COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) - By John Whittle, TheBigSpur.com
During this recent run of success, South Carolina has oftentimes found itself needing big comebacks for a win. On Friday, the Gamecocks finally played ahead and did so in a big way.
South Carolina obliterated Ole Miss 13-5 in the series-opening game at Founders Park. The Gamecocks (27-18, 12-10) exploded for seven runs in the first three innings and put the game out of reach with a five-run fourth inning.
It marked the fifth time in the last eight games that South Carolina has put up double-digit runs with four of those performances coming against SEC competition. The only outlier was a 10-2 win over Furman.
"It's good to play good baseball," first-year head coach Mark Kingston, who notched his 300th career victory as a head coach, said. "You want to be good in all phases. We were solid pitching wise tonight, but I'd like to see us be better. When our offense is playing like that, it was plenty good enough."
South Carolina tattooed Rebels starting pitcher Ryan Rolison, who entered the game with a 3.26 earned run average. He hadn't given up more than five runs in a game this season and only one start was less than five innings. He was lifted allowing 11 runs, eight that were earned, on 10 hits after 3 1/3 innings.
The seniors started the scoring as Justin Row knocked an RBI single while Hunter Taylor drove in two runs with a single of his own in the first inning. After a run-scoring passed ball, junior LT Tolbert knocked a two-RBI double in the third followed by an RBI single from classmate TJ Hopkins.
The five-run fourth inning was keyed by a three-run home run by junior Jacob Olson, who belted his 10th of the year, good for second on the team. The home run came off of relief pitcher Max Cioffi, who entered the game in relief of Rolison to face Olson.
"I don't think there was any secret tonight," Kingston said of the success against Rolison. "We did a good job with two strikes and when he made mistakes in the zone, we hit it hard. Our guys had a good approach, took good swings when they had an opportunity and laid off balls that guys may chase sometimes. Just quality at-bats up and down the lineup."
For the fifth straight SEC game, South Carolina's starting pitcher didn't make it past the fifth inning. Freshman Logan Chapman didn't have his best stuff against the Rebels allowing four runs, three that were earned, on five hits in 4-plus innings. He walked three and was taken out after giving up a solo home run and then a single to start the fifth inning.
The offense over the first four innings was plenty for the Gamecocks to cruise to the finish line. All nine starters reached base in the game and eight of them had hits. Sophomore Carlos Cortes, the only hitless Gamecock, walked twice and scored a run.
"Our offense was really good, our defense was really good and we were able to win a game tonight against a top-five team in America," Kingston said. "It was a good game for us."
A trio of relievers entered and kept the Rebels quiet over the final five innings of the game. Redshirt freshman TJ Shook allowed one run on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts over two innings. Junior Ridge Chapman gave up two hits and struck out three in two scoreless innings of work.
Junior Graham Lawson finished out the game pitching a scoreless ninth inning. He gave up two hits but struck out three to end the game.
"Ridge and Graham both have power arms and were pounding the strike zone. That's a huge development for us," Kingston said. "TJ Shook, once again, gave us two innings and gave up one earned run. When you have a lead like that, that's good enough. Ridge and Graham right there give us serious options if they continue to pitch like that."
Row led the way for the Gamecocks going 4-for-4 with two runs scored, an RBI and a walk. Taylor and Stokes both had three-hit days for the Gamecocks, which saw their team batting average jump three points to .278 on the season.
South Carolina will look for its third straight SEC series win on Saturday in Game 2 against Ole Miss. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on SEC Network +. Junior Adam Hill is set to get the ball on the mound for the Gamecocks against RHP Brady Feigel, who has a 7-3 record with a 3.38 earned run average.