Rally comes up short as Gamecocks fall 10-7
Prior to the start of South Carolina's three game series with Long Beach State, the concern and focus of the Gamecocks position players was the Dirtbags reputation as a team that liked to play small ball. Bunts, hit and runs and stealing bases were phrases that constantly seemed to be floating around and drew concern for the fielders.
But as Sunday's series came to a conclusion, LBSU seemed to be playing more like the way Carolina is accustomed to playing. The Dirtbags (3-7) used three solo home runs by Steve Tinoco and 17 total hits to take the final game of the series 10-7.
"The ball was carrying pretty well, but I think with the exception of that last home run they hit, every ball they hit was pretty legit. They're a good club. They swing the bat well," USC centerfielder Whit Merrifield said. "I think they're a lot better team than their record shows."
For the second game in a row, South Carolina (8-1) fell behind as Long Beach roughed up starter Blake Cooper by starting off with back-to-back singles in the first and scored on a double-play groundout to take a 1-0 lead. That deficit grew to the largest of the season for USC as Tinoco's first home run led off the second inning and the Dirtbags brought five total runs across the plate with five hits to go up 6-0. After not giving up a single run in two previous starts, Cooper was pulled in favor of Parker Bangs as he gave up six runs in less than two innings of work.
"Everything he threw, they were on it," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "They've got hitters but they were able to bunch a lot of hits early."
The Gamecocks answered the onslaught in the third inning as Bobby Haney led off with a double and was brought home via a Merrifield single.
Carolina finally made some noise offensively over the fifth and sixth innings as Merrifield's solo home run in the fifth made it 7-2. Though he hit just three home runs all of last season, Merrifield now has three in the first nine games, including one in each of the last two.
"It was a little bit breezy today and the balls did carry. No question about it, it was a hitter's park this weekend but we'll see as time goes on if it's going to be like that," Tanner said. "I think we grew up a little bit this week with our offense. I don't know if we're going to have an explosive offense but we've had some quality at-bats."
The home run barrage continued in the sixth as Andrew Crisp hit his first home run of the season after Jeffery Jones walked to open the inning. Pinch hitter Justin Dalles made it two home runs in a row as the Gamecocks trimmed the lead to 7-5.
Long Beach responded with two runs of their own in the top of the seventh as Kirk Singer hit a bases loaded single to score two runs and pushed the Dirtbags lead back up to 9-5. Nick Ebert's solo home run to start the seventh was the Gamecocks' response as the teams seemed to be trading runs.
The dagger came in the ninth as Tinoco's third home run of the day hit the top of the rightfield wall to give Long Beach their first double-digit scoring effort of the season and a 10-7 lead with just three outs remaining. The Dirtbags did only have one home run coming into Columbia but hit six over the three game weekend.
"The wind was blowing just right today. Somebody could have got a fungo bat and hit one out today," Crisp said. "It did surprise me a little bit with their power but this is a hitter's ball park."
Bangs finished the day with five innings of work, the longest outing he could recall since high school, and struck out six. Cooper, Bangs and Curtis Johnson combined to strike out nine batters, giving the USC staff at least seven strikeouts in every game this season.
Though the loss is the first of the season for the Gamecocks, Crisp says the team is viewing the game more as a learning experience than anything.
"We knew that Long Beach was a team that would come out and play hard and play strong and be mentally tough," Crisp said. "It gave us a good three games to prepare us for the rest of the year. You know we're not always going to be winning 10-0. We're going to be having some tight games. That's what you look. You want to battle hard and you want to play teams that push the limit on you."
- USC now has at least one home run in each game this season. In total, the team has hit 17 home runs on the year.
- Steve Tinoco becomes the first opposing player to hit three home runs against the Gamecocks since Rodney Nye of Arkansas did it on May 16, 1999.
- Prior to Justin Dalles' home run in the sixth, the last pinch hit home run for USC belonged to Robbie Grinestaff who hit one on March 17, 2006.
- Andrew Crisp's last home run came against Arkansas on May 9, 2008.
- For the second game in a row, Jackie Bradley Jr. has been the Gamecocks' first hit from the No. 2 hole.
- USC and LBSU had three combined back-to-back home run explosions over the series. (USC had two, LBSU had one)
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