Crucial mistakes cost Carolina

A third win in a row in the home series opener against Tennessee would have brought South Carolina one step closer to righting a ship that has veered well off course. But the Gamecocks (21-9, 3-7) ended up on the wrong end of a form of baseball leap frog - five lead changes with no team leading by more than a run - as they fell to the Volunteers (20-10, 6-4) on Friday night 5-4.

"We got to keep grinding it out. We're not exactly where we want to be," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "Only way to get there is to make it happen. Its disappointing to lose but you got to show up tomorrow, be ready to go, and do your very best to try to win a series at home."

One could attribute the loss to several different Carolina blunders. Offensively, USC stranded nine runners and struck out 13 times. Tanner says any team that strikes out that many times doesn't belong in the ball game.

"13 strikeouts is excessive. We have to do a better job for sure. You don't deserve to win when you strike out 13 times."

Defensively, an errant throw in the ninth inning from Matt Price to Joey Pankake at third base allowed the winning run to score. Price caught a popped up sac bunt attempt with runners on the corners and one out. He had the runner at third caught in no-man's land for an easy double play.

"When they got that fifth run, it was kind of a freakish play," Tanner said. "We were kind of out of the inning, but I guess we made an errant throw over there. Joey tried to stay on the bag. The throw was a bit wide. Might have had blocked vision. That's part of baseball. Things happen."

And there were even mistakes on the base paths, where the Gamecocks usually have an edge. In the sixth inning, two mental lapses ended a two-run rally that could have produced much more. Tanner says these mistakes hurt because of the team's lack of offensive production.

"Its crucial for us, because we don't score that many runs," said Tanner. "Its part of baseball, too. You don't want it to happen, but its magnified for us because we don't score that many runs."

But when asked what separated the two teams on Friday night, Tanner points to Tennessee's three hitter and closer, Drew Steckenrider, who made his presence felt from the dish in the sixth inning with a go-ahead two-run home run and then in the closing innings from the mound. He out pitched USC's Matt Price to earn the win, throwing 2.1 innings, striking out six and not allowing a run to score.

"The difference in the game was Steckenrider out of the bullpen. He just shut it down. He shut our offense down, and it gave them a chance to keep plugging away."

The Gamecocks and Vols play the second game of the series Saturday night at 8 p.m. Freshman left-hander Jordan Montgomery will go against Tennessee's T.J Thornton, the senior southpaw.

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