"Just the fact we came back the last two days I think says a lot about our team," 3B Alex Detz said. "Everybody is disappointed, everyone is still confident we'll come back tomorrow and play a good game."
The Bulldogs played well enough in this one to lead 3-2 going into the eighth inning, after a two-run hit by 2B Brett Pirtle in the seventh. But a normally-reliable bullpen couldn't maintain this lead, giving up the tying run on a two-out wild pitch by RHP Jonathan Holder. His bouncer went off C Nick Ammirati and scored Max Schrock with the tying run.
It was still 3-3 after South Carolina left the bases loaded to end regulation. CF and LHP C.T. Bradford, who had thrown to one batter in that eighth, returned for another relief stint against the meat of the order and got two easy outs. A full-count walk of Dantzler gave righthander Greiner the hero's chance, and against RHP Daryl Norris. His Tuesday stint against Oral Roberts was Norris' first since June 2011 and he'd been effective with a 93-mph fastball and hard slider.
It wasn't much to scout on but Greiner knew enough to look first-pitch slider. He got it, and no-doubted a shot that glanced off the leftfield light pole.
"From our point of view, the middle-infield, it was a good pitch," Pirtle said. "He was just sitting slider the whole time. Me and (SS Adam) Frazier thought it was a real good pitch, he just put a good swing on it. Kudos to him."
RHP Will Cox had to strand two more Gamecocks but the damage was done on one huge swing. Norris (0-1) took the loss without retiring the three he faced. The big hit made a winner of Adam Westmoreland (7-1) on 2.0 innings, with Tyler Webb picking up his 16th save. Webb had taken the Thursday loss.
Defeat was doubly-frustrating, beyond all post-season implications, because State reached double-digit hits again only to strand eleven. Though the Gamecocks left nine unscored as well. And after weeks of struggles RHP Kendall Graveman gave a quality start, working 6.1 innings with just the two runs allowed on five hits.
"We made an adjustment in the middle week coming off the Ole Miss start, and it seemed to work," said Graveman, a re-placement of his fingers to get some of his old sink back. It worked well as he hung four zeroes on the top line, and even the two runs allowed in the fifth inning were only officially ‘earned'. With two in scoring positions, South Carolina scored them on a ground ball by Conner Bright and a dirtball.
"I thought Kendall pitched very, very well, he got to the bottom of the strike zone," Coach John Cohen said.
SC starter Jordan Montgomery was as effective for longer, with five scoreless turns out of his 7.0 total. He stranded one runner in the first, got a double play to end the fourth, and left another on in the fifth. Still Montgomery accounted for nine of the ten State hits and had some tough breaks of his own.
Consecutive singles by Bradford and Detz opened the sixth, and Pirtle was hit to load the bases. With two outs Montgomery got Bradford swinging only to have the third strike skip the mitt and score Frazier. A grounder left the sacks stuffed. In the seventh the Bulldogs again loaded all bases, and this time with two outs Pirtle took the first pitch over shortstop for a pair of runs and the 3-2 lead.
What ultimately doomed the Dogs wasn't erratic relief as much as not cashing-in fully on all those opportunities. In those innings where three scored, five were left un-scored.
LHP Ross Mitchell took over from Graveman in the seventh with a 2-2 count and flew Martin out on his one pitch, before Bracewell ended that inning and got one out into the eighth. With another lefthander up, Bradford—who had thrown a few fast tosses between innings—came in from centerfield. But he gave up a single and his defensive substitute Jacob Robson bobbled it sufficiently for Schrock to take third. It hurt. Because Holder was able to fan Pankake after falling behind 3-2. But his 1-0 curveball to Dantzler broke too early and too hard, bouncing away for a wild pitch and tied ball game.
The Bulldogs couldn't complain about lack of late chance, as with two outs Detz doubled and was joined on the paths by an intentionally-walked RF Hunter Renfroe. With pinch runner Sam Frost on second Pirtle got plunked to fill it up. 1B Wes Rea was 1-1 with a pop-foul that stayed fair enough for the first baseman to catch. There would be no runners reaching in the tenth.
"We didn't get it tonight," said Detz, who went 4-of-4 without scoring or driving in a run. "But we had ten hits, we've been swinging well for a whole now. We just weren't able to get that one or two hits that we needed."
"We played well," Graveman said. "You have to tip your hats to them, they kept scratching and clawing and they weren't going to get beat tonight. And they did a much better job on the mound."
Cohen looked at the two gift runs on wild pitches, though of course he added that his team scored once the same way. "In a ball game like this you're going to say a lot of what-ifs, whoever wins or loses. South Carolina probably said a lot of what-ifs last night. But I'm pleased with the way our guys competed. We had some guys really come through in some clutch at-bats, and some guys who didn't step forward."
Because they didn't step forward in the SEC standings, the Bulldogs find themselves in fragile position for game-three. They can hold their fifth-seeding for next week's league tournament, or fall anywhere from two to four places depending on a host of Saturday scenarios involving 15-14 Florida, 14-14 Alabama, and 14-15 Ole Miss. Compounding the confusion is the bizarre twists of the SEC schedule that provided few common opponents for tie-breaks. It is entirely possible that the proverbial hat could be needed tomorrow night to settle some seedings.
The easiest answer, of course…is win and lock up fifth place and the Tuesday late game.
"We've got to come out tomorrow and just be positive about tonight, just go out and play tomorrow," Pirtle said. "And win, and we'll be fine."
State hangs its fragile hopes of hosting a NCAA Regional on sophomore LHP Jacob Lindgren (4-2, 3.91) against Gamecock wins leader Jack Wynkoop (7-2, 2.75).