COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) -- Instead of finding new ways to win, South Carolina is currently in a stretch of finding new ways to lose.
Three errors led to five unearned runs as Mississippi State won the opening game of the series 7-4 at Founders Park. Gamecocks (21-12, 7-6) starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt threw eight innings and retired the final 19 hitters he faced but suffered the loss after the Bulldogs (24-12, 9-4) plated five runs in the first two innings.
“Clarke pitched his heart out, Josh (Reagan) pitched his heart out,” fifth-year head coach Chad Holbrook said. “We didn’t play great defense, they had two earned runs the whole night, and you have to play defense in this league. We didn’t play good enough defense, didn’t execute good enough and didn’t support Clarke and Josh good enough.”
While most of the MSU runs were unearned, the 1-0 lead that the visitors were able to stake in the first inning was very much earned. First baseman Brent Rooker unleashed on a fastball offering from Schmidt and drove it off the batters’ eye for a solo home run.
The home run was Rooker’s 16th of the season, but it was his only hit of the game going 0-for-3 the rest of the way with a pair of strikeouts.
Ugly defense began to rear its head in the second when an apparent inning-ending double play ball was bobbled by second baseman LT Tolbert, which was his second error of the season, but also his second in as many games. If a double play was turned, Schmidt would have gotten out of the inning unscathed but three singles later, the Bulldogs were up 5-0.
“Errors happen, stuff like that happens,” Schmidt said. “I have to do a better job of getting out of that inning. If I get out of the inning, we don’t give up as many runs. In all facets of the game, we have to play better. We have to execute on all sides. We all have to do a better job as a whole and come out and get more wins.”
In a deep hole, the Gamecocks had to find a way to get to MSU starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington, who entered with opponents hitting only .184 against him this year. He had the hitters flummoxed through the first six innings of the game with the best pass at the ball being a first-inning shot off the bat of Jacob Olson, which was a home run robbed by left fielder Cody Brown.
South Carolina, which had two hits in the first six innings, couldn’t find its way onto the scoreboard until the seventh when it plated four runs on five hits, including RBI hits by Olson, Tolbert and third baseman Jonah Bride. The inning ended when junior Madison Stokes was thrown out at home trying to score the game-tying run.
Schmidt was supposed to get just one out in the eighth inning but after retiring Jake Mangum on one pitch, he stayed in to get the next two hitters. He finished the game allowing two earned runs on five hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts throwing 114 pitches.
“He was special from the third inning on,” Holbrook said. “He was dynamite. That four-run inning isn’t a four-run inning if we make a play.”
Down just one run headed to the ninth inning, the Bulldogs were able to extend their lead on two more errors. Bride dropped a throw from relief pitcher Josh Reagan allowing a runner to slide in safely on a sacrifice bunt attempt putting runners on the corners with no one out.
Reagan should have been out of the inning with no runs allowed when Hunter Stovall hit a fly ball to left field but Alex Destino dropped the ball allowing two runs to score.
“I’m pretty upset. That’s a play I need to make,” Destino said. “Going into the bottom of the ninth down one is a lot different than down three. I’m pretty upset, but baseball is about bouncing back. I’m going to wear this one tonight. It’s unacceptable on my part.”
Stokes had a ninth-inning single but the Gamecocks couldn’t get the tying run to the plate and the game ended on TJ Hopkins taking strike three for the third time in the game. The Gamecocks had 11 strikeouts on the night with six of them being looking.
South Carolina will look to even the series on Saturday with first pitch set for 4 p.m. at Founders Park. Junior Wil Crowe will get the start on the mound with coverage on SEC Network +.
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