COLLEGE STATION, TX (WIS & THE BIG SPUR) - By John Whittle, TheBigSpur.com
South Carolina put an exclamation point on the regular season with a 10-1 victory and series win over Texas A&M. After dropping four of the first five conference series, the Gamecocks (32-22, 17-13) won five straight SEC series for the first time since 2012, which produced a streak of six straight.
While the first two games against the Aggies didn't yield big numbers offensively, South Carolina exploded for eight runs in the first three innings on Saturday to coast to an easy victory. There's certainly a lot of momentum for the Gamecocks entering postseason play winning 11 of its last 15 conference games.
"(The players) have given us everything they have and they have come through, fought through the adversity," first-year head coach Mark Kingston said. "One of the things we say is when it gets tough, we get tougher. Our guys have bought into that and they've been rewarded by the game because of that."
Sophomore Cody Morris gave his second straight shutdown effort of an opposing offense limiting the Aggies (36-19, 13-17) to only one unearned run over seven innings of work. He struck out seven and didn't walk anyone. Saturday's game was the first time this year that Morris didn't walk anyone in a game.
"When he throws strikes and his secondary pitches are over the plate, he's got a great chance to get a lot of outs," Kingston said. "He got some quick outs today, which is really nice because a lot of times he labors to get those outs. Today, he was able to get some quicker, easier outs and that's why he was able to go so deep into the game."
After falling behind by three runs in each of the first two games, South Carolina was the team that jumped on top in the early innings. The Gamecocks batted around in the first inning with freshman Noah Campbell leading off the game with a solo home run off of Texas A&M starting pitcher Stephen Kolek. It was Campbell's third of the season, but just the start of an offensive onslaught against Kolek.
Sophomore Carlos Cortes walked and senior Madison Stokes lifted his 10th home run of the season, his second of the series, which moved him into a tie for second on the team in long balls. Junior Jacob Olson lined an RBI single to left center field to score junior LT Tolbert, who doubled, giving the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead.
Tolbert battled an illness throughout the entire weekend but played every inning. He was 3-for-14 with two runs scored and an RBI. He also played error-free baseball at shortstop.
"I don't think even if they tried to pull me out that I'd come out," Tolbert said. "I just didn't have any legs. My legs were just gone today and I had no energy, but we got the win, and that's what matters."
While Kolek put up a zero in the second inning, the Gamecocks came back in the third with four more runs, and two of them were charged to Kolek. Cortes dropped a two-RBI double to left field off of relief pitcher Chandler Jozwiak, who then hit Campbell with the bases loaded to force home a run and Stokes hit a sacrifice fly to make it 8-1.
"We knew we had to finish strong," Stokes said. "We weren't going to just be satisfied with winning yesterday. We knew we had to come out today and do a job, and we did just that."
Morris found himself in trouble in the first inning after the first two hitters of the game reached base but he was able to escape allowing only one of those runs to score. He worked around a pair of singles in the fourth inning as well, but that was really the only trouble he faced in the game. The only run Morris allowed was unearned.
Prior to the season, Kingston said that Morris could be a dominant pitcher. He's looked that way over the last two outings.
"I guess once I settled in, yeah," Morris said when asked if he felt dominant against the Aggies. "I knew they weren't going to hit my fastball if I was locating it well. I don't know if dominant is the word for today, but I was definitely in control."
Junior TJ Hopkins, who entered the game in the fifth inning, had his first at-bat since suffering a back injury on May 6. He lined an RBI single to left field, which actually brought in two runs when Logan Foster made the team's first error of the game that also allowed Matt Williams to score
With the 10-run output, the Gamecocks have scored double-digit runs in eight SEC games this season.