This one stung and head coach Mark Kingston hopes it hurts enough for his team to learn some valuable lessons.
South Carolina lost a 10-inning game for the second time in three days Sunday and it cost the Gamecocks the series against Northwestern.
And the culprit was the same calamity that struck Friday night — late-inning walks. Northwestern took advantage of the South Carolina bullpen again Sunday to walk away with a 4-3 victory.
With the game tied at 3 Sunday, reliever Graham Lawson walked three batters in the 10th inning, forcing in the winning run. The Wildcats won Game 1 5-2 when the Gamecock bullpen walked four batters in the 10th inning.
“We’ve got to throw strikes," Kingston said. "It’s a carbon copy [of Friday night]. We gave them those runs on Friday night because we walked them and we gave them that rally today because we walked them, and that’s not acceptable.”
South Carolina dropped to 5-2 on the season while Northwestern improved to 3-3.
Lawson, a fifth-year senior coming off Tommy John surgery, gave up a leadoff single in the 10th, and then walked three batters. He wound up striking out the side but the three walks forced in the winning run.
South Carolina pitches struck out 16 batters Sunday, including nine by starter Brannon Jordan, but four pitchers combined to walk seven, four in the ninth and 10th innings. The Gamecocks walked five in the last three innings Friday night.
"We had some self-inflicted wounds late that caused us to lose," Kingston said. "It’s a new team that is learning that close games need to be won and there are certain things that need to be done to win these games. We will learn them as we go. You want to win when you learn these lessons but I hope this one stings for ‘em and they are a captive audience as we continue to teach them how to win."
Jordan had his second straight strong outing as the Sunday starter, allowing two runs on just two hits and three walks with nine strikeouts. He made it through six innings on 92 pitches to drop his ERA to 1.64 to start the season.
But the Gamecocks struggled at the plate a day after scoring 12 runs on 13 hits. They had just seven hits, struck out 11 times and were just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"Guys just missed too many fastballs today," Kingston said. "The guy they threw had pretty good stuff and made his pitches … but I just think we are a team that should hit the fastball better than we did when we have an opportunity, and we will."
Northwestern took a 1-0 lead when Jordan briefly fell apart in the third inning. He walked the first two batters, committed an error on a pick-off attempt and threw a wild pitch to allow a run to score.
South Carolina, meanwhile, couldn't buy a break in the first four innings, getting only an infield single by Wes Clarke in the first. Though they hit several balls hard, they were right at Wildcat defenders, including back-to-back line drives to center in the fourth.
Then, in the fifth, Noah Campbell took care of that with a drive into the Gamecock bullpen to score three runs. With two outs, George Callil got hit by a pitch for the second time in the game and the fourth time this weekend. After Anthony Amicangelo walked, Campbell hit the next pitch over the right-center field wall for a 3-1 lead.
Northwestern got a run back in the sixth when Stephen Hrustich hit a Jordan pitch over the left-field wall for a solo home run.
The Wildcats tied it on a bizarre play in the seventh. Charlie Maxwell led off with a double against Cam Tringali. He reached third when Callil tried to throw him out at third on a ground ball to short, but third baseman Jeff Heinrich dropped the ball, putting runners at first and third with one out.
Andrew Eyster then made a remarkable play in right field, making a leaping grab against the wall for the second out and then doubling up the runner at first. But Maxwell tagged up at third on the play and scored before the third out was made, tying the game. Kingston questioned the run but the call stood.
The Gamecocks missed a chance to regain the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Amicangelo doubled with one out and Northwestern intentionally walked Clarke with two out. Eyster then singled to left but Hrustich, the left fielder, threw Amicangelo out at the plate.
Danny Lloyd got Carolina out of a big jam in the eighth. Leo Kaplan led off the inning with a base hit off Tringali and Hrustich singled off Lloyd. A wild pitch put runners at second and third, but Lloyd struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
Carolina threatened again in the eighth when Heinrich doubled off the top of the right-field wall with one out. But Dallas Beaver flew out to right and Braylen Wimmer flew out to center to end the inning.
Northwestern took the lead in the 10th when Lawson struggled with his command. Kaplan led off the inning with a single and Lawson walked two batters to load the bases. With two out, he walked Charlie Maxwell on a 3-2 pitch to force in the go-ahead run. Maxwell fouled off three pitches before taking fall four.
"He had a great at-bat, give him credit," Lawson said. "I wasn’t in command of my fastball good enough. He fouled off a ton of 3-2pitches and I just didn’t make the pitch when I needed to."
The Gamecocks had the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the 10th. Clarke was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and moved to second on a one-out, pinch-hit single by Bryant Bowen. But Heinrich popped up to right for the second out and Beaver popped up to short to end the game.
Kingston's message to his team after the game: Don't panic. The Gamecocks have a home game Tuesday against North Florida before a three-game series with rival Clemson next weekend.
“They know that we are not going to panic and that we are not going to stray from what wins and loses," he said. "I reminded them what wins games and reminded them why we lost today. Simple as that.”
“We have a really big series next week, one of the biggest rivalries in college sports," Eyster said. "We'll keep our focus on that and throw this one away. There are bigger things ahead."