The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina softball picks up 3 wins, gains 2 losses at Garnet and Black Invitational

South Carolina softball saw three wins, but still fell short in two over the weekend, defeating Boston University 3-0, University of Minnesota 4-0 and Michigan State University 8-0 and losing to NC State 4-0 and Northwestern 3-4 during the Garnet & Black Invitational. The No. 23 Gamecocks improved its record and are now 21-7 for the 2024 season.

The No. 23 South Carolina softball team earned three wins, but conceded two games this past weekend at the Garnet and Black Invitational, improving its overall record to 21-7.

The first game of the weekend invitational required extra innings to determine a winner, but South Carolina eventually emerged victorious over No. 24 Boston University on Thursday. A 3-run home run from fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter broke the scoreless tie and helped the Gamecocks win 3-0 in walk-off fashion.

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South Carolina carried that late offensive momentum into Friday's contest against Michigan State, which ended in an 8-0 run-rule victory. Freshman two-way player Reganne Bennett and sophomore pitcher Jori Heard combined to throw five scoreless innings, and the Gamecocks scored six runs in the fifth inning to pick up the win.

South Carolina continued its string of shoutouts with a 4-0 win over Minnesota Saturday afternoon. Senior infielder Riley Blampied gave the Gamecocks an early 1-0 in the first inning after scoring on an RBI groundout by senior catcher Jen Cummings. 

Senior infielder Denver Bryant helped South Carolina's lead grow to three runs in the second inning with a two-run single, and junior outfielder Marissa Gonzalez scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning to put the Gamecocks up 4-0.

Game four of the weekend was a different story for South Carolina, which fell 4-0 to NC State Sunday afternoon. The Gamecocks were limited to just two hits in the contest, while the Wolf Pack pulled away with a 3-run seventh inning.

South Carolina suffered its second defeat of the weekend Sunday night against Northwestern despite a late comeback. Freshman infielder Karley Shelton's RBI groundout in the sixth inning and senior infielder Zoe Laneaux's RBI flyout in the seventh brought the Gamecocks within a run of the Wildcats' lead, but South Carolina could not get the run it needed to send the game to extra innings and lost 4-3.

Here are three key takeaways from the Garnet and Black Invitational.

Vawter's productivity at the plate and in the circle 

Vawter entered Thursday contest against the Terriers with a 1.72 ERA across 53 innings, only allowing 13 earned runs while leading the team in innings pitched. The Stanford transfer added a scoreless eighth inning to her season statistics, but her 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth showed her ability to contribute on the offensive side of the ball. 

This was Alana Vawter’s first game at the plate, and ... I think she showed why we put her in the lineup,” head coach Beverley Smith said. “That’s what she’s looked like at practice, she’s worked hard on her swing, and I’m thrilled for her.” 

Vawter is a decorated pitcher with more than 700 innings compiled in her collegiate career, but she could see more time at the plate as the season continues. 

We were putting runners on all day, but to end the game is obviously the point,” Vawter said. “Having a productive at bat, and a hit at that, is really the goal.” 

Two days later, Vawter started in the circle for the Gamecocks, pitching a seven-inning complete shutout and striking out six batters. She only allowed four hits and did not issue a single walk.

"She pitched an excellent game," Smith said. "To be able to shutout Minnesota, who is an excellent offensive team ... (Vawter) did a great job staying ahead in counts."

Mardjetko shines in Thursday's win

Vawter's walk-off home run ended a grueling day at the plate for both the Gamecocks and the Terriers. The game was a scoreless tie heading into extra innings, as both teams had three hits apiece.

Even though South Carolina's hitters could not generate much offense, freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko's efforts in the circle helped put South Carolina in a position to ultimately win the game.

Mardjetko pitched seven shutout innings for the first time in her career and finished the game with five strikeouts and zero walks. Her goal was to help give the offense as many opportunities as possible, she said.

Being able to keep my team in the game when you’re not scoring any runs, you just want to go out there and try to make pitches that they’re going to swing and miss at,” Mardjetko said. “That was definitely just my mentality, throwing the ball so that I could get outs for my team.” 

Defense wins games

While South Carolina finished Saturday's game with a higher batting average than Minnesota, its defense played played an important role in its win on Saturday. 

"You don't get a shutout without some excellent defensive plays behind you," Smith said. "We got the lead out of innings which is big. Just to keep them from having a big inning."

Minnesota managed to get six runners on base and two runners in scoring position but were unable to convert on those opportunities. South Carolina's defense was helped by Vawter's impressive performance in the circle, but infielders and outfielders behind her were able to make routine plays to keep the Golden Gophers from getting back into the game.

What's next?

South Carolina will now face Clemson (21-6, 5-1 SEC) in the two team's first contest of the season. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.


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