Bases Loaded Heartbreak Part Deux

For the second night in a row at the SEC Baseball tournament, USC had the world in their grasp in the bottom of the ninth inning, only to have their normally potent offense come up short. Trailing 4-1, the Gamecocks had the bases loaded with no outs and the winning run coming to the plate, but three successive batters left with their head hanging down, and USC was done in Hoover.

South Carolina fans couldn't have asked much more than having their big gun Nick Ebert stride to the plate as the potential winning run in the bottom of the ninth, but for the second straight night Ebert wasn't "the man."

"He feels bad," USC head coach Ray Tanner said of Ebert. "He's been so good the entire season. He didn't come up big here but he's one of the reasons we had a pretty good run at the end. We had a pretty good situation going there and we just weren't able to do anything. We had some opportunities but you have to give LSU credit."

SEC pitcher of the year Louis Coleman hurled eight-plus innings for LSU and allowed just one run. "I thought Coleman was very special," Tanner said. "He's the SEC Pitcher of the Year and he showed you why. He can really, really pitch. We had a pretty good approach and it was easy for him, really. It's hard to muster any offense." Coleman allowed just seven hits with six strikeouts to improve to 11-2 on the year. "He's very deceptive and he pounds the zone," Whit Merrifield said. "He locates very well and he's a competitor out there. Give him a lot of credit; he fights and fights and fights. He was on tonight and when he's on, it's tough to beat him."

Carolina made things interesting vs. Coleman in the late innings as pinch hitter Brady Thomas knocked a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that was followed by the first three batters reaching base in the bottom of the ninth to bring the potential go ahead run to the plate. Trailing 4-1 entering the bottom half of the ninth, Whit Merrifield had a leadoff single that was followed by a base hit by DeAngelo Mack and Jackie Bradley, Jr. walked to load the bases for Carolina. LSU went to the bullpen for freshman right-hander Matty Ott. The SEC Co-Freshman of the Year showed why he led the league in saves as he first struck out Gamecock cleanup hitter Nick Ebert and then would get the second out on a Jeffery Jones line out to second base. With the bags still full, Ott closed out the game with a strikeout against pinch hitter Michael Roth to give the Tigers the victory.

Ott retired all three batters he faced to pick up his 14th save of the season.

Carolina starting pitcher Nolan Belcher was tough on the mound despite the loss for the Gamecocks. The freshman left-hander battled and yielded just two runs on five hits in six innings with four strikeouts and one walk. "I thought he did a nice job," Tanner said. "Westmoreland came in behind him and pretty good job. Those guys battled hard for us and this experience will be valuable for them." Belcher struck out four batters on 99 pitches.

"I'm so proud of Belcher. He came out here and did an unbelievable job against the number two team in the country," Merrifield said. "He's a freshman in a big-time spotlight and he did an awesome job. It's just a shame we couldn't give him any run support."

It was a pitcher's duel through five innings as both Coleman and Belcher kept both teams of the scoreboard. Both pitchers allowed just two hits through five innings of work. LSU threatened in the fourth inning, with runners on second and third with two out, but Belcher came through and got his second K of the night, striking out a swinging Jared Mitchell to send the Bengals back out to the field for the bottom half of the inning. USC also threatened in the fourth, with DeAngelo Mack hitting the ball deep along the first base line for a double. Nick Ebert battled Coleman valiantly, but went down looking at a third strike to end the inning and the threat.

The Tigers broke the scoreless tie in the top of the sixth inning. Blake Dean roped a one-out single to left center and scored on Micah Gibbs RBI double that found the gap in right center. "It was a bad fastball. I didn't spot it well enough and he made me pay for it," Belcher said. After a wild pitch advanced Gibbs to third base, Mike Mahtook tallied his third hit of the game with a RBI single up the middle to put LSU ahead 2-0.

LSU added some insurance with a pair of unearned runs in the top of the eighth inning. DJ LeMahieu reached base on a fielding error by Andrew Crisp at third base and after walks by reliever Adam Westmoreland to Ryan Schimpf and Blake Dean loaded the bases, LeMahieu would score on a wild pitch by Westmoreland. He would recover to get the next two outs on a strikeout and a fielder's choice out at home plate. LSU however struck for an additional run as Sean Ochinko drove a two-out RBI single to right field scoring Dean.

It would remain 4-0 until the top of the eighth when Thomas launched his first career home run in a Gamecock uniform on a blast to right centerfield. South Carolina now has a total of 99 home runs on the season. Carolina has reached the century mark in six of the last nine seasons including last year when the team finished with 110 home runs.

"We'll go back and go back to work. Unfortunately we were in three of these and we only got the first one, here in Hoover. But we'll regroup." Tanner said.

LSU improves to 43-16 on the year while the loss drops the Gamecocks to 38-21 for the season. The Gamecocks now await word on the selection of the 64-team field for the 2009 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The 16 regional site selections will be announced at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the rest of the field of 64 will be announced on Monday, at 12:30 p.m.

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