COLUMBIA, SC (WIS & THE BIG SPUR) - By John Whittle, TheBigSpur.com
Sometimes a game comes down to just one pitch. Sophomore Carlos Cortes visualized one swing for two innings and in the bottom of the ninth, he lined a hanging breaking ball over the right-field wall to give South Carolina a 1-0 victory over Missouri to take the series.
Cortes scored the game's only run and he threw out another at the plate to help sophomore Cody Morris to seven shutout innings on the mound. Junior Eddy Demurias picked up the win with two shutout innings as the Gamecocks (29-21, 14-12) sit fifth in the conference standings with one weekend of baseball still to play.
"I was pretty positive I was going to hit the first pitch out," Cortes said. "I was thinking about it for two innings, coming up to hit in the bottom of the ninth."
Morris entered the game failing to get through the fifth inning in each of his last three appearances. In that stretch, he had a 10.61 earned run average, registering no-decisions in each game. After an up-and-down first inning that included two walks and Cortes needing to throw out a runner at home plate, Morris was able to settle in.
"Sometimes guys like that need a few pitches to settle in, and he did," head coach Mark Kingston said. "Once Cody makes some big pitches and gets out of a jam, his confidence starts to grow. When his confidence grows, that's when you see everything else fall into place."
While Morris was dealing, so was Missouri starting pitcher Tyler LaPlante, who was able to match Morris pitch-for-pitch. The first three hits for the Gamecocks were doubles but each time, the soft-tossing lefty was able to work out of trouble. South Carolina was 0-for-7 with runners on base in the game, including 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
"It's all about having a good mindset and good approach," catcher Hunter Taylor said. "Sometimes you have to change that completely in the middle of the game, and that's what we struggled with today."
Through eight innings, LaPlante had only allowed four hits and one walk. He struck out eight in 112 pitches. It was the 113th pitch that got him. Cortes got the fat part of the bat on a breaking ball that sat near the belt. The home run was the 14th of the year for Cortes, who leads the team in the category.
"Carlos Cortes started that game with throwing a runner out at the plate, which ended up being extremely important," Kingston said. "(LaPlante) left one pitch up there and Carlos hit the game-winner."
Demurias picked up the victory in his two scoreless innings. He worked around a two-out single in the eighth and a two on, two out situation in the ninth when he got Chris Cornelius to pop out to center to end the threat. Demurias moved his record to 5-0 on the season and dropped his earned run average to 4.50.
"We've won a lot of big games this year but as the season goes on, the games become more important as you try to get to that finish line," Kingston said. "Today was right up there in terms of importance."
Winners of four straight SEC series, South Carolina is scheduled to be back in action for its final non-conference game of the season, which comes against USC Upstate. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. on SEC Network +. The SEC finale series begins on Thursday against Texas A&M.