Powerless offense sends Gamecocks home early

After twelve long innings, the 2010 SEC Tournament came to end for South Carolina (43-15) on Thursday, as they fell to Auburn (40-18) in a titanic pitching battle. Trent Mummey's two-RBI single in the top of the twelfth was enough for the Tigers and reliever Austin Hubbard to pick up the 3-1 win.

It was a game of steel nerves and strong pitches, with neither team willing to budge an inch before Mummey's single off Matt Price in the decisive inning. That single was enough for Hubbard, who pitched 4.2 shutout innings in relief of Auburn starter Grant Dayton.

"Obviously a very good baseball game today," said Ray Tanner. "Both pitchers, Cooper and Dayton did a hell of a job out there, they really did. And the bullpens, both sides were good. We had some opportunities (and) we were unable to capitalize."

Both starters came into the game with strong reputations, combining for an 18-3 record over the course of the regular season. Carolina starter Blake Cooper was given the nod after Coach Tanner rested him yesterday, and he came out dealing to the heavy-hitting Tigers.

Cooper was in his usual form, holding Auburn scoreless over the first three innings. Left fielder Creede Simpson gave Auburn a 1-0 lead with a big solo home run to left field in the fourth. Simpson came in to replace the injured Brian Fletcher in the second, and picked up right where the 20-home run outfielder left off. Morris also had his second single of the game, but Cooper stranded him to end the inning.

From there on out, it was a pitcher's game with Dayton and Cooper matching each other pitch for pitch. Finally Brady Thomas was able to answer Auburn's solo homer with one of his own, tying it at 1-1 in the bottom half of the seventh.

That would be the first and only run that South Carolina would score in this tournament.

It was also the only run that Dayton would give up in his 7.1 innings, and the Gamecock hitters continued to find things difficult against the left-handed pitchers after facing Pomeranz yesterday. Cooper was just as good in his 7.2 innings pitched, making just the one mistake to Simpson and scattering eight hits while striking out six.

Carolina had a chance to strike early when Whit Merrifield led off the first with a bunt single, but Auburn right fielder Justin Fradejas saved a run when he made a diving catch to retire Christian Walker. Walker would also fly out in the bottom of the twelfth on a blast that this massive ballpark barely contained.

USC blew another chance in the third after Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled and moved over to third, but Adrian Morales flew out to center to end the inning. Gamecock fans can feel good about Bradley Jr., who ran his season high hitting streak to eleven games.

But for a lineup that seems to be going cold at the wrong time, it may be up to Bradley Jr. to carry this team into the NCAA tournament.

Adrian Morales again struck out with Jackie Bradley Jr. on third to end the eighth inning and keep it in a 1-1 tie. Auburn reliever Austin Hubbard came in to pick up the final two outs of the inning, getting pinch hitter Jeffery Jones to line out before getting Morales swinging.

It was just the beginning for Hubbard, who would struggle at times but was able to find the right pitches at the right time to retire the Gamecocks.

USC would load the bases of him in the tenth, but Morales again failed to deliver, grounding out to the pitcher to leave the bags full. Morales would finish the day 0-5 despite coming up three times with a runner only ninety feet away at third base.

"We had a couple of opportunities with runners in scoring position throughout the whole game, and we didn't take advantage of it," said Whit Merrifield in describing the Gamecocks suddenly anemic offense. "Our pitchers did an unbelievable job keeping us in the game and we couldn't capitalize for them."

Matt Price was also extremely sharp for Carolina until the decisive inning that also saw an error from the normally sure-handed Scott Wingo.

Auburn catcher Ryan Jenkins led off the inning with a single, but was retired on a fielder's choice and replaced by Casey McElroy as he failed to put down a good sacrifice bunt. Fradejas would walk before Wingo booted a double play ball off the bat of Justin Hargett to load them up. Centerfielder Trent Mummey would come up big, singling right up the middle to take the lead and knock Price out of the game.

Whit Merrifield walked to lead off the twelfth against Hubbard, but he responded with a strikeout of Bradley Jr. and retired Walker on a massive fly ball that was finally run down on the warning track in right-center. It initially looked like Walker had tied the game with a huge clutch hit, but Fradejas ran it down for the second out.

The game came to a halt as Mummey went down with cramps, prompting trainers as well as head coach John Pawlowski to run out and check on the centerfielder. However, Jeffery Jones came up and followed suit, flying out to right to end it and send Carolina home with an early exit.

Hubbard picked up the win for Auburn with his performance in relief, and Price took the loss for Carolina, his first of the year.

Merrifield finished 2-4 with a couple of bunt singles, and Bradley Jr. also helped lead the way with three hits. Thomas was 1-4 with the big home run, and Evan Marzilli finished 1-2 after entering the game as a defensive replacement.

USC will now await word on their postseason future. Although they were hoping for a top-eight national seed and a super regional host with a good showing in Hoover, the Gamecocks may be forced to take it on the road if they make it out of the opening round. Carolina has long been considered a lock to host an opening round regional.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories