Heartbreak: 9th Inning Meltdown Costs USC

Freshman pitcher Sam Dyson got his first SEC start in the opening game of the SEC tournament against red-hot LSU, and pitched a gem of a game. Unfortunately, the pitchers relieving him didn't, and the Gamecocks took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, only to give up a three run homer and a run in the 9th that tied the game, and then lost on another home run in the bottom of the tenth inning.

"No one has shut us down like that all year," LSU Head Coach Paul Mainieri said of Dyson's performance after the game. "The freshman Dyson was absolutely awesome. We couldn‘t get any good swings against him."

Dyson allowed no runs and two hits while striking out six batters. Wednesday's game was the highly heralded Tampa native's longest outing of the year. He threw 123 pitches and completed 6 and 2/3 innings.

The game between South Carolina and LSU was the opener for the 2008 SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, AL. For the eleventh year in a row, the game was played in the hometown of the conference headquarters at Regions Park, which is the home of the Double A Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.

First pitch was at 10:10 CST as Junior left-hander Ryan Verdugo took the mound for LSU and was strong in the early going. After giving up a two out walk to Justin Smoak and a single to James Darnell, Verdugo struck out Phil Disher to get out of trouble in the first. He went on to strike out four of the next five batters he faced.

In the third, Scott Wingo coaxed a walk and was bunted over to second by Whit Merrifield. Smoak hit a ball on the nose but it was right at shortstop DJ LeMahieu for the third out of the inning.

Dyson got off to a quick start for South Carolina stranding two runners, striking out two, and allowing only one hit through the first three innings.

In the fourth, after Darnell recorded a long, noisy out to the warning track in left, Disher then immediately hit a line shot over the center field wall. This was the 100th home run of the season for the Gamecocks marking the 6th time in the last nine seasons that Carolina has broken the century mark.

Dyson continued to impress on the bump keeping the Tiger batters guessing. In the fourth, three soft flies ended the bottom half of the inning for LSU. In the fifth, he walked a batter but would strike out the side. The LSU batters seemed to be off balance against Dyson. They kept fouling off countless pitches, helping to run his pitch count up to the eventual 123 he threw.

Coach Ray Tanner would later talk about Dyson's performance. "I'm extremely proud of how he responded in situations he really hadn't been in. He made big pitches when he needed to and gave us about 125 quality pitches.

"He did everything possible to keep us in a situation to win."

In the sixth, the Gamecocks mounted another rally as Merrifield, Darnell, and Disher each earned a base on balls. With an opportunity to be the offensive hero for the Gamecocks, left fielder Andrew Crisp struck out with the bases loaded and only one out. With two outs, Harley Lail picked up his teammate and singled to left driving in Merrifield and Darnell giving Carolina a 3-0 lead.

Dyson was able to retire the first two batters in the seventh, but surrendered a triple to LeMahieu and was pulled for Will Atwood. Atwood got the final out of the inning on a soft grounder to third keeping the shutout intact through seven.

Neither team could put anything together in the eighth keeping Carolina's lead at 3-0 entering the ninth. LSU's third pitcher of the day, Junior right hander Louis Coleman was on the mound. He was able to get Designated Hitter DeAngelo Mack to hit a soft pop up into foul territory where third baseman Matt Hollander was unable to make the play as he struggled with the sun in his eyes. This would turn out to be a crucial play in this game. On the next pitch D-Mack walked. Wingo sacrificed him over to second where Havens was able to drive him in giving the Gamecocks a much needed insurance run.

Tanner then decided to be aggressive playing hit and run with Merrifield. He doubled down the right field line inches inside the foul line sending Havens to third. For the second time in the game, LSU intentionally walked Smoak and with the bases loaded and one out, Darnell grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the top half of the inning. This would turn out to be another crucial moment in the game.

Will Atwood remained in the game hoping to close the door on the Tigers and advance USC to the winner's bracket. He wouldn't make it easy walking the first two batters of the inning. He recovered to get right fielder Derek Helenihi looking for the first out of the inning. On the very next pitch, first baseman Matt Clark hit a shot to right center that just cleared the wall making this a one run ball game, 4-3. That would be all for Atwood as Ray Tanner turned to Brandon Todd to get the final two outs for USC.

Todd walked the first batter he faced bringing the potential tying run to the plate for LSU. He struck out the next batter and was one pitch away from the victory when Ryan Schimpf hit a pop fly down the left field line that landed just in fair territory scoring LeMahieu all the way from first to tie the game. Crisp was playing in left center and had a long run to make the play. He came up just short, and then overran the ball allowing the runner to score sending this game into extra innings.

The top of the 10th got off to a good start with Disher walking and getting to second on a sacrifice by Crisp. Lail grounded softly to first sending Disher to third with two outs. Mack then grounded to second and the Gamecocks were unable to push the go ahead run across.

Lefty Alex Farotto would come on to pitch relieving Brandon Todd. With one out, DH Blake Dean hit a 2-0 fast ball over the fence for a walk off homer and a Gamecock loss, 5-4. Tanner was visibly upset after the game.

"I certainly don't enjoy giving up leads late. You never like to see that."

Tanner did give due credit to the Tigers for never giving up.

"They came into this game with sixteen wins in a row so that tells you about how good they've been. They never gave in today and stayed within striking distance and they were able to come up with a couple of big home runs."

When asked how he thinks his team will respond tomorrow he still was positive. "Those guys are probably sitting on the bus right now thinking we should've won that game. That's a lot better feeling then thinking you never had a chance.

"I think we'll be ready to go tomorrow."

LSU Head Coach Paul Mainieri was sensitive to the loss for Carolina. "That's probably one of the greatest comebacks I've ever witnessed. I feel for Ray Tanner and his team. They played their hearts out and probably deserved a better fate."

The Gamecocks will play the loser of the Florida/Vanderbilt game tomorrow at 11:00 EST in an elimination game. They will be trying to avoid being the first team sent home in this year‘s tournament.

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