Tigers miss opportunities at South Carolina

LSU put itself on the brink of taking control of the third and decisive game of its series with South Carolina, but the Tigers never broke through in a 4-3 loss to the Gamecocks at Sarge Frye Field, in Columbia, S.C. <br><br> The Tigers (26-15, 9-8 Southeastern Conference) stranded five base runners in scoring position in dropping their first SEC series since falling to Ole Miss in March.

South Carolina (31-9, 11-6) scored its game-winning run with a bases-clearing double in the seventh inning from right fielder Steve Thomas. It made the score 4-0 and allowed the Gamecocks to weather an LSU comeback in the last two innings.

LSU cut the South Carolina lead in half with two runs in the eighth. Rocky Scelfo's one-out double brought in Chris Phillips, who led off the inning with a walk. The double ended the day for Gamecocks starting pitcher Gary Bell. The third lefthander in the USC starting rotation limited the Tigers to five hits, retired 12 straight LSU hitters and retired the side in order five times.

South Carolina closer Blake Gill took over for Bell and gave up an RBI single to Aaron Hill, who moved to third when Wally Pontiff singled to right field. But the LSU threat ended when Sean Barker flied out in the infield and Pontiff was hung up between bases after misjudging a ball that got away from USC catcher Landon Powell.

Pontiff's luck on the base paths was bad throughout the game, as he was caught off of first in the sixth inning when Barker lined sharply to first baseman Yaron Peters. The Tigers had loaded the bases with one out when Barker hit into the double play.

The first scoring opportunity for LSU came in its first at bat when Scelfo and Hill started the game with back-to-back singles. Pontiff flew out to left for the first out, but the runners advanced when a third strike on Barker got away from Powell.

With two Tigers in scoring position, Bell ended the inning by getting designated Eric Wiethorn to fly out to left field.

The Tigers squandered a fairly solid pitching performance from Bo Pettit. The junior right-hander saw his record drop to 5-6 after giving up four runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings.

One of Pettit's mistakes led to the first run of the game for South Carolina. In the bottom of the fourth, he hit leadoff hitter Garris Gonce but got the next two batters to fly out to the outfield. Powell singled to left with two outs, and Kevin Melillo singled to left to score Gonce.

Barker's throw to the plate to get Gonce was dead on, but Phillips dropped the ball before making the tag. Phillips recovered in time, however, to catch Melillo overrunning first and caught him in a rundown to end the inning.

Jake Tompkins relieved Pettit in the seventh inning and held the Gamecocks hitless over the remainder of the game.

LSU pinch hitter J.C. Holt led off the ninth inning with a homer to left field, his second of the season, to cut South Carolina's lead to 4-3. Phillips got a single with two outs, but Taylor struck out David Raymer to end the game and pick up his SEC-leading eleventh save of the season.

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