By John Whittle
COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) — South Carolina's early-season win streak ends at six as Charleston Southern stole the Sunday series finale 4-2 behind a strong effort from three veteran pitchers. The Gamecocks (6-2) could manage only four hits in the game and only had nine at-bats with runners on base.
Junior Ridge Chapman suffered the loss after giving up four earned runs in his 5 2/3 innings pitched. Chapman was lifted after an hour and 13 minute rain delay.
"With the way we've been swinging the bat, averaging nine runs per game, you'd think going into a Sunday and give up four, your chances of winning should be very good," first-year head coach Mark Kingston said. "I didn't expect us to only have four hits today, no question about it."
The Gamecocks only had three at-bats with runners in scoring position all game. In those situations, no one was able to get a hit.
Chapman threw well, according to Kingston, but it was a pair of walks in the third inning that indirectly led to the Buccaneers (3-4) taking an early lead. After retiring the first two hitters of the inning on three pitches, he issued back-to-back walks before giving up a two-RBI triple to Mike Sconzo.
After South Carolina scored a run in the fourth, the Bucs came back with two more runs in the top of the fifth on an RBI triple by Alex Andronica and a sacrifice fly from Adam Andrew. The two runs put the visitors on top 4-1, and that's all they would need to go on to a victory.
"The backbreaker there was the two quick outs, two walks and a triple," Kingston said. "That was the difference in the game but at the end of the day, if you give up four runs on a Sunday, we should win. He gave us a chance to win."
CSU starting pitcher Tyler Weekley flummoxed the South Carolina hitters for five innings. The Gamecocks were unable to register a hit until the bottom of the fifth when senior Jonah Bride dribbled a well-placed single through the left side. Junior LT Tolbert followed that by lacing a second-pitch triple to right field.
Tolbert was stranded at third base, one of only seven runners left on base on the day for the Gamecocks. There were few opportunities for the home side gathering only four hits and four walks in the game.
"Today they did a good job of mixing their offspeed but it wasn't too much different than what we saw all weekend," Tolbert said. "Our approach was a little antsy because all those pitches looked so good. We didn't make that adjustment and let it get deeper and go backside with it."
South Carolina had an opportunity to turn the game around in the bottom of the eighth inning when a pair of CSU pitchers lost the strike zone and an infielder lost control of the baseball. Three walks and an error by the third baseman gave the Gamecocks a run and loaded the bases for junior Chris Cullen.
Cullen, who was hitting .375 with six RBIs entering the game, popped up an 0-1 breaking ball to the center fielder to end the inning. The Gamecocks were unable to put the tying run on base in the ninth as Cody Smith picked up his second save of the season.
"(Smith) made a big pitch against Chris," Kingston said. "Bases loaded, you like your chances there. I was confident at that point, thought Chris would come through, but he just got under that ball."
Lost in the shuffle was the performance of freshman John Gilreath, who extended his scoreless innings pitched streak to 11 1/3 with 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief. He allowed just one hit, didn't give up a walk and struck out two in his 27-pitch performance.
Gilreath was able to keep South Carolina in the game, but the offense just wasn't there on a wet Sunday afternoon.
"Glireath was great again," Kingston said. "Pitching was very solid today. On a Sunday when we give up four runs, I think we should win."
South Carolina will return to action on Tuesday to face Furman. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. at Founders Park with cover on SEC Network +. Kingston said following the game that the starting pitcher against the Paladins is still to be determined.