By: Matt Alison
Columbia, SC – The second ranked Gamecocks kicked off their series with Auburn in style, winning a 2-1 pitcher’s duel in walk-off fashion Friday night in front of a full house of 8,000-plus at Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina ace Michael Roth, the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week, threw a gem but was matched pitch-for-pitch by Auburn’s John Luke Jacobs, a crafty righthander. Both teams threatened early, but managed to plate just one second-inning run apiece through eight innings of play as both starters settled in and kept the opposing hitters off balance.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the top of the first, as Casey McElroy stroked a two-out double down the right field line and Tony Caldwell followed that up with a walk. Wes Gilmer’s bouncing ball down the line bounced off Gamecock third baseman Adrian Morales’ glove for an error to load the bases for Auburn home run leader Kevin Patterson. But Roth coolly worked out of the jam, inducing a groundout to first to end the threat.
In the bottom of the frame, it was Jacobs’ turn to get out of a bases-loaded situation. Peter Mooney led off with a base-hit to center, and one out later, Christian Walker singled to put a pair of runners aboard. Brady Thomas drew a walk to load the bases with one out, and give the Gamecocks a prime scoring opportunity. But Auburn was able to get the force out at the plate on a ground ball to third, and a flyout to right ended the South Carolina half of the first with no damage done.
Both teams managed to scratch one run across in the second. Auburn’s Creede Simpson started the inning off with a single to center, then stole second. A two-out hit on a bouncing ball by Justin Fradejas that found its way over the head of Morales and into left field scored Simpson with the game’s first run.
But South Carolina answered with a run of their own in the bottom half. Evan Marzilli singled and scored from first on a double to deep center by Robert Beary. The Gamecocks missed an opportunity to tack on more runs, as Mooney’s one-out walk put a pair of runners aboard, and another walk by Walker loaded the bases for the second inning in a row. But Jacobs minimized the damage by striking out clean-up batter Thomas, forcing the Gamecocks to settle for a single run.
Jacobs really settled in after that, allowing just three baserunners over the next six innings, with the Gamecocks managing to advance to second base only once in that span. Jacobs kept the Gamecock hitters guessing, throwing a lot of off-speed pitches and constantly disrupting their timing.
Roth kept the Tigers off the board as well after the second, scattering four hits and a pair of hit batsmen over the next six innings, and getting some outstanding defensive play to help his cause. Morales flashed the leather to keep the lead-off man off base in the fifth, ranging far to his left to pick a ground ball and making a spinning throw to get the runner by a step. Mooney made a couple of big-time plays deep in the hole to save hits, with Walker chipping in with some solid pick work on a pair of throws in the dirt.
Both starters left after eight, leaving it up to their respective bullpens to figure in the decision. South Carolina called on submarine righty John Taylor, who retired the side in order in the top of the ninth, with some assistance from left fielder Jake Williams, who made a spectacular diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Justin Hargett, preventing what would likely have been a one-out double into the left field corner.
With an opportunity to grab the momentum and an enthusiastic crowd on its feet, the Gamecocks did not disappoint. Freshman reliever Dillon Ortman came on in the bottom of the ninth and hit Beary with a pitch, putting the senior outfielder aboard for the third time on the night. DeSean Anderson laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt to move the winning run into scoring position with one out. Mooney grounded a base-hit through the right side of the infield, and Beary was held up at third, putting runners on the corners with one out. Scott Wingo came to the plate trying to improve on a hitless night in which he had stranded three runners and struck out three times. In his fifth at-bat, he came through, driving a pitch deep and just off the outstretched glove of a running Simpson in left-center field for a walk-off single, and sending the Gamecock faithful home happy.
South Carolina improved to 33-8 overall, and 15-4 in the SEC, keeping them at the top of the conference standings. Auburn fell to 23-19, 9-10 in the SEC, one game behind Arkansas in the wide-open Western Division.