-1, Kingston was ejected for arguing with the home plate umpire. 

Though the Gamecocks drew two runs closer in the fifth inning, the Bulldogs' offense stayed superior. After Williamson, redshirt sophomore pitcher Jackson Phipps and freshman Trey Wheeler took the helm and did not break from the trend, allowing six total runs.

South Carolina had one last chance to score in the top of the seventh and stop the run-rule but failed to do so, finalizing the game in seven innings.

For the Gamecocks, it was a role reversal as the team had previously claimed four games via run-rule in the seventh inning.

Despite his ejection, Kingston said heading into Saturday that it was crucial for the team to regroup after its first SEC loss.

“We got a chance to win the series tomorrow," Kingston said. "Stats don’t matter. Hits, strikeouts, nothing matters — just do whatever you can to help this team win this game today.” 

Game three

South Carolina won the crucial rubber match against Mississippi State 14-5 on Saturday, improving its record to 26-3 on the season and 8-1 in SEC play. 

The Gamecocks’ bats got started from the first pitch as Wimmer started the game off with a home run. Casas kept the scoring going with a solo home run of his own to get Carolina up 2-0 before the Bulldogs even came to the plate. 

"I sensed the team was anxious to get back out on the field. Obviously Wimmer going deep again on the first at-bat of the game sure didn't hurt," Kingston said.

Brewer led off the second inning with a home run to center field, his third long ball of the season, making the score 3-0. 

Junior pitcher Jack Mahoney threw five strong innings and allowed just one run. However, in his sixth inning of work, he pitched into some trouble, which led to him getting pulled from the game with the bases loaded and no outs in favor of Veach. 

Though Veach got a double-play, a run scored for the Bulldogs made the score 3-2 before Jordan hit a two-run home run, giving Mississippi State its first lead, 4-3. 

It didn’t take long for the Gamecocks to strike back as Messina ripped an RBI single in the seventh inning to score Wimmer and tie the game up at four runs each. 

South Carolina’s order kept it going in the eighth as Petry came to the plate with the bases loaded and scored all three teammates on a double to center field for the Gamecocks to take the lead 7-4. 

The Gamecocks weren’t done there, however, as the lineup kept tacking on runs in the ninth thanks to RBI hits from Wimmer, Casas, Petry, Messina, sophomore catcher Talmidge LeCroy and junior outfielder Caleb Denny, bringing their total damage to seven runs in the inning and 14 for the game.

"I liked how we got after it in batting practice, in infield," Kingston said. "We had a really good, energetic vibe, and that's what you want to see out of your team on a day three."

Hicks returned to the mound to finish the game for South Carolina, pitching 2.2 innings and giving up four hits and one run with four strikeouts, earning his fifth win of the season. 

The Gamecocks are back in action this Tuesday, when they will travel to Charlotte to take on the North Carolina Tarheels at Truist Park at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.