The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina baseball suffers defeat in road series against No. 4 Vanderbilt

<p>FILE—Junior first baseman Gavin Casas steps up to the plate during the Gamecock's second game against LSU on April 7, 2023. Casas has made 15 home runs this season. &nbsp;</p>
FILE—Junior first baseman Gavin Casas steps up to the plate during the Gamecock's second game against LSU on April 7, 2023. Casas has made 15 home runs this season.  

Coming off a split series against No. 1 LSU and a midweek win against USC Upstate, the No. 6 South Carolina baseball team suffered its first series loss of the 2023 campaign against No. 4 Vanderbilt. 

Despite a hot start to the weekend, the Gamecocks were unable to sustain its positive momentum into Saturday and Sunday, dropping consecutive games for the first time all season.

Game one  

A late scoring outburst and production from the bottom of the batting order helped the Gamecocks earn a 14-6 victory in the opening game of the series Friday night.

Head coach Mark Kingston praised the team for its all-around performance against one of the top teams in the nation.

“Great effort by us again. On the road in this league is very tough, especially against a team ranked in the team ranked in the top five,” Kingston said. “I’m really pleased with our effort – pitching, offense, defense, everything.”

Heading into the top of the sixth inning, the game had been a back-and-forth affair. South Carolina took an early lead off a two-run home run from sophomore catcher Cole Messina in the first inning, only for Vanderbilt to rebound by scoring four runs second and retake the lead.

The Gamecocks tied the game at four runs apiece after Messina and sophomore infielder Michael Braswell went deep in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. The team’s display of power in the early innings previewed the offensive barrage that was yet to come.

South Carolina’s sixth-inning scoring began on a solo home run by freshman infielder and pitcher Ethan Petry, whose 17th home run of the season tied him with Justin Smoak for the single-season program record for home runs hit by a freshman. The Gamecocks would score four more runs in the sixth and seventh innings to bring its lead to nine, totaling eight of the team’s 14 total hits over those two frames.

Most of that production came from the four sophomore hitters at the bottom of the lineup, including Braswell, infielder Talmadge LeCroy and outfielders Carson Hornung and Evan Stone. The four combined for nine hits, including two home runs, along with six runs scored and nine RBIs.

“LeCroy, he had two hits, Hornung had three, (Braswell) had two and Stone had two,” Kingston said. “That’s huge when you can have length in your lineup, which is it makes it really hard for the other team to pitch through that, and it gets their pitch count up.” 

Game two

Even after a strong first inning, the Gamecocks could not keep up with Vanderbilt the rest of the game as it dropped the second contest of the series 8-5. 

The Gamecocks started where they left off on Friday, scoring four runs in the first inning, all with two outs. Messina led the charge to start with an RBI double in the first inning, followed by a single RBI by Braswell to make the score 3-0. Vanderbilt sophomore pitcher Carter Holton helped South Carolina earn another run by hitting Stone with a pitch as all the bases were loaded.  

From that point forward, South Carolina would only register two hits the rest of the game. After Holton was relieved two outs into the game, the Commodore's pitching staff combined to allow only five base runners and strike out 11 of the 28 Gamecock batters it faced.

As Vanderbilt's pitching started to heat up, so did its offense. The Commodores would score eight unanswered in the third, fifth and seventh innings, bringing its lead to four runs heading into the eighth. The team's scoring run was jumpstarted by graduate student outfielder RJ Schreck and junior catcher Jack Bulger, who hit back-to-back home runs in the third inning.

The Gamecocks had one last chance to extend the game in the ninth inning when a solo home run by senior infielder Braylen Wimmer brought the team's deficit to three runs. Vanderbilt shut down any hopes of a comeback one batter later, as senior outfielder Dylan Brewer was called out on strikes to end the game.

Game three

South Carolina suffered a hard-fought 6-4 loss against Vanderbilt in the series finale Sunday afternoon.

The early innings of the game were a back-and-forth affair between the two teams. In the first inning, Petry hit a solo home run, breaking Smoak's program record for most home runs hit by a freshman with his 18th round-tripper of the season.

One inning later, a string of hits by the Vanderbilt offense turned the Commodores' early one-run deficit into a one-run lead.

Sophomore pitcher Matthew Becker put in a productive start for the Gamecocks, allowing four hits and two runs and striking out eight batters over four innings. 

It was Vanderbilt's pitchers who would have the upper hand for most of the game though, as sophomores Devin Futrell and Ryan Ginther were the only two pitchers the team needed to seal the win. Futrell struck out seven batters and allowed two runs over 5.1 innings of work, while Ginther also gave up two runs, he only allowed two hits in 3.2 innings.

Self-inflicted errors in the sixth innings also proved to be costly for the Gamecocks. With the score tied 2-2, Vanderbilt had the bases loaded after a walk, single and hit by pitch. The Commodores would then take the lead one batter later after Schreck drew a walk and extend the lead by two runs after a South Carolina fielding error.

While Sunday's game concluded South Carolina's first series loss of the season, Kingston expressed optimism that the team would learn from this weekend as the season progresses.

"This league has been around for a long time, and very rarely have teams ever gone through an entire conference season without losing a series on the road ... so we're going to keep it even-keeled," Kingston said. "We're going to learn from some of the mistakes we made this weekend."

What's next

The Gamecocks (10-4 SEC, 30-6 overall) will look to rebound in its midweek matchup against Charleston Southern at home on Tuesday. The first pitch is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.