Nashville, TN (WIS & The Big Spur) - By John Whittle, TheBigSpur.com
South Carolina scored seven runs over the final three innings to leave Hawkins Field with a 10-9 win over Vanderbilt and the first series victory over the division rival on the road since 2012.
Seven of the team's 10 RBIs came from seniors with the game-winner being a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hunter Taylor in the top of the ninth inning. Junior Graham Lawson picked up the victory with two innings of perfect relief with three strikeouts.
"All the credit goes to those kids in that dugout," first-year head coach Mark Kingston said. "They were fighting, fighting, fighting. No one can say this team doesn't battle. So many big hits, so many big pitches, and the key was Graham Lawson coming in and getting six huge outs for us. That was incredible."
The Gamecocks (26-18, 11-10) never led in the game until the ninth inning and, after tying the game at six, fell behind again immediately by three runs in the seventh inning. The team fought back for a second time though tying the game on a three-run home run by Carlos Cortes in the eighth before Taylor's clutch at-bat in the ninth.
"Our thing lately is to never give up. We're always in it, always in for a fight," Taylor said. "You saw that on Friday and today was pretty much the same as that. We got down, said screw it, and said, 'Let's come back. We can do it.' It basically happened again."
Just like in the first two games, Vanderbilt jumped out to a big lead early scoring four runs in the second inning off of starting pitcher Cody Morris, who gave up two hits, one walk and hit two Commodores in the inning.
South Carolina's starting pitchers struggled all weekend combining to give up 18 runs in just eight innings pitched. The short outings strained a thin bullpen.
"Our starting pitchers need to be better than they were this weekend, all three guys," Kingston said. "You're only as good as your starting pitching. Our offense was able to bail them out three of our last four games but they need to be better."
The Gamecocks wouldn't go away quietly effort chipping away at the deficit. Senior Jonah Bride launched a two-run home run in the third inning, which was his third blast of the season. After the teams traded runs in the sixth, the Gamecocks tied the game in the seventh.
A sacrifice fly by Bride then back-to-back RBI hits from seniors Justin Row and Madison Stokes tied the game at six apiece.
Vanderbilt would come right back in the bottom half of the inning though scoring three runs of its own off of a relief tandem of Eddy Demurias and Sawyer Bridges.
Demurias, who allowed only one run in four innings prior to the seventh, gave up a leadoff double before being lifted from the game in favor of Bridges. The sophomore walked two and gave up two hits as the Commodores took a three-run lead again after seven innings.
That's when Cortes would strike, launching an 0-1 pitch over the right-field stands to tie the score in the eighth inning. Even the trainer was getting excited by the action.
"Everybody was up and jumping around," Taylor said. "I think even Brainard (Cooper) got into it a little bit. There was never a time we thought we'd lose this game. It turned out good for us in the end."
Freshman John Gilreath threw two pitches to start the bottom of the eighth inning with both hitting Commodores hitters. That's when pitching coach Skylar Meade called in Lawson, who retired the next three hitters on a pop out and two strikeouts. He left the mound with a yell and a couple of pounds of his chest.
"What can I say about this team; fighting and clawing and giving me the opportunity to come in there and try to shut the door," Lawson said. "It was a big spot. I tried to come in, get us through that inning and then get us through the next one. That was a big win for us and we have to keep building from it from there."
The winning run was gifted for the Gamecocks as Jacob Olson, who was hitless on the day, was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. After stealing second base with one out, relief pitcher Chandler Day threw a pickoff attempt into center field to allow Olson to get to third base. That's when Taylor seized his opportunity.
"I knew I needed to hit something hard in the air to get him in," Taylor said. "He came back with a curveball, it floated a little bit, and I was able to get enough of it to get it out to center field."
Bride joined Cortes with a three-RBI day as he was 2-for-3 on the afternoon to raise his average to .329 on the season. Stokes had two RBIs, which included his eighth home run of the season.
South Carolina does not have a midweek game due to exams. They'll next take the field on Friday at 7 p.m. at Founders Park. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network +.