Tigers edge No. 7 South Carolina, 9-8

A five-run, ninth-inning comeback attempt by South Carolina fell just one run short as LSU defeated the Gamecocks, 9-8, at Sarge Frye Field in Columbia, S.C. Friday night. The Tigers held a 9-4 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning before the USC rally, but were able to escape with their fifth straight Southeastern Conference victory.

The No. 7 Gamecocks, leaders in the Southeastern Conference East Division, lost for only the fourth time this season on their home field. USC starter Steven Bondurant took his first loss of the season (5-1), giving up five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.

 

Sophomore lefty Lane Mestepey pitched 8 2/3 strong innings for the Tigers before being chased in the ninth after yielding three runs. Reliever Jake Tompkins gave up a pair of USC runs himself before recording the final out for his third save of the season. Mestepey (W, 8-2) won his fifth consecutive start for the first time in his career.

 

Shortstop Drew Meyer got things going for the Gamecocks by ripping an opposite-field home run to lead off the game. Meyer scored USC's second run in the top of the third after reaching base on an infield hit and scored on an errant pickoff attempt by Chris Phillips.

 

LSU (26-13, 9-6 SEC) answered with four runs in the top of the fourth inning. Third baseman Wally Pontiff led off by ripping a stand-up double off the centerfield wall and took third on a single by Sean Barker. Pontiff scored when Tiger designated hitter Eric Wiethorn reached on a fielder's choice, and Wiethorn came home ahead of a deep double by Matt Heath. First baseman Jason Columbus added two more runs with a blast that bounced off the top of the center-field wall for his second home run of the season.

 

Second baseman Rocky Scelfo tacked on another Tiger run in the fifth when he deposited the first pitch of the inning over the left field fence for his second round-tripper of the year. Scelfo finished 3-for-5 on the night, his second three-hit performance in the Tigers' last three outings.

 

The Gamecocks got one back in the sixth, when designated hitter Trey Dyson reached base with a one-out single to right and came around to score two batters later on an RBI single by Justin Harris. At the end of six innings, LSU held a 5-3 advantage.

 

That wouldn't be enough for the Tigers, who tacked on four more runs in the seventh. Scelfo opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second by Aaron Hill. Pontiff drew a one-out walk before Barker drove in Scelfo with a single through the gap into right field. Wiethorn reached on an error, Heath singled in Pontiff and Chris Phillips added a sac fly to give LSU a 9-3 advantage.

 

Heading into the bottom of the ninth and down by six runs, USC proved why it was ranked in the top ten by battling hard and nearly coming back to win the game.

 

Nine-hole hitter Kevin Melillo led the frame off with a solo shot to right before Mestepey was able to retire the next two batters in the Gamecock order. But the Cocks were far from plucked, as Peters hit a hard shot to Pontiff to reach first and came home ahead of Dyson's two-run blast that chased Mestepey from the game. Tompkins came to the mound with nobody on base and two outs and a three-run LSU lead, but yielded three consecutive hits and threw wild in a pickoff attempt to allow USC to close to within one.

 

Garis Gonce singled to left, followed by Brian Buscher's deep double off the left-field wall. Matt Riddle followed with an RBI pinch-hit single and Tompkin's botched pickoff attempt allowed Buscher to score. Pinch-hitter Gary Bell, however, hit a chopper back to the mound for the final out of the game.

 

LSU will face the Gamecocks again tomorrow at 3 p.m. CDT for the second matchup of the three-game series.


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