Thomas HR leads Gamecocks to walkoff win

It didn't go exactly as planned, but in the end, South Carolina (33-8, 15-4 SEC) used some clutch hitting to recover after blowing a three run ninth inning lead, and defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide (27-16, 8-11 SEC) by a score of 9-7. Brady Thomas delivered with a walkoff home run to seal the victory in extras.

Clutch situations call for clutch hits.

And that's exactly what Brady Thomas delivered as he crushed a walkoff 2-run homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning to propel the Gamecocks to a 9-7 victory. Nathan Kilcrease pitched admirably for Alabama in the late innings, but took the loss for the Tide. With the defeat, USC snapped a five game Alabama winning streak, and won their fifth in a row.

"Alabama has a great team, we knew that, they've been playing really well lately," said coach Ray Tanner after the game. "It's only fitting a guy like Brady would hit a walkoff in his career."

Alabama spoiled what was shaping up to be a great series opening win for the Gamecocks when Josh Rutledge blasted a two out, two strike home run to bring three runs in and tie the game at 7 in the top of the ninth off Gamecock reliever Matt Price.

That home run continued one of the themes of the night, with the top of Bama's order terrorizing Gamecock pitchers. Taylor Dugas and Josh Rutledge combined to score five of the Tide's seven runs and contribute the three huge RBI on the late homer.

One question that can definitely be answered after this game is the status of Jackie Bradley Jr.'s hand injury that has been blamed for much of his lack of power so far this season.

That's a question that USC's starting centerfielder may not have to answer anymore, as he finally found the power stroke he had been lacking. Despite leading the Gamecocks with a .342 average coming in, Bradley had just five extra base hits to his credit.

He finished just a double short of the cycle, going 3-5 at the plate which included a 3-RBI triple in the second and a huge solo home run in the fourth to straightaway centerfield. He also made several key defensive plays, chasing down a couple balls in the outfield that looked destined for the gap, saving the Gamecocks several runs.

"I thought the catch in centerfield was special," noted Tanner. "He put his head down and just ran to the spot and was able to catch it, and obviously had a great night with the bat. But that was a big play in that game."

The longball was able to help carry USC on a night where Blake Cooper didn't have his strongest effort, allowing four earned runs on eleven hits in 6.1 innings.

Jeffery Jones helped USC go back-to-back after Bradley's blast in the fourth, sending a moon shot up and out in right-center. Also, Scott Wingo hit his team leading ninth home run of the year to extend the Carolina lead in the sixth, after Bama had trimmed it to just a 6-4 margin.

Early on Alabama found success where few had against Blake Cooper this season, tagging him for two runs in the first inning to take a quick lead over the Gamecocks. Cooper gave up a single to the leadoff man Dugas before shortstop Josh Rutledge roped one down the third base line that was called fair by home plate umpire Randolph Harvey. Both runners came around to score on RBI groundouts from Ross Wilson and Clay Jones for the early Bama advantage.

Although he didn't come into the game with the perfect record of Blake Cooper, Crimson Tide starter Jimmy Nelson brought a 5-1 mark into the game, and looked sharp in the early going. After Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked a one out single and stole his sixth base of the year in the first, Nelson responded with swinging strikeouts of Jeffery Jones and Nick Ebert to end the frame. Ebert went down on three pitches punctuated by a 94 mile per hour heater from Nelson.

It looked like Nelson would continue to cruise through the second, but USC produced a bit of two out magic to take the lead right out from under Alabama's nose. Kyle Enders reached on a throwing error by the shortstop with two outs, starting the rally for USC. Haney walked before Wingo put USC on the board with a double. Whit Merrifield responded with another walk to load the bases, and Jackie Bradley Jr. finally got one of those elusive extra base hits, as he knocked his first triple of the season to score all three runs and the give the Gamecocks a 4-2 lead.

Bama got a run back in the third on a two out double from Clay Jones scoring Rutledge.

Ross Wilson trimmed the Gamecock lead with an RBI single in the fifth as Taylor Dugas and the top of the Bama order continued to torment Blake Cooper. With two on and two out, David Kindred grounded one out to second that looked like it would end the inning. Wingo bobbled it before recovering just in time to throw out Rutledge at home plate on an excellent play to end the frame and preserve the 6-4 lead.

Ethan Carter relieved Cooper in the seventh, and would be sharp until the final inning that cost the Gamecocks so dearly.

After holding the Crimson Tide scoreless over his part of the sixth, seventh, and eighth, Carter ran into a bit of trouble in the final inning. After walking Andrew Miller and giving up a single to pinch hitter Brett Booth, Carter gave way to Michael Roth with one out and the dangerous Dugas coming up.

Micheal Roth came on to get the pesky Dugas, forcing him to ground back to the mound for the second out. Tanner went for the pitching advantage, bringing in Matt Price to try to finally close the door on Rutledge and the Tide.

But it was disadvantage Gamecocks in a big way after Rutledge worked a full count and then hit one high and deep that carried out to right field to tie the game.

Neither team was willing to budge in extras, as it carried to the eleventh still knotted in a 7-7 tie. In their half of the eleventh, Bama moved a runner over to third, but new reliever Jose Mata was able to strikeout Bama power hitter Clay Jones looking for the final out.

This momentum carried over to the bottom of the inning in what would be the big spot for the Gamecock offense.

In the bottom of the inning, it looked like Nick Ebert had won it with a fly ball that died right at the base of the wall in right. Adrian Morales doubled to give USC a baserunner before pinch hitter Christian Walker flied out.

The Gamecocks were then down to their final strike in the frame as Brady Thomas worked a full count, and it looked like this game would be headed for inning number twelve. But just like that, Mr. Thomas came up huge, hitting a no doubt shot over the Carolina bullpen in right center for the win.

He was mobbed by teammates at home plate as the Gamecocks celebrated the emotional victory.

"I was just doing a matchup, trying to get a better matchup for Brady," said Tanner. "He had a good slider, and slider's are tough on righties sometimes, so we tried to get (him) in there to get a couple of at-bats."

Jose Mata picked up the win as he got the final Alabama out on the night.

Along with the home runs from Bradley, Jones, Wingo, and Thomas, Adrian Morales finished 2-5 with two doubles. Wingo finished 3-5 with two runs scored and two runs batted in.

Alabama actually out hit the Gamecocks on the night, finishing with 16 hits to the Gamecocks 14. Rutledge had three hits to match his three RBI. Ross Wilson was 1-4 but had two RBI's and Clay Jones finished 3-6.

In total, Dugas reached base four times, going 3-4 with a walk, two runs scored, and a sacrifice. Tanner was quick to credit the leadoff guy that has been driving pitchers crazy all season long.

"You've got to give that young man credit," added Tanner. "He's done that the entire year. We finally got him out a couple of times, but he's an on-base machine. He's a very good hitter, but he also has his share of walks too. That's impressive. You talk about a table setter."

"We've been in a lot of tough ones, and certainly we could have lost tonight but we were able to hang in there and win," said Tanner in describing the win. "That's what it's all about in the SEC."

Clutch hits for a clutch team that simply continues to win.

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